Jerry Waxler compares the benefits of journal and memoir writing

I’m so pleased to host Jerry Waxler on his third WOW! Women on Writing blog tour stop. He generously allowed me to conduct a two-part interview with him in September 2013 about the role of memoir in our lives today (here and here). At that time he also discussed his wonderful and very informative book about memoir writing, Memoir Revolution (see my review below).

Today Jerry writes about the many benefits of journal and memoir writing and compares the two forms. Thanks so much, Jerry, for being here and providing your expertise to the many readers here at Choices.

Memoir Revolution Cover

Comparing the Benefits of Journal Writing and Memoir Writing

By Jerry Waxler

I discovered the benefits of journal writing in the late 1970s when a spiritual teacher suggested, I write my thoughts as if in a letter to God. Allowing my thoughts and feelings to flow onto the page helped me maintain my poise so effectively, I kept going for years. When I began to read about the healing benefits of journal writing, I wasn’t surprised. I had already experienced these benefits for myself.

Similarly, when I first came across the notion of memoir writing, I was not thinking in terms of healing. I had been through many interesting experiences, and wanted to gather them into a narrative form. I wondered if it was even possible, considering I had never written stories before. However, I loved to write and thought that this would make a fascinating creative challenge. In addition, I had always been shy, and thought that learning to think of my experiences as a story might help me open up to other people.

At first, I was happy to be working on the project, gathering anecdotes and attempting to develop them into a compelling story. After I had been doing it for a while, and reading other people’s memoirs, I noticed a remarkable similarity between writing a memoir, and talking to a therapist. I had been in talk-therapy for years, first as a client, and later as a therapist. In talk therapy, a client attempts to tell a story, with the goal of sorting things out and finding new ways to see things.

Writing a memoir is an attempt to do the same thing, but rather than speaking to a therapist, by writing a memoir, I was attempting to explain myself to strangers. By sitting at my computer, spending hours each week trying to organize my life as a story, I was building upon the years I had been in talk therapy, constructing my past into the universal form of a story.

By seeing the way memoir writing helped writers understand themselves, I began to realize I had come across one of the most comprehensive self-help techniques that I have found in my forty years of studying such techniques. I describe this psychology of memoir writing in my book Memoir Revolution. Here’s the short version.

All young people grow up unconsciously putting together a story about themselves. At first build that story from interactions with parents and siblings. Over time, we gather more information, experiment, and continue to tack on new parts of our self-image. If we’re lucky, by the time we reach adulthood we have a coherent story of ourselves. But then the years keep adding on more experience and we have to change and grow.

Eventually, this cobbled-together story becomes unwieldy. Earlier parts might be hard to remember. We ignore contradictions, or forget about failed predictions. Some memories are scary and we try to avoid them altogether. Many of our most informative experiences must be pushed aside in order to make sense of ourselves today. To maintain a coherent story of ourselves we think about the parts that make sense, but we have very little practice experiencing ourselves in a more holistic way.

Writing a memoir allows us to overhaul that story of self, converting it from an accumulated set reactions to circumstances, into a series of clear understandings about who we used to be, how we got here, and where we are now. This makes memoir writing one of the premier methods in our culture for revising and healing one’s sense of self.

The benefits spill over into our interactions with other people. To write a memoir well, we are drawn to other like-minded individuals who are similarly attempting to find their own stories. Memoir writers need each other in order to overcome the fear of revealing too much.

I remember the first time I sat in a group and shared a secret. My revelation, about some teen indiscretion, did not evoke contempt. Miraculously, by telling my dark secret, I felt closer to them. A lifetime of shame crumbled away. Together with fellow writers, in critique groups, blogs, and other social units I call tribes, memoir writers draw on this mutual support. This makes memoir writing one of the premier methods not only of developing the self. It is also a fabulous tool for gaining a more mature understanding of one’s interaction with other people.

Even though I have not yet published my memoir, the fact that I have shaped my memories into stories makes it far easier to explain things about myself, making me more confident, comfortable and open. The act of writing a memoir has actually enhanced my ability to relate to other people. And in order to write a memoir, I’ve had to read hundreds of stories by other people. In story after story, I gain a deeper understanding of the people around me, creating even more openness and confidence in my relationships.

I look back on my journey as a writer and see that the foundation of it all was writing in a journal. By learning to allow my thoughts to flow out onto the page, I developed the instincts and “mental muscle” that aided me throughout every writing project. , Journal writing is to memoir writing, as practicing scales is to playing music.

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jerry waxler head shotAbout the Author: Jerry Waxler teaches memoir writing at Northampton Community College, Bethlehem, PA, online, and around the country. His Memory Writers Network blog offers hundreds of essays, reviews, and interviews about reading and writing memoirs. He is on the board of the Philadelphia Writer’s Conference and National Association of Memoir Writers and holds a BA in Physics and an MS in Counseling Psychology.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/jerrywaxler
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jerrywaxler
Website: http://www.jerrywaxler.com/
Blog: http://memorywritersnetwork.com/blog/

Jerry’s Book: Memoir Revolution is Jerry Waxler’s beautifully written story as he integrates it with his deep and abiding knowledge and passion for story. In the 1960s, Jerry Waxler, along with millions of his peers, attempted to find truth by rebelling against everything. After a lifetime of learning about himself and the world, he now finds himself in the middle of another social revolution. In the twenty-first century, increasing numbers of us are searching for truth by finding our stories. In Memoir Revolution, Waxler shows how memoirs link us to the ancient, pervasive system of thought called The Story. By translating our lives into this form, we reveal the meaning and purpose that eludes us when we view ourselves through the lens of memory. And when we share these stories, we create mutual understanding, as well. By exploring the cultural roots of this literary trend, based on an extensive list of memoirs and other book, Waxler makes the Memoir Revolution seem like an inevitable answer to questions about our psychological, social and spiritual well-being.

Paperback: 190Pages
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Neuralcoach Press; 1 edition (April 9, 2013)
ISBN-10: 0977189538
Twitter hashtag: #MRevolutionWaxler
Memoir Revolution is available as an e-book and paperback at Amazon.

My review of Memoir Revolution:  When I began to query agents about my memoir, I was told I needed to be a celebrity for anyone to be interested in reading my book. Jerry Waxler’s premise in the Memoir Revolution has put an end to that wrongful thinking. He offers encouragement to the would-be “everyman” memoir author. Our stories are vital, our stories are meaningful, and our stories are necessary to our mental and physical, social, and spiritual well-being. He also maintains that in the process, we memoir writers band together to develop writing and story telling skills.

Waxler has named the twenty-first century as the time of the memoir revolution – a time when we learn our life stories and then share them with others. And in writing these stories we learn how powerful we are, as we literally become a character in our own story. Waxler states that the memoir revolution breaks taboos. We turn mistakes, regrets, failures into lessons. Regret and humiliation changes from shame which isolates to authenticity, which connects

Memoir Revolution is beautifully written, clear, well thought out, and well researched. Waxler read hundreds of memoirs before writing this book and generously mentions many memoirs and memoirists as they relate to his subject matter.

These readings also allowed him to discuss the range of memoirs that in his words, “create a university of human experience.” This range includes: child to young adult development, awareness of social causes, recounting historical and cultural forces, effects of combat and PTSD, coping with grief and acceptance, emerging from dependent to independent young adult, finding ourselves, parenting, and travel.

However, he states, “the world of memoirs expands to infinity…many of the ideas and lessons in memoirs transcend categories altogether.” And what I especially liked in this discussion of the memoir revolution was how Waxler included his own coming of age story into the mix.

I urge those in the midst of the memoir revolution to read this book.

Jerry’s Blog Tour Dates:

Monday, November 3 @ The Muffin
Stop by for an interview and book giveaway! http://muffin.wow-womenonwriting.com/

Tuesday, November 4 @ Create Write Now

Jerry Waxler stops at Mari McCarthy’s Create Write Now to tell us a little bit about Switching From Journal Writing to Memoir Writing and tells more about his own story – Memoir Revolution. http://www.createwritenow.com/

Wednesday, November 5 @ Choices

Join author and blogger Madeline Sharples as she reviews Jerry Waxler’s book Memoir Revolution. Find out what a memoir author thinks of this intriguing book that is part guide and part memoir! Jerry will also delight reader with a guest post Comparing the Benefits of Journal Writing and Memoir Writing. http://madeline40.blogspot.com/

Friday, November 7 @ All Things Audry

Join Jerry Waxler and Audry Fryer and find out why Jerry called his latest bookMemoir Revolution and register for the giveaway to win your own copy of this fascinating book. http://allthingsaudry.blogspot.com/

Monday, November 10 @ Lauren Scharhag

Join Jerry Waxler as he writes a guest post about the “Types of Memoirs” for Lauren Scharhag’s blog today! Find out more about Jerry, memoirs, and his book Memoir Revolution! http://laurenscharhag.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, November 11 @ Vera’s Version

Join Jerry Waxler as a guest blogger as he chats about “Twenty years in choir and the power of habits” at Vera’s Version and find out more about Memoir Revolution and what Jerry has to say about writing your own memoir! http://verasversion.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, November 12 @ Sherrey Meyer

Read Jerry Waxler’s entertaining and insightful guest post as he visits with fellow author Sherrey Meyer. Sherrey asks the loaded question: “Your bio says you studied counseling psychology. How does that relate to memoir writing?” There will also be one copy of Jerry’s book Memoir Revolution available for giveaway as part of this blog stop. Pop over today and don’t miss a moment! http://sherreymeyer.com/author/sherreya/

Thursday, November 13 @ Katherine Hajer

Tune in today as Katherine Hajer reviews Memoir Revolution by Jerry Waxler. See what she thinks about this interesting book! http://www.katherine-hajer.com/

Friday, November 14 @ Romance Junkies

Join Jerry Waxler as he stops at Romance Junkies for an insightful interview about himself and his unique book Memoir Revolution. http://www.romancejunkies.com/rjblog/

Monday, November 17 @ CMash Reads

Jerry Waxler visits CMash Reads and shares his thoughts on turning his lawn into a story while also providing some insight into his popular book Memoir Revolution. http://cmashlovestoread.com/

Wednesday, November 19 @ Bring On Lemons

Join Crystal Otto as she shares her review of Jerry Waxler’s Memoir Revolution and offers readers an opportunity to win their own copy! http://bringonlemons.blogspot.com/

Friday, November 21 @ Lisa Haselton

Join Lisa Haselton as she interviews the knowledgeable and interesting Jerry Waxler about his memoir writing book Memoir Revolution. Jerry has graciously provided an ebook copy for one lucky giveaway winner. This is a blog stop you won’t want to miss! http://lisahaseltonsreviewsandinterviews.blogspot.com/

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Comments

  1. Thanks for helping spread the word, Madeline. I know from reading your memoir how valuable writing has been to you as a way of healing. Writing my book “Memoir Revolution” gave me an opportunity to think through how that works. For those who have never experienced the benefits of writing a memoir, one important step is to start gathering anecdotes and crafting them into a story. Another is to read memoirs. And a third is to read blogs and books *about* memoirs, in order to gain a more complete understanding of the genre. Blogs like yours are helping shift memoir writing from an individual effort to a social one.

    Best wishes,
    Jerry Waxler
    Author of Memoir Revolution

    • Madeline Sharples says:

      You are very welcome. I found your essay very interesting. It really hit home to me since my memoir started with my journals.It seems that the two go together and we cannot write a memoir without preparing through journal writing. Thanks for your generous insights. I’m very glad to have you back at Choices. All best, Madeline

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