A Memoir About Not Falling Apart

by Jerry Waxler

Author of Memoir Revolution: Write Your Story, Change the World and How to Become a Heroic Writer

Because fiction writers can invent any situation they want, our favorite novels involve larger-than-life, perfectly orchestrated events. Many aspiring memoir writers are afraid that by comparison, their lives aren’t structured well enough to make a good story. However, before you decide if your life is memoir-worthy, take into account the fact that memoir readers acquire a taste for real life. As a result, memoir readers expect authentic, psychologically-driven events that provide insights into the human condition.

Occasionally, though, real-life setbacks smash into authors’ lives with the degree of intensity usually found in fiction. Julie Freed’s memoir Naked: Stripped by a Man and by Hurricane Katrina recounts just such an extreme situation. A seemingly happily married young woman keeps in touch with her husband, whose military assignment has taken him away from home. Then, without warning, he sends her an email asking for a divorce. The life they built together, including their new home and infant daughter, are suddenly abandoned. His break off surges like a violent storm, threatening to tear her apart. At the same time, Hurricane Katrina is barreling down on her home in Mississippi.

Even though Julie Freed’s memoir takes us on a ride through two simultaneous life-shattering tragedies, for memoir readers, the events are just the backdrop. The real story is about her courage to cope with her circumstances. Naked is a memoir about NOT falling apart. From that point of view, this story offers hope on every page. By the end, the author reaches a place of safety from which she can look back across the rubble and bravely share her experience with us.

The memoir provides an extreme example of what courage-expert Susan Jeffers recommends in her self-help book, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. According to Jeffers, the fear of failure causes many of us to shrink away from enriching activities. She suggests that to live life to its fullest, we need to trust that we can gracefully survive unwanted experiences. Whether we are facing an annoying traffic jam, or a life-threatening hospitalization of a loved one, we must find ways to move forward with as much poise as we can muster.

To increase our resiliency, we practice self-help strategies such as using encouraging self-talk. We center ourselves through relaxed breathing and other meditative strategies of “being here now.” We reach out for support from others. We pray. And we read inspiring memoirs like Julie Freed’s Naked.

The Memoir Revolution has made available a wide variety of such stories about real people who have suffered setbacks, and yet who can “handle it.” By reading about their experiences, we have the opportunity to vicariously practice courage. When we close the book, we feel we have survived, or in Susan Jeffers’ terminology, we have discovered we can handle it.

Inside Julie Freed’s story, we feel the collapse of all the good things in life. Despite that collapse, she carries on, clinging to hope, to the support of her parents and friends, and to the love she feels for her baby. After she survives her larger-than-life setback, she continues to grow. Eventually she feels strong enough to return to these violently disruptive memories and write the story.

By writing, she sorts out the horrible events, earning for herself the higher perspective gained from the author’s vantage point. And by giving the story to us, she helps us experience her strategies. We learn how she reached out for help, how she headed for shelter, how she wove her own brand of assertive pride and humiliated horror, and we join her as she passes through the trauma and onto the next stage in her life.

Writing Prompt
What is your story of NOT falling apart? Write a scene from one of the most disturbing periods in your life. After writing it, step away from it, and breathe. Now, think of a later scene. In this next scene, show how you hung on to peace and sanity, attempting to ride out the challenge.

Notes

Click here for Julie Freed’s website

Click here to read an interview with Julie Freed about writing her memoir.

For brief descriptions and links to all the posts on Memory Writers Network, click here.

To order my book Memoir Revolution about the powerful trend to create, connect, and learn, see the Amazon page for eBook or Paperback.

To order my step-by-step how-to guide to write your memoir, click here.

To order my self-help workbook for developing habits, overcoming self-doubts, and reaching readers, read my book How to Become a Heroic Writer.

How Can an Adult Learn to Write Stories?

by Jerry Waxler

Read how our collective interest in turning life into story is changing the world, one story at a time.

Most nights, my dad worked at his drugstore until 10 PM. On Wednesday, his evening off, he joined the family for dinner. Using the table as a pulpit, Dad’s voice swelled with excitement. “This guy walked in and showed me a half empty tube of ointment. He said it wasn’t working.” Then Dad laughed. “He wanted to return it. Can you believe it?” He slapped the table. My mother, sister, and I ate quietly, and when Dad paused we said “Umm,” giving him the desired reassurance that the other guy was crazy. Then he plowed on to another anecdote and another.

He seemed to enjoy filling us in on his day, but he didn’t ask me about mine. And if he had, I wouldn’t know what to say. My thoughts were wrapped up with solving algebra or calculus problems, so when someone asked me how things were going, I shrugged. “I dunno.”

For decades I assumed that since I had not grown up telling stories, I would never learn. Then in my fifties, I became interested in memoir writing. The problem was that without storytelling skills, I would never be able to write the story of my life.

Even though I knew it was too late, I figured there wouldn’t be any harm reading books about how to write stories. First, I studied Robert McKee’s popular tome called simply Story. This detailed guide for screenwriters shed light on the mechanics of the craft. Another book for screenwriters, Chris Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey opened my eyes further, by comparing the structure of modern movies with the ancient Hero myth popularized by Joseph Campbell. Gradually I gained confidence that storytelling can be learned, and like Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, I demanded it as my inalienable right.

Through networking, I found a variety of writing groups. Some at my local library; some listed on the internet; some monthly meetings and some annual conferences.   Gradually, my assignments for the classes began to interest me. I still needed to make them interesting to others.

Writing teachers want me to add sensory information in order to bring scenes to life. In my imagination, I revisit the kitchen table of my youth, trying to reproduce the experience. I feel myself leaning over my plate, wolfing down the boiled broccoli, mashed potatoes and baked meat loaf drowning in ketchup, squirming on the vinyl bench that wraps around two sides of the Formica table. Sounds echo sharply off the pale yellow and blue tile wall and linoleum floor. But what I really want to describe is not my sensory experience of the room. I want to finally express that high school boy’s feelings, all bottled up in math homework.

What am I thinking when Dad is telling his stories? I see that he is only checking with us to be sure we are listening. He dominates the room with his feelings, rather than giving us the psychic space to get in touch with our own. I wish I could say, “Hey Dad. What about me?” Now, by writing a memoir I can finally give that boy a voice.

Scene by scene, my memories converged into a story. But as they took shape, I encountered another problem. In addition to needing the skill to tell my story, I needed the courage. This is private material. No one needs to know this much detail about me.

I struggle to manage the fear of a recurring fantasy. I visualize a crowd of angry  townspeople summoning me to a public trial. I’m onstage and they heatedly shout, telling me I’m arrogant for thinking I’m entitled to publish. My vivid fears of public speaking invade my mind, turning the solo act of writing into a terrifying spectacle.

Fortunately, Dad offered me an inspiration that  helped me out of this jam. Later in his life, he grew frustrated with his limited communication skills, so he attended a Dale Carnegie public speaking course. They helped him improve his ability to communicate to an audience. With his newfound ability, he was elected president of his pharmacy group. He showed me that at any age, if you want to improve yourself along lines that seem impossible, jump in and try.

I followed his example. I joined Toastmasters, International, an organization designed to help people gain confidence in their ability to speak. After my first attempt to speak at Toastmasters, I ran away for a year, unable to face the humiliation. During that year I studied books about overcoming social anxiety and spoke with a therapist. Finally, I returned, and after an additional year of practice, I was able to share myself in front of a group.

My newfound courage to speak freed me from my fears about writing, too. I began to reveal my life stories in writing groups, and then I leapt past my local groups to the global reach of the Internet. I enjoyed feedback in person and online without feeling afraid.

Dad and I both discovered how to increase the reach of our communication. By doing so, we expanded our social horizons. Now, I can finally share my stories. And thanks to the swell of popular interest in reading and writing memoirs, I have found a whole community of fellow authors who want to share theirs. We’re collectively going beyond the dinner-table question “what did you do today?” Together we are answering the broader question, “what did you do this life?”

Writing Prompts
Describe the way storytelling was handled in your house or community.

Write a scene in which you felt overwhelmed and excluded by someone’s storytelling.

Write another scene in which storytelling felt warm, inviting and empowering.

Write about the first time you felt proud to have written a story.

Notes:

This is a rewrite of an article published April 17, 2009 titled The Birth of an Adult Storyteller.

Toastmasters International

More memoir writing resources

For brief descriptions and links to all the posts on Memory Writers Network, click here.

To order Memoir Revolution about the powerful trend to create, connect, and learn, see the Amazon page for eBook or Paperback.

To order my how-to-get-started guide to write your memoir, click here.

To order my short, step-by-step how-to guide to write your memoir, click here.

Stephen Markley Interview Part 4: Structure of a Memoir

by Jerry Waxler

The first thing that caught my attention when I picked up Stephen Markley’s “Publish this Book” was that it was a parody of itself, a memoir about “writing this very book.” This trick of self-conscious awareness, or “meta” as it has come to be called, played a big role in my thought process in college. If my friends and I observed something, we could then continue the discussion by making a comment about making the observation. It’s a mental twist I still enjoy 40 years later. In fact, now that I think of it, this might explain my interest in memoirs. First, we live our lives. And then the memoir is our commentary on what we just lived. A memoir is by its nature “meta.” But Stephen Markley’s memoir is even more meta than that. In this Part 4 of my multi-part interview, I ask him about his fascination with the structure of memoirs, and the shape of his own.

How you playfully constructed the long middle

Jerry Waxler: One of the known problems with writing a book is that you have to somehow keep the middle moving along. In writing classes I’ve heard it called the muddle in the middle. As usual, you do a great job of sending up the long middle, by using an extraordinary trick.

You separated your mind into parts, and dramatized the battle between the parts. Wow, talk about being able to discover the conflict within everyday life. This was a lively, intriguing technique. I think any author who fears they won’t be able to find the dramatic tension in their lives ought to study some of the devices you used in your book to realize how the author discovers and accentuates tension that is already there.

One thing that surprised me about this technique was that you used the terms Ego and Id, to show your personality being broken into parts. I would have thought these Freudian terms were old-fashioned. They were already starting to lose favor back in my day. So help me understand, were you using Freudian terms to be retro, or are these terms pretty widely understand in your generation as well?

Stephen Markley: I chose the terms because they are very identifiable. Everyone has heard of them, even if they might not be able to give the exact definition. Plus, I loved the idea of part of myself being this completely self-consumed narcissist and the even deeper part being just plain fucking crazy.

Jerry: One of the things I love about reading memoirs is that it helps me understand how other people think, what they believe, and so on. With your Ego and Id battle, you’ve given me a front row seat, but into what? How well do these scenes reflect your own inner process? Do you actually think about the battle of your mind? Were you trying to develop an authentic glimpse into your inner process?

Stephen: Obviously, everyone is more complicated than a simple three-way personality battle. I used that device because 1) it was comical and 2) it allowed me, Stephen Markley, off the hook. I had embodiments of poor decisions or cruel things I said or did. This sounds cowardly, but it helped me write more honestly. The crucial scene comes at the end, after I’ve found out that the book will be published, and my Ego’s swagger is suddenly gone. Because the only purpose the Ego ever serves is to buffer the writer from cold reality, criticism, and setbacks. When the Ego realizes the biggest obstacle has suddenly been removed, he becomes terrified. It was my way of showing that all ego is always a shield.

How authentic is any of this? I have no idea. I’d say it’s as close to the bone as I could cut. But when you’re sawing off your own arm, you might think you’re halfway done and look down to discover you’ve barely pierced the bicep.

How do young people end a memoir?

Jerry: In memoir writing workshops, many young people are nervous about writing memoirs because their lives have not arrived at the conclusion. For example, if an author had not yet married, how would they reach closure on loneliness? You seem to have addressed this problem head on, but not with a simple answer. You use a variety of literary devices to reach a conclusion. The strange thing is that you reach the end in several ways: with a relationship, with a long footnote (huh?), and with the publication of “this very book.”

Your ending was a send-up of memoir endings, and like your joke about discussing false memoirs in a false scene, you are ending the book with a variety of ways to end the book. I’m amazed that you have so much interest and passion about the form that you are sending up the whole structure of a memoir. Your youthful craziness is applied so beautifully to this writing challenge it makes me proud to have been young once. Thanks for this fun exploration of story form.

Stephen: You’re welcome.

Extreme Meta

Jerry: Your memoir takes the prize for meta- a book about itself. I told my writing group about the concept of your book, not really expecting them to understand what I was talking about. The moment the first sentence had left my mouth, they cracked up laughing. Your publisher apparently liked the joke, too.

Books that were huge in the college scene in the 60’s often had this self-referential or ironic or self-aware humor. An example that comes to mind is Catch-22 with all of its paradoxes, like the fact that Major Major Major was bullied because people thought he was being arrogant, which turned him into a recluse and yet also promoted him to becoming a major.

Just as the ironies and paradoxes did not detract from the serious points of Catch 22 (war stinks, power corrupts), I felt that your humor did not interfere with your serious points about the difficulties of growing up, the hunger of the aspiring artist, and the urgent relevance of compassion lurking within your devil-may-care attitude.

Do you find that self-referential humor is still a hallmark of college reading? Has the meta thing struck your college audiences as a big deal? Have you decided to hang your hat on meta, or do you think you’re just passing through?

Stephen: While I certainly don’t think the obsession with self-referential humor is anything particularly new, I do think the generation I’m a part of just finds it really engaging and useful given the times. Aside from that, books that call out people’s bullshit will always be popular. I remember reading “Catch-22” and just being floored. Same with “Slaughterhouse-Five,” and “Breakfast of Champions.” Young people just like to hear that the old and wise are actually old and unimaginative. It gives us hope that we can do better. As far as “meta” goes, I think that label is basically a buzzword. If you read my book, you do discover fairly quickly that for all its meta posturing it is as old-fashioned and classic a story as there is: young man on journey faces obstacles, ponders love, loss, friendship. It’s as sweet and simple as it comes, and that story will never go out of style.

It’s possible my next project will also be thoroughly meta, but that’s OK, I think, because it will be meta in an entirely different way than “Publish This Book” was. When it comes to choosing projects I will be driven entirely by my own inner angels and demons (with the possible influence of loads and loads of cash money).

Notes

Visit Stephen Markley’s Home Page

To read my review of the book, click here.

More memoir writing resources

To see brief descriptions and links to all the essays on Memory Writers Network, click here.

To order my step-by-step how-to guide to write your memoir, click here.

To learn about my 200 page workbook about overcoming psychological blocks to writing, click here.

Stephen Markley Interview Part 3: Satire, Truth, and Risk

by Jerry Waxler

When you publish a memoir, you expose yourself to a variety of risks. In addition to the obvious one that not everyone will like your work, there are others, such as mistakes of memory, exposing vulnerable areas of self, and annoying relatives. If you want courage to balance on the high wire of your own memoir, look for inspiration from those who have gone before you. Take for example, Stephen Markley, author of  “Publish This Book.” He is a risk taker of the highest order. In this part of my multi-part interview, I ask about his willingness to take risks in his writing.

Jerry Waxler: There have been a few huge media dustups about memoirs that were demonstrated to have introduced major factual errors. You discuss this interesting topic when shown were teaching a classroom full of young, under-educated children. It’s a powerful scene, and the kids offer some of the cleverest commentary on false memoirs I have seen anywhere, but the whole time I was reading it, I thought my head was going to explode, like that robot in the original Star Trek series who short-circuited after the humans presented it with a paradox.

“These kids couldn’t possibly have said such complex things. You were faking the whole situation. Your memoir scene about false memoirs was false. Wait a minute. This book that I’m holding, ‘Publish this Book’ is supposed to be a memoir, meaning it’s supposed to be true. And you have a fictional scene in it about kids discussing false memoirs. Wouldn’t that make you one of those memoir falsifiers?”

I couldn’t tell whether to be pissed off or ecstatic over this mind-burn. Yes, I know that’s part of the joke, but it’s so complex, who in the world is going to get it? (Oh, wait a minute. I guess I did.) What do you have to say for yourself?

Stephen Markley: I honestly don’t see what there is to be mad about. I feel like the chapter’s intentions become clear at the outset when I’m describing my ex-Soviet bloc, John Birch-loving drug dealer. I’m daydreaming on the page about how I could possibly fake my own memoir and win the glory all writers know they desire. The point of the chapter is that “Publish This Book” is about a painfully dull guy told in an engaging way, and that, as I said earlier, anyone’s story has these moments. For instance, I’m sure James Frey may well have had a harrowing experience as an alcoholic, but instead of describing that, he made up this “willfully contrived” story that makes him out to be this James Dean-badass crack addict (I’m always baffled by people who defend “A Million Little Pieces” as “still pretty good” even though it essentially reads like a season of “24” only less believable).

The invented parts of that chapter are nothing more than a fun device, a way of discussing the serious and troubling implications of memoir fabulism without dropping a dull essay into the middle of the book.

I would like to somehow take a poll of the book’s readers to see how many of them actually got it (glad that you did). I’ve had many people ask me who the semi-famous actress I was sleeping with was…

Jerry: In fact, the whole book seems loaded with one risk after another. It’s too long. It’s too meta. It’s too political. You have this strange ending with multiple false starts that could be confusing for some readers. And yet it works. I guess that’s one of the hallmarks of humor, that you have to take risks and if someone doesn’t get it they think you are just being stupid.

In Joan Rivers’ memoir “Enter Talking,” she reports that in her early days, while she was still trying to make it, she went on Jack Paar’s television show. The audience loved her but Paar didn’t get it. He said “I didn’t believe a word she said” and refused not only to bring her back on the show. He refused to talk to her again. I already know from your book that you have had similar experiences with people confused by your intentions.

I am inspired by the fact that you keep trying to push forward and just focus on those people who do get you. I think all performers could learn a lesson from this sort of courage, to focus on the people who love you and ignore the ones who don’t. What sort of self-awareness do you have about this aspect of your courage to write?

Stephen: This goes to pretty much the heart of any kind of writing, no matter the form. There have been some really harsh reviews of the book, and I admit, when I first read these, my gut sank. But the kind of writing I do–and the kind of writer I want to be–is pretty much predicated on the idea that I am going to swing for the fences more often than not. What some call fearlessness, others will call dreck, and there ain’t a whole lot I can do about that.

To some degree, you have to be responsive to an audience–after all, I’m not just writing for myself. So I do listen to criticism and I do read what the people who despise me say. But on the other hand, I think being even a boring writer takes a pretty thick skin. I know a lot of people who simply haven’t developed the callouses they’ll need to see them through. However, if you want to be an entertaining writer, if you want to take chances pretty much every chapter (and when I was getting critiques from my writing groups, it felt more like every other page), you’ll need that thick skin more than ever.

One of the most personal parts of the book (and some of my friends told me it was one of the most interesting) are the chapters where my professor Steven basically tells me the book is terrible and he’s questioning if I’ve been faking my persona all these years. When all that actually happened, it really sucked, and I was pretty hurt. Then, when it came time to finish the book, I realized I had to put it in because it was so central to the conflict of writing the thing. It would have been so easy to take the coward’s route and leave those chapters out (not to congratulate myself or anything), but by keeping them in and inventing a fun device to jazz up what amounted to an e-mail exchange, I basically offered up one of the most devastating moments of my writing career for everyone to read.

For a long time I thought it might be an epic mistake (especially when I sent the finished manuscript to Steven), but whatever–you only live once, and Heaven sounds boring anyway.

Notes

Visit Stephen Markley’s Home Page

To read my review of the book, click here.

More memoir writing resources

To see brief descriptions and links to all the essays on Memory Writers Network, click here.

To order my step-by-step how-to guide to write your memoir, click here.

To learn about my 200 page workbook about overcoming psychological blocks to writing, click here.

Courage to Write, Passion to Read

by Jerry Waxler

Robert Waxler found his athletically active son, Jeremy, on the floor, unable to move his legs. Rushed, to a hospital, doctors first suspected a back injury. Tests revealed it to be more sinister, requiring emergency surgery. The memoir “Courage to Walk” by Robert Waxler starts like a medical thriller, but soon the lens of the book widens to include the family’s search for emotional survival. Jeremy’s medical crisis awakened echoes of a previous tragedy. Twelve years earlier, Jeremy’s older brother Jonathan died from a heroin overdose. Now, Robert and his wife Linda had to face a new trial.

The book blurb forms a contract with the reader

Before I even purchased the book, I knew from the blurb that the author was an English Literature professor at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. I knew that “Courage to Walk,” was about the crippling and potentially deadly illness of a second son, and I knew about the death of Robert and Linda’s oldest son, Jonathan.

This preliminary information not only motivated me to buy and read the book. It also set my expectations for what I would encounter inside. I was looking forward to learning about the relationship between this father and his son, and I wanted to learn more about the private emotions of a man who earned his living as an intellectual. Since Waxler had written two memoirs, I had the added incentive that if I liked one, I could also read the other.

Courage to Live, To Love, and To Write

The title “Courage to Walk” refers to the son’s courage to reclaim the use of his legs and return to his place in society. However, there are other forms of courage in evidence. Robert Waxler lived for twelve years under the burden of his previous loss and now he must cope with this new danger. While Jeremy was struggling to stand up physically, Robert Waxler struggled to stand up emotionally in a world that threatened to swallow the ones he loved.

Like any memoir writer, I imagine this author struggled with the dilemma of how much of his private life to share. And since college professors are being paid to tell students how the world works, I imagine he would have even more incentive to hide his vulnerability. The fact that Robert Waxler chose to reveal this family struggle makes his memoir an exquisite example not only in the courage to walk, but also the courage to write.

Professors and emotions

When I started reading “Courage to Walk” I assumed this professor would adhere to my stereotype that “intellectuals hide in their ivory tower.” Suspicious of his ability to express emotion, I was overly critical at first of his occasional literary references. For example, he inserted a poem by Emily Dickenson. “Hope is the thing with feathers, That perches in the soul, And sings the tune–without the words, and never stops at all.”

“Interesting,” I thought. “But what does Waxler think?”

To explore the suffering a parent must undergo, he quoted Simone Weil’s interpretation of the Bible. Weil said, “A mother, a wife, if they know the person they love is in distress will … suffer some equivalent distress.”

“Yes,” I thought. “I can appreciate this point that a parent would suffer, but why quote Simone Weil?” As I became accustomed to Waxler’s style my prejudice faded and I realized that the quotes were not creating distance between us at all. In fact, they invited me into his inner life. Upon reflection, it made perfect sense that Robert Waxler’s self-portrait ought to include a love of books, poetry, and plays. The references added depth to his character and through the course of the book, I saw how he used literature as a container large enough to include both passionate love and soul-crushing worry.

I thought of the poet William Blake, about whom Robert Waxler wrote his doctoral thesis. William Blake illustrated his poetry with etchings to offer readers an additional window into his soul. Robert Waxler achieved a similar purpose, showing me how other authors embellished his thoughts.

Waxler’s passion for books leaps around the world

While Jeremy Waxler was confined to his room, he read a pile of books. Robert listed the titles of the book, explaining their value for his son. “Like medicine on a shelf, these books need to be taken in and digested by a sensitive reader, and Jeremy is just that kind of reader, the kind that lets language seep deep through the skin and permeate the heart. Such reading gives him buoyancy, a lightness of being. Good books stir his blood and transport him to some other place.” Father and son shared this passion. Books were their common love.

I too am a lover of books. During my college years, I often saw the world in terms of the book in which I was currently immersed. After I graduated, few people in my life were interested in what I was reading, and my literary interest went into hiding. “Courage to Walk” reminds me that I’m not the only one with this impulse to turn toward books for sustenance.

This discovery comes at a perfect time for me. Thanks to blogging, I have been able to share my love for books with a larger crowd than at any time since I was a university student. With access to the purported billion plus people on the internet, bibliophiles everywhere can trade notes, enjoy each other’s company, and spread the word. Book lovers unite!

Writing Prompt for Memoir Readers
What memoirs make it onto your reading list? Look at the memoirs you recently read. What did you know about the author and his or her story that pulled you to read it? What similarities or differences with your own situation added to your curiosity? What questions did you hope to answer about the human condition in general or the author’s situation in particular?

Writing Prompt for Memoir Writers
In your own life or your memoir-in-progress, consider what your book blurb will tell potential readers about the journey they are about to embark on. What special audience might be interested in unique features in your story such as job, cultural or family background, geographical community, or some other special interest group? Brainstorm freely, and see which items would catch your eye if you came upon this book while browsing.

Note
While Robert Waxler’s last name interests me, we are not related.

Links

To read Part 1 of my interview with Robert Waxler, click here.
To read Part 2 of my interview with Robert Waxler, click here.
To read Part 3 of my interview with Robert Waxler, click here.

Amazon pages for Robert Waxler’s books

Losing Jonathan by Robert Waxler and Linda Waxler
Courage to Walk by Robert Waxler

More memoir writing resources

To see brief descriptions and links to all the essays on Memory Writers Network, click here.

To order my short, step-by-step how-to guide to write your memoir, click here.

To learn about my 200 page workbook about overcoming psychological blocks to writing, click here.

Check out the programs and resources at the National Association of Memoir Writers

Fear of publishing: Try these ten (more) tips to increase courage

by Jerry Waxler

Many writers are comfortable alone at their desk but nervous about going public. This anxiety can be used as fuel to motivate you to hone your skills and press towards goals. Or the same emotion can turn to fear, arousing demoralizing thoughts like “No one will like it,” and “Why bother?”

While much has been written about how to market your book, there is relatively little guidance for the emotional struggle. Because I have had to cope with my own social anxiety, I have been studying this issue for years, reading self-help books, and incorporating lessons from my formal training in counseling psychology, and trying the strategies myself. In addition, I have listened and learned from other writers who have struggled with their own variations on these challenges.

To unravel these negative reactions, I have assembled twenty tips that can help you break free of the restrictions place on you by shyness. Ten of these tips are listed below, and you can find an additional ten in part 1 of this article by clicking here

Shift your attention from judges to admirers

Many of us have a generalized fear that “they” won’t like me or “they” will judge me and my writing. These vague feelings can have power, until we think about them clearly. Ask yourself who are “they.” What if some people admire you and others don’t? Are you demanding that all 6 billion people on earth adore you? Anyway, why are you giving so much importance to the ones who won’t like you? In every audience there is a mix. Focus your energy on the people who like you. Take their compliments seriously. Write towards your admirers, not your detractors.

Laugh your way past rejection and keep going

To sell your book, you must convince an agent or editor to invest time and money in your work. Naturally some will say no, a response that will likely disappoint you. Use creative ways to inoculate yourself against rejection. For example, write a humorous story about how you opened your door one day to find an editor who hated your writing so much she came to plead with you never to write again. Brag about your rejections as badges of courage. Collect stories about famous writers who were rejected a hundred times. Instead of allowing rejection to derail your intention, approach publishing like a business. Line up your possible customers and keep looking.

Be kind to assertive people

Do you cringe when you see an ordinary person speaking out in public? If you hate assertive people you might be sacrificing your public voice at the altar of courtesy. Like the wallflower sitting on the sidelines, your refusal to be pushy allows everyone else to have their dance while you miss out. Life is a balance between pushy and shy, so be aware of where you have drawn the line. Challenge your own negative attitude about assertive people, and take into account the many benefits of becoming a more socially assertive person yourself.

Open your heart to sales people

We all know the stereotype of the crass, insincere salesperson who will say anything to manipulate you to buy. But like any stereotype, this impression ignores the nuances. Instead of feeling a generalized antagonism towards all selling, consider the fact that persuasion is a normal, healthy, and important part of life.

Flip your viewpoint. Instead of worrying about persuading them, look at the way they persuaded you. When you walk into a bookstore and weigh all the options, you are, in effect, the target of thousands of persuaders calling you from the shelves. Each one of those books has a blurb, a cover, and a position on the shelf, all aimed at convincing you to buy. When you like a book, you appreciate their effort. Their selling actually enriched your life. It was a mutually beneficial transaction. Allow yourself to perform this same service for your readers. By convincing readers and the gatekeepers who guard their door, you are actually seeking to serve readers with your story.

Overcome your hatred of shame

Shame is such a horrible feeling, naturally you want to avoid it. But instead of allowing shame to control you, take a closer look at the emotion itself. According to psychologist John Bradshaw, there is good shame and bad shame. Bad shame or self loathing results from child abuse and needs to be healed. On the other hand, good shame is healthy. Its purpose is to stop you from doing socially unacceptable things. If you feel this emotion, it means you are trying to do the right thing.

By overcoming your disgust with shame, you can explore aspects of yourself that you have been avoiding all these years. Under the stinky exterior, you will find that much of the shame resulted from your desire to be a good person. You will also discover opportunities for deep healing.

Heal from memories of harsh criticism

Many adults are ashamed of their writing because of the derision of a high school English teacher or two. Exorcise the ghosts of these childhood critics by writing a story about a teacher who criticized you and then went home to care for a sick child, or perhaps had a crush on you and didn’t want anyone to find out. Or take a more psychological approach and work through these traumatic memories with a therapist.

Throw off the remnants of the English Class system

Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady,” needed to enunciate precisely in order to gain admission to upper class society. Nowadays, we look on the British Class system as a quaint relic. However, many of us still fear that a wrong comma or a poorly chosen word will expose us as classless commoners.

This fear derives its strength from unconscious whispers that insinuate your writing will expose you as a worthless human being. When you look more carefully, you will realize that society no longer measures us by our proper use of the King’s English.

Learn to tell your story in clear, compelling, and entertaining language. Your writing voice needs to be authentic and unique. Through practice you will discover this voice, constantly improving but never “perfect.” When you are finally ready to publish a book, you can hire an editor to weed out any remaining errors that might detract from the reader’s enjoyment.

Focus on your own generosity

One of the best antidotes to shyness is to switch your focus from fear to generosity. Instead of worrying about your own feelings, apply all that energy to making readers feel good.

Constantly improve your writing skills

It would be crazy to stop writing because you fear your book won’t be interesting enough. The book can’t possibly be interesting until you make it so. To create your best story, improve your language arts, practice, and learn to edit. Over time, your product will improve, and when you and your band of critiquers are pleased with it, you will be able to imagine that other people will be pleased as well.

In addition to being an expert about your life, become an expert about your memoir

To increase your sense of authority about your memories, do additional fact checking. Verify dates or street names. Interview other characters, and become aware of their perspective. It’s good to know in advance about any disagreements they might have. When appropriate reconcile their information with yours, or agree to disagree. Look up  facts or read books about the period. The more you do your homework, the more authoritative you’ll feel when you present your information to others.

Notes
You can find an additional ten tips for overcoming shyness in part 1 of this article by clicking here

More memoir writing resources

To see brief descriptions and links to all the essays on this blog, click here.

To order my short, step-by-step how-to guide to write your memoir, click here.

To learn more about my 200 page workbook about overcoming psychological blocks to writing, click here.

Check out the programs and resources at the National Association of Memoir Writers

Too shy to publish your memoir? Try these ten tips to reach towards strangers

by Jerry Waxler

Writing a memoir leads you inward, but to reach towards readers, you must turn in the other direction, exposing private material to strangers. What if they don’t like it? What if they don’t like you? Many memoir writers pull back at this threshold. Without forward momentum, even a small bump can become insurmountable.

Reasons for avoiding the public come in many voices, each one asserting a sense of urgency or even danger. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by these concerns, seek solutions. Remember that writing a memoir is a journey. You don’t need to solve every obstacle before you start. Just solve the ones that stop you.

Here is a list of ten suggestions to help you press past the obstacles. Once you have gained confidence, you will come to see your readers as supporters, and the only pressure you will feel is the desire to fulfill their curiosity and respond to their support.

For ten more tips, see part two of this article.

Screw your courage to the sticking place

Before you reach for readers, you might pull back and ask “Why bother?” If unanswered, this question will bog you down and make even small obstacles seem insurmountable. Counter it by writing a list of all the reasons you want to move forward. By focusing on your reasons, you will gain courage to climb the ramparts and charge into the public.

For example, many memoir writers enjoy the pleasure of self-expression. Finding readers takes that pleasure to the next level. Many want to share a lesson about life, offering inspiring and cautionary tales that can help others. And even from the first workshop or critique group, memoir writes discover that their story connects them with other people.

For more reasons, see this article “Ten Reasons Anyone Should Write a Memoir.”

I am nobody

Many aspiring memoir writers ask, “Why would anyone read about my life?” But they typically ask the question rhetorically, assuming that the correct answer is “nobody.” When you look for real answers, you will find many reasons why someone might want to read about your unique journey. By turning your life into a good story, you will give readers the gift of your presence. Like the other obstacles to writing, this is a good one to set aside in the beginning. Start writing and as your story develops you will gradually improve your understanding of your relationship to your future audience.

Accept stinky first drafts

You may be afraid your writing is “not good enough.” One way to overcome this negative impression of yourself is give yourself permission to write bad first drafts. Ernest Hemingway famously claimed his first drafts were crap. Eventually through editing and learning the craft, your writing will improve. Look at your first drafts as a humiliating step along a noble path.

Collaborate with other aspiring writers

Participate in a supportive writing group. Working with other writers helps overcome shyness by giving incremental exposure to helpful people who are traveling the same path you are.

Censor memories you’re not ready to reveal

If there are things about your life that you’re not sure you ever want to write about, keep your secrets. No one is forcing you to reveal everything. As the project proceeds, you can reevaluate your reticence later.

Call it fiction

If you fear you could never tell your secrets, write them as fiction. Hide something you did in Las Vegas by telling about it as if it happened to someone else in Los Angeles.

Write stories that are roadmaps to your future

If you are unable to imagine your future success as a writer, try writing a story about it. Imagine your first letter of acceptance, or jump even further and write about sitting on the deck of your yacht, typing your next bestseller.

Join Toastmasters

Toastmasters International is an inexpensive non-profit organization with local chapters all over the world, where people come together to help each other overcome their reluctance to speak in public. Even if you don’t intend to become a public speaker, this program will help you break through overwrought feelings of privacy and expand your mind to include more people. And if you ever fantasize about publishing a book, you will no longer be terrified by the interviews and book signings.

Persist along a gentle slope

To publish your first pieces, look for gentle places with easy thresholds. Your very first sharing might be in a memoir group. Later you may decide to publish a blog anonymously. As you become accustomed to these initial entry points, aim slightly higher, such as posting a signed article on an ezine. You will gradually reach higher elevations, without having to climb cliffs or leap across chasms.

Draw inspiration from the persistence of other authors

Every memoir you read has been written by someone who had to go through the same process. They started, learn, revealed themselves, and reached towards gatekeepers and readers. Now that you’ve enjoyed the fruits of their labor, consider emulating them, and passing your life story forward, adding another drop to the sea of culture.

For ten more tips, see part two of this article.

See also: “Afraid to write your memoir? Read this book!”

More memoir writing resources

To see brief descriptions and links to all the essays on this blog, click here.

To order my short, step-by-step how-to guide to write your memoir, click here.

Philadelphia Push To Publish, Lessons in Courage from a Writing Conference

by Jerry Waxler

For weeks I considered dedicating a precious Saturday to attend the “Push to Publish” conference, hosted by Philadelphia Stories. I enjoyed the event last year and thought I ought to do it again. Now, I needed to commit the time.

By Saturday morning my preference to meet writers won and I drove into pouring rain, to find myself back along the winding paths and elegant buildings of the Rosemont College campus on Philadelphia’s Main Line. The registration room was packed, and looking around I spotted a likely networking candidate, a young man sitting alone. “What do you write,” I asked. “A memoir,” he said. Jackpot. The memoir gods were smiling.

He was an undergrad in the English Department at University of Delaware. “People think I’m crazy to write a memoir when I’m so young.” I looked at him. “I think they’re the ones who are crazy. It’s your story. You should tell it any time you want.” Just then, a woman I knew from another regional writing group leaned in to interrupt us. “Aren’t you the memoir guy? There’s someone I want you to meet.”

I excused myself from the youngest memoir writer I’ve met, and was introduced to a woman, perhaps in her 40s, who had written about her family history. She told me a fascinating tale complete with twists and turns. “I’m finished the draft. Now, before I spend a lot of time editing it, I came to the conference to see if anyone believes I’m wasting my time.” I looked at her. Had she really come here searching for naysayers? “Ouch,” I said. “Why would anyone tell you that? And if they did, why would you believe them?” She shrugged and I moved on.

Waiting on line for coffee, the woman in front of me turned, smiled, and stuck out a hand. I clasped it in greeting, but instead of introducing herself, she pointed to the man next to her. “This is my husband. I talked him into writing a novel.” I asked her, “How did that work for you?” She said, “It was great” and they both laughed.

We sat down together to eat our continental breakfast, and I said, “I’m into memoir writing.” He said, “If I wrote about my life, it would put everyone to sleep.” I chewed my bagel and tried to imagine an entire life with no dramatic tension. Finally, I said, “It’s not about spectacular events. It’s about great story telling.”

He grew quiet. “Well, actually, I have written a couple of stories about myself.” He went on to describe an incident from his childhood that completely grabbed my attention, like I was back there with him, and we were in danger together. I said, “How could anyone fall asleep? That story is enchanting.” (No, I won’t tell it. It’s his story, not mine.)

On my walk through the rain to hear the keynote speech, I wondered, “Why do so many people think there’s something wrong with writing their own stories?” The keynote speaker, Lise Funderburg, didn’t have this problem. She published a memoir about her relationship with her father. Apparently, one of her goals as a writer is to share herself.

In fact, most of the talk consisted of tips she had learned about the writing life. For example, “You have to be okay with rejection. And that doesn’t stop. In fact, it still hurts me when I’m rejected.”

“Well,” I thought. “That’s a consistent message. Writing is hard work, with long periods of uncertainty, plenty of pain and for most of us not too much money. So, if it hurts so bad, why is this room full of people again?”

Funderburg went on to read a passage from her recently published memoir, which I have not yet had an opportunity to read, called “Pig Candy: Taking My Father South, Taking My Father Home: A Memoir.” It’s about discovering her relationship with her father while he was dying of cancer. The passage was rich in imagery, full of kindness and conveying the same sparkle in her words as danced in her eyes. At the end, I raised my hand and asked, “How did you find your voice?” She hesitated for a moment, and said, “Finding my voice was really a very long journey around a big circle until I finally came back to just being myself.”

Dodging rain drops and puddles on my way to the next section of the conference, I thought, “Even her voice is an expression of herself. No wonder it hurts to be rejected. We’re pouring ourselves out to other people. What a crazy thing to do.”

I realized that in addition to learning the art of self-expression, writers must learn courage. We imagine, we write, we polish, and then we beg gatekeepers for the opportunity to share our work with readers. But Lisa Funderburg didn’t shrivel back from the task, and her story provides one more inspiring example of a writer pushing through obstacles to reach higher goals.

Notes

Visit the Amazon Page for the memoir Pig Candy by Lise Funderburg
Lise Funderburg’s Home Page

Click here for the essay I wrote about last year’s Philadelphia Stories Conference

Fearlessly Confessing the Dark Side of Memory in this Memoir of Sexual Abuse

by Jerry Waxler

For more insight into the power and importance of memoirs, read the Memoir Revolution and learn why now is the perfect time to write your own.

When I talk to people about writing memoirs, sometimes they chuckle nervously and say, “Oh, I don’t want to remember all of that.” When I first heard this reaction, it puzzled me. The speaker appeared to assume that writing about their past will force them to divulge information they would rather keep quiet. It’s as if they were afraid that by merely writing their past, their secrets would fly out into the air.

As I learned more stories and dug deeper into my own, I found that some dark memories are so compelling they draw you in and frighten or upset you. When you try to seal them back in their crypt, they continue to haunt. The courageous memoirist actively faces these fears and crafts them into stories. Under the guidance of our inner storyteller we gain power over our own memories.

Recently I heard about a memoir that offers an extreme example of this challenge. Throughout her childhood, Sue William Silverman was molested repeatedly by her father, a successful banker and diplomat. The assaults took place within the walls of their home where his manipulation and rage silenced every protest before it was uttered. Silverman’s memoir “Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You” offers the tragic story of a childhood, betrayed by the adult who was supposed to care for her.

At first, the topic of this memoir horrified me. I would have given it a wide berth, like crossing the street to avoid passing a beggar. And yet such is the magic of memoirs that it has allowed me to explore situations I would rather avoid. Reading is a powerful form of empathy. Now I pressed past my reluctance to share her experience.

I found the book disturbing as expected, and yet, in a way inspiring because of its frankness. It offers another validation that memoirs can take me into the dark pockets of the human condition. Researchers have found that a staggering percentage of children are abused. (see note) And despite the widely known statistics the human story of their plight is hidden from view. Few of us know what to say about this upsetting and confusing subject, and so the topic is avoided in polite company.

The public, with its voracious appetite for sound bites and quick solutions, is occasionally exposed to pleas for harsher sentences for the few predators who are caught. Meanwhile, abuse continues unabated, most of it taking place privately and quietly within the home.

While Silverman’s memoir does not offer a political or legal solution, it does hint at a reasonable first step. By sharing the story of the psychological damage, the trauma and breach of trust, we collectively shine light into the darkness of these private hells. Without such stories, sexual abuse is just a word, a statistic, devoid of the sad terror and emotional truths of each situation.

The silence that protects victims also protects perpetrators

Victims have important reasons for hiding the things that happened to them. There is the stigma of shame, often made worse because the victim is made to feel responsible. And there is the risk of angering the perpetrator. Until the memoir age, many wounded people have never felt empowered to share their stories. Now more people are telling and more listening. In my optimistic vision, I see memoirs tearing down walls, and I feel a surge of hope like the crowds who were swinging sledge hammers in the final hours of the Berlin Wall.

A polished voice helps to earn the public’s ear

Writing in a journal allows us to turn our feelings into words, and helps us gain power over our own thoughts. However, if you want to go to the next step and tell your story to the public, you need two more things. One is the courage to publish. And the other is the willingness to craft the experience into a readable form. Every writer discovers they need to develop skills in order to earn readers, and memoir writers are no different.

In this aspect of confession, Silverman excels. Through her writing skills, she engages my reader’s mind, moving me through each scene and then on to the next. I feel protected by her authorial presence, which occasionally cools me with beautiful language, like a drizzle tickling my skin on a hot summer day.

Her terrible story written in pleasing language, transforms me from a complete stranger to an empathetic listener, learning about the strange, complex desperate love-hatred between father and daughter. I deepen my understanding of her as an individual, and also of us as a race, perceiving the vast and sometimes horrifying range of human experience.

She also wrote a book to help you write your memoir
Silverman’s memoir offers an excellent model of good writing about bad memories. After writing two memoirs, she recently published a guide that can help anyone tell their story. “Fearless Confessions, a Writers Guide to Memoir” offers a roadmap through this difficult terrain.

Statistics about Child Abuse
If you think this is an isolated problem, you are probably under that impression because of the impenetrable silence that surrounds it. For statistics, click here.

For more on Sue William Silverman:

Click here for her website.

Click here for her Women On Writing Blog Tour

For brief descriptions and links to all the posts on Memory Writers Network, click here.

To order Memoir Revolution about the powerful trend to create, connect, and learn, see the Amazon page for eBook or Paperback.

To order my how-to-get-started guide to write your memoir, click here.

Memoir author talks about writing, sharing, and healing

By Jerry Waxler

Bill Strickland’s memoir, “Ten Points,” weaves together three things: a promise he made to his daughter, a summer of cycling to fulfill that promise, and his insights into the wounds of his own childhood. To see my review of his memoir, click here. To learn more about his experience of digging so deeply into his past and then sharing it with the public, I asked Bill Strickland to answer a few questions about writing and publishing his memoir. Here is the second part of the interview I conducted with him.

Jerry: Many writers feel a concern about sharing their private lives in public. I imagine this was even more intense for you, given the very personal nature of some of your disclosures. What was it like to share these private experiences?

Bill: At first I was terrified. When I first met my agent David Black, I couldn’t even look him in the eye as I tried to describe what I thought the book might be, even without details. I also hated sending the story to my mother, but it turned out to be good; we talked like we never had before ? a conversation that made its way into the end of the book.

After I submitted the manuscript, and it made the rounds through the offices at Hyperion, I was speaking to someone about the book – of course, right? – and the experience was so bizarre that it cured me of shock. I was lucky to be able to realize that everyone was going to know the worst parts of my life. And I’m luckier, I think, that for some reason I don’t very much care.

David Black, my agent, gave me some great advice when he read my first chapters. “Get ready for everyone on earth to understand you,” he said. And that’s been true: When I lose my temper at work with friends or I’m snotty at work or something, it’s not because I’m having a bad day but because my dad stuck a gun in my mouth ? that sort of thing. Everyone else has all these potential motivations that are hidden so we assume they’re just having a crappy day or are sick or tired or justified in their actions. But for me, now, for everyone who’s read my book the temptation is to attribute everything I do to something they’ve read. I don’t hold that against them. It’s probably hard not to do.

Most people are nervous when they approach me to talk about the story. They’re not sure if mentioning some scenes will open some sort of traumatic wound that’s been scabbed over. I try to put them at ease, and also try to apologize for the graphic nature of the story.

The bizarre thing is that I’m more myself now than I ever was. Rather than being driven or affected by shame, all the mistakes I make are my own mistakes, all the anger is my own, all the stupid decisions are just me being a stupid human, which is all I ever wanted. I’m more me than ever, yet to everyone else, I’m more the character in the book than ever.

The only concession I think I make is that when I give a book reading I try to select a section based on the audience. The story about my father making me race the killer poodle works pretty well.

Jerry: What advice would you give to people about looking at their own darker memories, and how to decide whether to dig deeper, or keep them hidden, or share them with others?

Bill: I imagine that the best way to go about our lives is different in at least some measure for each of us. Mining the hole inside me worked out; it might not for someone else. For me, it worked out that to be successful in a sport I fell in love, I had to spend a lot of time immersed in suffering, turmoil, unpredictability and other conditions that evoked my memories – and that one positive trait I possess, tenacity, was the answer to the memories as well as the sport.

Jerry: How would you describe what happened to you by writing this book – for example was it healing, redemption, therapy?

Bill: It felt like I was purified in some kind of fire. I don’t think I can make up for the rotten things I’ve done, nor do I think I have to make up for the things that were done to me. I just wanted to be shed of all of them, start fresh. My idea was never that I would be perfect, or even necessarily a better person. I just wanted to be a person.

The races themselves were the vehicles of my transformation . . . the experience of trying so hard, of failing, of succeeding only to fail again, of being outmatched but not quitting, then of having to quit anyway – all of that thrust my childhood back into my life. So my introspection took place at 30 mph, 180 beats per minute, 500 feet off the back of the pack or rubbing elbows with a whirling madman. Bike racing, as it turns out, feels like being burned clean.

Jerry: Some of the humiliating experiences your dad put you through were extremely difficult for me to read. Did you ever consider damping the book down to make it more palatable?

Bill: My editor at Bicycling magazine, Steve Madden, pushed me to be honest about my life in a feature story I wrote about cardiac health back in 2003. I was recounting my family’s cardiac history, and starting writing not just about the physical heart but the emotional concept of heart, and in a draft I dropped the detail that my father had once shot my dog, and I remember Steve saying, “That goes in,” then asking for more. At that time in my life I wasn’t going to tell anyone all that had happened to me, but the incidents I sketched out in that article marked the first time I’d admitted that what went on in my past wasn’t some hilarious caper of misadventures and loveable anti-heroes; that started a change that developed as I wrote the book.

Jerry: What role did writing play in helping you come to terms with your past?

Bill: Writing, as it turned out, was a way to process it, organize it, make sense of it. There was no narrative to my quest until I made it a narrative, in other words. I mean, we all decide where the stories begin and end in our lives — plenty of incidents related to that story happened before and after the framework of the book, but I made sense of my life within those particular boundaries.

One of the oddities about my personality is that I often seem to not know, or fully understand, what I think or believe until I write it down. It’s been this way for me as long as I can remember, just the way I relate to the world, a quirk of my mental make-up. I was one of those kids, for instance, who could learn how to hit a cue ball or build a go-cart from reading about it more so than from watching it demonstrated.

Jerry: I recently met John Bradshaw, who has spent his whole life working on the topic of shame. This fascinates me, since as near as I can tell it’s one of the main deterrents to introspection. Help me understand your willingness to stare your disturbing memories in the face and keep going.

Bill: Well, I was desperate. When Natalie was born, I was actually terrified that I might turn into the kind of monster my father had been. My choices were either to leave, to destroy myself, or to destroy the monster that was in me and wanted out. (I had no idea there was another option, which I found out only at end of that long season, which was to unmask the monster and see that it was only shame.)

At the end of the last race of the season, when I failed to get the ten points and had to deal with my failure and the fact that it had happened right in front of Natalie and my wife and my friends, I realized that the monster I’d always feared was nothing but shame. And I knew that exposing shame to the world would be the best way to neutralize it ? which meant I wanted to not only write my story but publish it so I would become transparent. I also wanted to keep my promise to Natalie. I couldn’t give her ten points (the score), but I could give her Ten Points (the book).

It wasn’t that I faced shame like some brave and noble human, but rather that the racing, the failing at racing, and the succeeding at admitting I’d failed, shone a bright light on the shame that was in me. I mean, there it was: I couldn’t not see it.

Jerry: Do you speak or do any sort of advocacy for victims of child abuse?

Bill: I don’t feel qualified to speak knowledgeably about anyone’s abuse except my own, or about the causes, effects or other commonalities. I just haven’t done that much research. The one thing I feel confident saying, which is in the book, is that I believe all of us contend with our own personal demons (though the intensity and source varies) and that for each of us, our obsessions, whatever they are – bike racing for me, stamp collecting, gardening, or whatever – can teach us all we need to overcome or learn to live with those demons.

Jerry: What’s next?

Bill: I’m done writing about myself. Next summer the paperback of Ten Points comes out. There has been some interest in movie rights to the story, though that’s notoriously unpredictable and not to be counted on, and I’m not inclined to see many of the scenes from the book acted out.

Next summer is also the release of a book I co-wrote with Johan Bruyneel (Lance Armstrong’s team director), We Might as Well Win (Houghton-Mifflin). Stories from Bruyneel’s life illustrate all he’s learned about how to win, whether it’s in the Tour de France or in life.

This is the second of a two part interview. To read more of this interview, click here.
Note: Foster Winans reports a similar experience in which revealing his observations of childhood helped him deepen his relationship with his mother, rather than alienating her as is so often feared. I comment more on Foster’s experience in this review.