Writing and Healing: Putting Your Weird Perspective to Work in Your Memoir

by Pamela Jane on December 10, 2013

catnav-interviews-active-3Post #109 – Memoir Writing – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler

Putting Your Weird Perspective to Work in Memoir Writing

Pamela Jane BellBy Pamela Jane Bell
Regular guest blogger, children’s book author and coach. Pamela is currently finishing her memoir. Pamela’s first book for adults, Pride and Prejudice and Kitties: A Cat-Lover’s Romp through Jane Austen’s Classic is now available.

Marcel Proust

Marcel Proust

As writers, we each have our own way of looking at the world.  French novelist Marcel Proust was notoriously neurotic.  For example, he insisted that anything that touched his skin– bath water, clothes, bedding– match his body temperature.  He hated noise, so he lined his room with cork to keep it at bay.  Not surprisingly, he subsequently developed an allergy to cork.  Stendhal, another French writer, suffered from what has come to be known as the “Stendhal Syndrome.”  This is described as “a psychosomatic disorder that causes rapid heartbeat, dizziness, fainting, confusion and even hallucinations when an individual is exposed to art, usually when the art is particularly beautiful…”*  (When living in Florence, I was careful to take in the Botticelli paintings in small doses.)  But the personal traits that made these writers’ lives difficult – in Proust’s case, nearly impossible – were inseparable from what made them great.

Following are writing tips for putting your unique perspective to work.  In other words, give your weird take on life something to do besides driving you crazy.

Writing Tip 1. Fake PTSD

At dusk the other evening, I was driving along a highway with no shoulder when I saw a man in dark clothing walking along the side of the road.  As I passed him slowly, giving him a wide margin, I imagined how my life would change irrevocably if I had accidentally hit him.  I heard myself calling my daughter, whom I was on the way to pick up at the bus stop.

“Hi, honey…”

Hi honey?  Shouldn’t I call 911 first?  Is the guy even breathing?  By this time I was starting to feel traumatized by the whole experience.  I had PTSD over something that never happened.

I hope nothing like that ever does happen to me or anyone else, but the ability to imagine a scene vividly and immediately is an invaluable writing skill.

Writing Tip 2.  Vivid internal monologues or dialogs

Most people hear a voice in their heads and possibly two, such as a critical or pessimistic voice, and an opposing voice challenging that view.  If you listen deeply and consistently though, I suspect you’ll discover a whole chorus of voices, many of which have been ignored or overlooked.  Or maybe you just haven’t taken the time to tune in.  For example:

  • Your mother’s voice (“Pamie, you go from one extreme to the other!”)
  • The other sex (male if you’re female)
  • A voice whispering a difficult truthwhispering


  • These are the voices of your characters as well as of your various selves; they ignite conflict and propel plot, whether you’re writing a novel or a memoir.  Let them loose and see how they interact with each other.

    Writing Tip 3.  A different kind of Déjà vu.

    Think of the innumerable moments of consciousness you’ve experienced in your life, each one made up of complex sensations, perceptions, and half-formed thoughts.  How likely is it that you will stumble upon one identical to another you’ve experienced ten, twenty or thirty-five years ago – or recognize it if you did?  I call this special form of Déjà vu “matching states of consciousness.”  Your present state of mind matches perfectly with one you inhabited in the past.

    sewingLast week I was lying on the table during an acupuncture treatment when suddenly, in my mind, I was twenty-one, newly married, and living in an old country house, sewing.  I wasn’t just thinking about being twenty-one, I was there; I could smell the crisp new fabric under my steam iron, hear flies buzzing at the windowpanes, and feel that peculiar combination of melancholy, apprehension and hope that characterized that autumn.  Lying on the couch, I relaxed into the rich sensation of going back in time.

    Returning to a familiar state of consciousness appears to be spontaneous, but you can trigger the experience with music or smells, such as the smell of an apple pie baking in the oven, or the fragrance of fallen leaves in the autumn woods.

    Writing Tip 4.  Excessive intensity

    Do you ever feel that your emotional reactions are over the top?  Every life transition or incident feels huge – my daughter returning to college after vacation, a worrisome physical symptom, a nostalgic-feeling holiday with old friends.  It’s all nearly unbearable– too much.  This too-muchness can make for a bumpy ride.  But it also makes for strong writing.  When life punches you, punch it right back (on the page).

    Writing Tip 5.  Impulsivity

    I can be impulsive, so I call one of my more prudent friends when I’m about to leap into something with that intoxicating feeling of abandonment.

    “No, don’t call her!” whispers the imp.  “You’ll spoil all the fun!”  (My drug of choice is the “place your order” or “send” button.)

    impThat mischievous imp can get you into trouble, but when I’m writing she perches on my shoulder, spinning out plot detours or dialogue I never would have thought of on my own.  Be kind to your inner imp.  She’s your ally – most of the time.

    Try to Remember
    When you’re not writing these “super abilities” can be a burden.  But turn the focus of inquiry, attention and imagination on your work, and you’ll unleash their hidden energy and inventiveness.

    After all, that’s what makes you a writer.

    *Wikipedia

    Below is the trailer for Pamela Jane’s new book: Pride and Prejudice and Kitties: A Cat-Lover’s Romp through Jane Austen’s Classic

    Leave a Comment

    Interviews Category Interviews Category Interviews Category Interviews Category Interviews Category Interviews Category Writing Prompts Category Writing Prompts Category Writing Prompts Category Writing Prompts Category Writing Prompts Category Writing Prompts Category StoryMap Category StoryMap Category StoryMap Category Writing and Healing Category Writing and Healing Category Writing and Healing Category Scrapmoir Category Scrapmoir Category Scrapmoir Category Book Business Category Book Business Category Book Business Category Memoir Journal Writing Category Memoir Journal Writing Category Memoir Journal Writing Category News Category News Category News Category