Jerry Waxler, M.S. author of “Four Elements of Writers,” considers himself a writing-activist, trying to convince people that if they want to write, they ought to overcome obstacles and “just do it.” Jerry answers questions today about how he became interested in helping writers help themselves.
Why are you so passionate about reaching out to writers?
When I was 18, I knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up, a doctor. By the time I was 24, I was living in a garage, preparing to move to Costa Rica to sleep on the beach and eat fruit from the trees. At the last minute, I steered back toward civilization, but it took me another 20 years to put my life back together. Years of being in therapy, and studying self-help books culminated in a graduate program Counseling Psychology at Villanova. After I earned my Master’s degree I wanted to write what I learned so I could help other people achieve their own goals.
When I became serious about writing, I was fortunate to find a club in Doylestown called the Writers Room of Bucks County, where writers congregated and learned from each other. The storefront club for writers 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 when they have to overcome shyness, and try to present their work to the world.
I realized that many of the strategies that I had been learning to help overcome obstacles in other aspects of life could be applied to writers. For example, writers have to set priorities, establish healthy habits, improve attitude, 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 in Doylestown, 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.
Why is your book only available from your website?
When I finished writing the book, I spent some time trying to find an onramp into the book publishing industry but soon realized that it was going to take a lot of time to find a publisher. I was intrigued by book production and thought I could learn a lot by putting the book together myself. I hired a book designer, cover artist, and editors, and printed the book and sell them directly from my website. That was before the revolution in electronic publishing. A few weeks ago I bought a Kindle, and everywhere I go, I meet people who just bought an e-reader or going to soon. This is all happening so fast, I am only now gearing up to re-publish the book.
One reason I self-published was because it was my first book and I wanted to learn from my mistakes. One mistake I made with that book was the fancy title, Four Elements for Writers. The title refers to the way I organized the self-help tools into four categories, action, attitude, story-of-self, and audience. Each of the sections corresponds with the alchemical notion that everything is made up of earth, air, fire and water. The title is too abstract and when I republish it, I want to change it to something more straightforward.
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) 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 maintain a yahoo group for memoir writers and I’m on the Board of Directors of the Philadelphia Writers Conference and volunteer at other 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 read more about “Four Elements for Writers” and to order your copy, click here. http://jerrywaxler.com/four_elements.html
To read Jerry’s blog, click here. http://www.memorywritersnetwork.com/blog
Jerry’s Home Page: http://www.jerrywaxler.com