Monday, November 10, 2014

Welcome to Jerry Waxler, Guest Blogger, on the WOW Book Tour: Twenty Years In Choir and the Power of Habits

In high school, I devoted myself to science, and considered self-expression to be a waste of time. My nerdy youth prepared me to earn a living in technology but left me miserably out of touch with my own voice. 
My first attempt to find my voice occurred in my twenties, when I devoted myself to writing in a journal, every day for years. I loved the sensation of self-expression, but the audience was limited to myself. 
In my forties, I read a memoir by Joan Baez, And a Voice to Sing With, in which she expressed hope that no one should leave this earth without experiencing the pleasure of singing. Her appeal made me think about how tired I was of being silent. If I didn’t change soon, I would be one of those people Joan Baez warned about. 
I enrolled in voice lessons at a small music school, where I was 30 years older than most of the other students, and older than my teacher. Each week, she taught me basics such as how to sing pure vowels, how to use my diaphragm, and how to attack and sustain each note. I recorded our lessons and played them in the car, singing scales on my long commute to work. Daily habits supported my effort to learn how to sing.
When I reached a minimum level of skill, I qualified for entry in a choir. Every Wednesday evening, the choir director, a recent college grad, taught us how to follow a conductor, how to harmonize with each other, and how to align our voices on the beat. Week by week, year by year, we rehearsed, taking occasional breaks when our director went on her honeymoon, then had babies. 
Each rehearsal I learned a little more about reading music, and adjusting the dynamics and going straight to the pitch. Finally I was part of a performance, and, after I all the hours and years of preparation, I was able to see my voice reflected on the faces of those to whom I was singing. I realized I had fulfilled Joan Baez’s challenge. 
In my fifties, another hankering for self-expression welled up in my heart. My years of journaling had given me a love for writing. I wanted to expand my audience to readers. I didn’t know how to reach that goal, but experience with singing had proven to me that adults can learn skills. 
I studied books about writing and attended classes, soaking in the expertise of those who had succeeded. When I felt brave enough, I joined clubs. Instead of being intimidated by the other writers, I discovered that being in their company sped up my learning, by giving me feedback and support. Through every stage of my study, I was sustained by a daily writing habit.  By writing every day, seven days a week, gradually I increased my ability to express myself in the written word.
Through it all, I have come to experience the joy of writing as a means of communicating with readers. The feedback from writing is not as immediate as it is when singing. However, writers also have their ways of feeling the appreciation of readers, such as praise from reviewers, and the willingness of people to invest their time. And it was all earned through the power of daily effort.
What can you do?
For any adult who wants to find a voice, there’s no need to feel trapped by inadequate skills. Apply steady persistent effort. Over time, your writing voice improves, your self-confidence grows, and bit by bit, you learn what writers must do in order to reach readers.
If you have never developed a daily writing habit, take that first step. Read Julia Cameron The Artist’s Way. In it, she describes a method for pouring thoughts out on to paper. She calls the daily exercise, “Morning Pages.” Or read my book How to Become a Heroic Writer in which I outline the steps of forming a habit. By writing every day, you will gradually gain familiarity and skill at shaping sentences on a page. 
If you are already writing in a journal and want to learn to learn a more structured form, keep up your daily habit, but turn it toward writing pieces for strangers. Find a critique group, and accept reader feedback. By learning how your writing sounds in other people’s ears, over time you will gain the knack of writing for readers.  
To learn more about the power of habits, read my book Learn to Become a Heroic Writer to help you develop habits, attitudes and social connections necessary to share your words with strangers.

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.
About 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.


  1. Hi Vera,

    Thanks for letting me spin a tale that shows the power of habits in my life - I think any writer can learn from his or her own experience of what works and what doesn't. It's yet another reason why everyone should write a memoir. :)

    Best wishes,

  2. Hi Jerry,

    You are welcome. Writing is, indeed, the best of habits.

    I have a question for you: What would you say to someone who has been told, "You should write your life story." But he or she doesn't think they have anything much to write about?

    Happy writing,

  3. Hi Vera,

    I get this comment a lot, and wrote a post called Ten Reasons Anyone Should Write a Memoir

    For example, for writers, a good reason is to learn how to write authentically from a first-person point of view. By practicing a first-person point of view, yourself, you can learn a lot about how characters think, improving your other writing. Another good one is that by developing your life as a story, you come to understand why people might be interested in you. Seeing the story of you adds depth to your understanding of how people think of you. This does not mean putting yourself on a pedestal.On the contrary, memoir readers love flawed characters. By writing a memoir you can learn to be more comfortable in your own skin, flaws and all. Does that help? Best wishes, Jerry