Dear Pamela: Take Her Advice!

by Pamela Jane on May 9, 2017

Pamela Jane New Book CoverDEAR PAMELA’S back and is extending special thanks to this community of memoir writers for your great questions.

Remember, if you have questions about memoir writing that you need answered, please leave them in the comments section of this article or you can send questions in an email to me — Be sure to use the Subject Line: DEAR PAMELA. Thanks. — Matilda

I’m starting again. What should I do?

Dear Pamela, memoir advice

Dear Pamela,

I’m restarting my memoir writing after long-term illnesses in the family, including my own. It’s tough to write anything. What steps should I take to get up to speed?
–Starting Again

Dear Pamela

Dear Starting Again,

You chose the right person to direct your question to! I have struggled many times with the same issue during the years I worked on my memoir, while writing children’s books.

Generally speaking, when getting back to your writing after an extended period away (especially if you or a family member have been ill), it’s important to resume gently. Think of it as slipping into a warm tub, rather than jumping into a cold lake.

Below are five tips that have helped ease me back into my own memoir after a long absence. I hope they will help you, too.

Dear Pamela Advice and Tips

Tip #1. Take a “get-acquainted day”

It’s hard to jump into your story when the narrative has had time to cool off. Sometimes it feels as though the words have hardened or solidified in your absence, making it difficult to get back into the flow. That’s why, when returning to your writing, it’s important to designate a “get acquainted” period. To do this, don’t think about writing per se. Instead, relax and reread what you have already written. Look over related materials such as research notes, outlines, or journals. Do this in a spirit of investigative curiosity, and don’t pressure yourself to begin writing. Take as much time as you need.

Tip #2. Try a test drive

Once you begin writing again, refrain having from high expectations about what you get down on paper. In the beginning, try test-driving episodes or short scenes. You’re taking your story out for a ride, warming up the car, getting the engine revved up, and the oil circulating. What you write at this stage may not survive, at least in its original form, but it will help lead you back into your story.

Tip #3. Be playful

Most of the tips I’ve suggested here relate to relaxing with yourself and your work. Continuing with that theme, try to nurture an attitude of playfulness towards your writing. Often we forget about having fun when we write. We become grim, tense, and task or goal-oriented. There is nothing wrong with having goals, but if we are to write well and enjoy our work, we must remember to have fun with it, too!

“Fun,” by the way, does not necessarily mean “funny” (although writing funny is a lot of fun). It simply means taking pleasure in your writing.

Tip #4. Engage in busy work related to your memoir

In Tip #1, I mentioned rereading notes or outlines, but there are other activities that will gradually bring you back into your story, such as cleaning or organizing your office or work space. Cull out a file drawer or spend a few dollars on something to help organize and categorize your papers, using colorful plastic envelopes, or accordion (expanding) files. Sharpen pencils, clear your desk, fluff up a pillow, clean up computer files! These activities, seemingly unrelated to actually writing, signal to your unconscious mind that you are ready to get back to work.

Whether we like it or not, creativity is a messy business, and having a well-organized space to stage your story can be very heartening. On this subject, see my previous WomensMemoirs post: Five Tips for Organic Organizing: Setting the Stage for Writing Your Memoir.

Tip #5. Revise a chapter or segment you have already written

It’s easier to get back to writing by revising an existing chapter than beginning a new one. The following excerpt describes how award-winning screenwriter and essayist, Nora Ephron, catapulted herself into fresh writing by retyping old sentences:

I learned to write an article a paragraph at a time … and I arrived at the kind of writing and revising I do, which is basically a kind of typing and retyping…What I generally do is to start an article and get as far as I can—sometimes no farther in than a sentence or two—before running out of steam, ripping the piece of paper from the typewriter and starting all over again. I type over and over until I have got the beginning of the piece to the point where I am happy with it. I then am ready to plunge into the body of the article itself…”

Whether retyping sentences on a typewriter, as Ephron did, or on a computer (or even writing by hand), the physical activity gives your brain time to start working as your fingers stay busy.

Starting Again–
Almost all writers face a dilemma similar to yours at one time or another. I hope these tips will help you get back to your memoir. Please let us know how they work out; we would love to hear from you!
–Dear Pamela

If you have a question for Dear Pamela, please
leave a comment below or send an email along
with your question to
Be sure to put DEAR PAMELA in the Subject Line

Who’s Dear Pamela?

Pamela Jane is the author of over 30 books from board books to memoir, An Incredible Talent for Existing: A Writer’s Story that Story Circle Reviews called “a fine, five-star read.”

Pamela has published essays in The Writer, mothersalwayswrite, Literary Mama, Parent Co., The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Huffington Post. Please visit her at

Wonder what her memoir is all about? You can read the first chapter of her memoir here:

Memoir is now available as an ebook on Amazon.

Her new memoir, An Incredible Talent for Existing: A Writer’s Story which Story Circle called “a fine, five star read” describes how she, an idealistic young newlywed, dreamed of a bucolic future in a country house while her husband plotted to organize a revolution and fight a guerrilla war in the Catskills, a conflict that resulted in explosions of various intensities, drove her mildly mad, and ultimately led to her becoming a writer.

You can see Dear Pamela’s Memoir Book Trailer below. Follow her @austencats.

First Editing ServicePamela Jane heads the First Editing Service and invites you to contact her if you are interested. Click Here for more information.

The First Editing Service offers a great (and inexpensive) way to see where you have been and where you are going. Pamela’s understanding and insights have helped others with their memoirs and can help you move forward on your writing path.

Reviews of An Incredible Talent for Existing: A Writer’s Story

“…Jane takes us masterfully through her story of a lifelong writer struggling to emerge.” —Deborah Heiligman, author, Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith, a National Book Award Finalist

“…a fine, five-star read!” – Story Circle Reviews

“…incisive, funny, and touchingly candid…” —Howard Rheingold, author, The Virtual Community and Net Smart

“…a harrowing story that invites the reader to experience the thrill and danger of the Sixties from a place of safety and acceptance.” —Tristine Rainer, author, Your Life as Story

“…an inducement to all writers who aren’t afraid to take their past experiences and use them towards the future of their dreams…” – a comfychair

“Jane’s memoir…of the hundreds of memoirs I’ve read, is the only one that gives us the opportunity to go into the heart and mind, behind the flashy images of the Woodstock and hippies of the Sixties.” – Jerry Waxler, author The Memoir Revolution

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Matilda Butler May 17, 2017 at

Dear Pamela:
Thanks for these tips. I’ve just come back from Hawaii where I had a workshop focused on Market. Publish. Write. Putting a manuscript (often the pieces of stories) aside and trying to figure out how to create a manuscript is a big issue. I’m sure your tips will be a big help to all writers.

TillieBright June 11, 2017 at

Really enjoyed the post today. My book, although technically not a memoir, but an autobiography, finally formed itself and is being launched July 15th. It’s called “I’ve Lost My Mind’ How I Found It Again”. It has many elements of memoir. I’m a member of NAMW. Thanks for all the great information you share. Tillie Bright

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