Writing about the past can feel like a time warp. For a memoir I’m writing about growing up with a purity ring, I’ve spent the last two years endeavoring to bring 1985 to 1997 back to life.

Here are a few tricks I used to toggle back and forth in time.

Create a Pandora radio station for every major moment.

Richard Marx

Right Here Waiting,” since 1989.

My favorite station started with Richard Marx’s song “Right Here Waiting.” The love ballad brought back 1989—the year of my first kiss—in a heartbeat. A close second was the Color Me Badd station. Their #1 hit single from 1991 kept my chapter six flowing like, “Ah tick-tock, ya don’t stop.”

Wikipedia the year you’re writing about. Do it. Search “1994” and check out everything else that happened the year I lost my virginity.

Keep a FAQ. On the occasion that I spoke to others about my story in real time, they often asked excellent questions. Such as:

What the hell is a purity ring?

Weren’t you just a skank?

Why would you ever relive this?

I noted the answerable questions in my FAQ document (which sometimes stood for F**king-Annoying-Questions) but nonetheless reminded me to try and address them in my manuscript.

Work out. Nothing makes me feel more present than exercising so hard I’m only able to count seconds.

Keep a word palette. Similar to how painters blend colors on a palette; I kept a scrolling word document full of scraps and fragments and run-ons and mash-ups. Having a place to put these wonky darlings, instead of freaking out over deleting them, helped me keep the manuscript moving. In the second and third drafts of the memoir, some of these sentiments made it into chapters before or after the original inspiration. Page-wise, my scrap palette is longer than my manuscript—as it should be.

Read and re-read books. While writing, I read constantly—at least three books a week. I read recent memoirs written about similar ages, eras, and upbringings, notably: Not that Kind of Girl by Carlene Bauer and Rapture Practice by Aaron Hartzler.

A Model and a Manuscript

A Model and a Manuscript

I re-read books that influenced me from ages six to eighteen. Prozac Nation and The Scarlet Letter have such different impacts at 34 than they did at 16. I read the child-rearing books my parents did during my adolescence, such as Josh McDowell’s Why Wait (out of print). Also, I read current thought-leaders on the topic, including Hanne Blank’s Virgin and Jessica Valenti’s The Purity Myth. A shockingly helpful research tool was the art book by Taschen: All-American Ads of the 80s.

Periodically, take a break and listen to girl-power, pop princess, Katy Perry. Over and over again, on repeat, listen to today’s Billboard topper: “Roar.”

Sooner or later, the manuscript day will arrive.

It's a Manuscript!

It’s a Manuscript!