Jerry Waxler, M.S. author of How to Become a Heroic Writer, considers himself a writing-activist who urges people to overcome obstacles and “just do it.” In this interview, Jerry answers questions about how he became interested in helping writers help themselves.
Why are you so passionate about reaching out to writers?
When I became serious about writing, I was fortunate to find a club in Doylestown, Pennsylvania called the Writers Room of Bucks County, where writers congregated and learned from each other. The storefront club turned out to be a powerful incubator for learning about writers and the writing life. The experience made me realize how much writers can offer each other, in support, craft, and also “moral authority,” empowering each other to believe in what they are doing.
Why do you think writers need self-help tools?
Aspiring writers start with the desire to create something entertaining, or beautiful, or informative. That in itself is a lovely goal, but then most of us discover it’s not easy to sit at the desk hour after hour. The blank page is daunting. How do you justify the work when it won’t earn money for years, if ever? Other, easier or more urgent tasks call. In the end, self-management is as important a part of being a writer as the writing itself. And then even after the work is complete, writers face another round of psychological challenges to overcome shyness and try to present their work to the world.
I realized that many of the strategies that I had been learning as a therapist could be applied to writers. For example, writers have to set priorities, establish healthy habits, improve attitudes, and steer through a variety of social interactions.
How did you decide to write your self-help book for writers?
Most of the workshops at the Writers Room were directed to improving craft or selling books. There was hardly any training about overcoming psychological obstacles. The directors of the Writers Room, first Foster Winans and then Jonathan Maberry, gave me the opportunity to give workshops to help writers. I developed handouts for those courses, and the handouts grew longer and longer until I finally made them available in a book.
So what else do you write?
I blog about memoir reading and writing and treat each post with the same respect as I would if I was writing for a literary journal. Most of the essays on the blog have been through dozens of revisions, including feedback from critique groups. Keeping up with the blog is a crucial part of my goal as a writer, because it lets me publish material at the same time as I’m developing expertise.
In addition, I’m working on two books. One is about the value of reading and writing memoirs, which I propose is one of the great cultural breakthroughs in the new century, allowing people to understand themselves and each other in a more authentic way than any other time in history. And I’m working on my own memoir. This is particularly daunting first because it is hard turning a life into a story and second because at the same time as I’m trying to make sense of my life, I have had to learn the craft of storytelling.
And at the same time, I continue to connect with writers. In the old days, 3 weeks ago, (laughing) you could be a successful writer by associating with the big publishing houses. That might still be the case for some of us, but the rest of us find our public through the internet. It’s time consuming but I don’t see any way around it. Writers need each other, and these online groups give us a way to connect. I also volunteer in online and regional writing groups. I’m always trying to stir up writing community because I enjoy the camaraderie and mutual support.
Why do you push yourself to do all of this?
Like most people who write, I can’t imagine not doing it.
To order my self-help workbook for developing habits, overcoming self-doubts, and reaching readers, click here How to Become a Heroic Writer.