Interview With Jerry Waxler On Becoming a Writer

By Jerry Waxler

Tell Us About Yourself
When I entered college at the beginning of the Vietnam war protest era, I knew I was going to be a doctor. By the time I graduated, I had become convinced that nothing matters. This was more than a casual phase. I was deadly serious about meaninglessness. It took decades to sort out, during which I read self-help books, talked to a therapist, wrote in a journal, and meditated. In my late 40s, I went back to school and earned a master’s degree in Counseling Psychology. As a therapist, my job was to ask people to tell me their stories.

After a few years, I discovered memoirs, and realized that the stories told in one-hour sessions in therapy were the fragments of people’s lives. Memoirs combined all these fragments into a more connected, crafted version of what I had been hearing and telling in therapy. My fascination with memoirs was born. By reading 100s of memoirs, writing my own, and teaching others to do the same, I entered into one of the most creatively rewarding periods of my life.

Please tell us about your current release.
Memoir Revolution is about the current interest in reading other people’s lives and writing about one’s own. My book explores the ways readers and writers are taking advantage of this literary trend, and some insights into the way you too can discover your own story.

What inspired you to write this book?
When I put together the pieces of my interest in memoirs, I began giving talks on the subject at writing groups and libraries. In these talks, I waxed eloquent about how memoir writing could be a healing, invigorating experience and could help an aspiring author feel more comfortable in his or her own skin. After one talk, a publisher in the audience suggested that I write about my “big ideas.” Her suggestion inspired me to write the first drafts of Memoir Revolution.

What exciting story are you working on next?
I just released a second book called “How to Become a Heroic Writer” a workbook about how to develop the psychological skills of a writer. (It’s on Amazon now. I continue to post essays on my blog about lessons I’ve learned from reading memoirs. And of course I press on to complete my own memoir.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
The first time I thought I might be a writer was when I was 24, a lost soul in Berkeley California, trying to find myself through poetry and essays. A small literary magazine published one of my pieces, and the UC Berkeley student newspaper published another one. I thought I was on the way to becoming a writer, but I discovered a horrifying thing about myself. I lacked the psychological skills needed to accept constructive feedback. I grew increasingly shy about my writing and stopped trying to publish.

I wrote in a journal off and on, and in my 30s became serious about journal writing, doing it as a daily practice. By persistently putting pen to paper, I was gaining the knack of writing. In an interview for a technical job, I mentioned that I loved to write, and was hired as a technical writer. It’s possible to say journal writing and technical writing made me a writer, but I didn’t yet think of myself that way.

In my 50s, after I got my degree in counseling psychology, I found a storefront writing group near my home in Southeast Pennsylvania. The organization hosted critique groups, workshops and even social gatherings. I mingled with hundreds of aspiring writers, and I realized I was one of them. I’ve considered myself a writer ever since.

How do you find time to write?
About 20 years ago, in one of my many forays into self-help, a friend gave me a book, Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I didn’t just read it. I studied it for weeks, and talked about it with my friend. The message I took away from that self-help experience changed my life. Covey’s idea was that when we go to work, we focus intently on achieving goals, but when we approach our hobbies and creative interests, we do it when we feel like it. He suggested that to be productive in the things we love, we need to employ the same focus as on earning a paycheck. Based on that notion, I began to develop habits around my love for writing.

Over the years my writing habits created a joyful container for creativity, and after I began to connect with real readers, the joy increased exponentially. I’ve written a book “How to Become a Heroic Writer” about how I developed these habits and advice on how anyone can.

What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
I have two quirky techniques that keep me writing. One is that when I sit at my writing desk every morning, I turn on two banks of eight foot “natural” fluorescent lights. This light therapy resets my body clock and keeps me focused.

The second quirk is that every day at lunch, I walk on the treadmill and mark up the printouts from my morning writing session. These marked up copies become my raw material for the next morning’s writing session.

The two “quirks” light-therapy and exercise work together to improve my mood and contribute to the fun and energy of writing.

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