Pamela Redmond is New York Times bestselling author of more than 20 books of fiction and nonfiction, including Younger (Amazon, Bookshop), which is now a popular television show created by Darren Star. She’s the coauthor of a groundbreaking series of books on names and a creator of Nameberry, the world’s largest baby name site. A former editor and columnist for Glamour, she lives in Los Angeles.
If you like audio-books, the wonderful Sutton Foster narrates the audio-book of Older—the first audio-book she has ever done. Sutton Foster is one of the stars of the TV show Younger, so it’s a very meta choice.
I couldn’t wait to talk to Pam about happiness, habits, and creativity.
Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?
Pam: I like to pick a word of the year that I look to every time I need to make a decision or I’m confused about a course of action. Last year it was Success, the year before it was Security. For 2020 I was torn between Strong—no, I don’t pick only S words—and the Japanese word Ikigai, which means Reason for Being. But the year has kind of screwed with this idea of a guiding principle.
On a micro level, I sometimes in the morning choose how I want to feel at the end of the day and then relate all my choices to that. So if I want to feel accomplished, I might make a To Do list early in the day and be sure I tick things off, or if I want to feel Peaceful, I might read or take a long walk and avoid email.
I’ve been following the Pomodoro method lately, setting a timer for 25 minutes and focusing on one task, but then taking a forced break. This works for me because it gets me started on something difficult that demands concentration, like working on my new novel, and keeps me going to a tolerable amount of time.
I find writing goals that involve finishing a scene or a chapter much more productive than those that involve hours or word count.
What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
That I’m in control of it.
I honestly didn’t truly understand this until very recently, but I do now get in a very deep way how my thoughts influence my feelings and shape reality.
Once you get that on a bone deep level, and learn how to shape your thoughts to produce happiness in all its guises, your life changes dramatically for the better.
Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?
One of my proudest accomplishments was quitting smoking. I did it through a program run by the American Lung Association. Even though I don’t see myself as a joiner, there was something about the group and the leader that connected with me at that moment and I quit.
The downside of quitting smoking was that it started a long struggle with my weight. As one doctor told me, I have no problem losing weight, I have a problem keeping it off.
Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?
I’m a Rebel with Upholder tendencies. I like to create my own way of doing things but then I have a lot of discipline and structure within that personal framework. I uphold my rebelliousness!
Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?
I’ve had several lightning bolt experiences, which I tend to take very seriously.
Leaving my 33-year marriage was the result of such a lightning bolt. In that case, it happened gradually, then suddenly. I’d agonized about it for literally years, then one afternoon, my ex and I had an unpleasant exchange—definitely not the kind of thing that in itself would threaten a marriage—and I decided on the spot that was it.
The idea for Younger arrived on a lightning bolt. I was reading an article in Vogue about plastic surgery so extreme it could make you look like a completely different person and I thought, Who would do that, and why? Why would I do it? And the idea of a woman in her forties, as I was at that time, having another chance at her twenties came to me. Instead of getting married and having a child, she’d take her career more seriously, with all the perspective and experience she’d gained over two decades.
I never put this together before, but the idea for Older, the sequel to Younger, also arrived on a lightning bolt. I’d written a different novel that my publisher had just turned down, and I was so depressed. Then I realized that one of the main story lines of the other novel—a woman gets her roman à clef optioned as a TV show, and is afraid it will reveal her true identity—really belonged in a sequel to Younger.
An hour later, I had the plot and emailed both my agent and my editor that I was happy the other novel had been turned down, that I had a much better idea for them, and two weeks later I sent them an outline and the first chapter.
Has a book ever changed your life—if so, which one and why?
Many! In different ways, often pegged to a specific moment or situation or challenge. Most recently, I’ve been influenced by Maria Konnikova’s The Biggest Bluff (Amazon, Bookshop) and the idea of luck being instrumental to success, but also beyond your control, so you have to become as smart and skillful as possible because that’s all that’s really in your power.
Konnikova is very against luck talismans or predictors as she believes they place your power falsely outside yourself, where it belongs. So I’ve stopped reading my horoscope!