Mary J. Yerkes
Writer & Inspirational Speaker
Tell us what you want to write about, or what you are working on.
I write about a number of topics that have personally affected my life, including depression, mental illness, abuse, and chronic pain and illness. My foray into writing began with my story of walking through a life-threatening depression and subsequent six-week stay in a psychiatric hospital being accepted for publication in a compilation book, The Gift of Depression (http://thegiftofdepression.org/).
Since that initial acceptance, I have written nearly 100 articles and stories for publication. I also had a short memoir on living with chronic pain and illness (I live with rheumatoid arthritis) published in 32 countries and learned later that seminaries are using it to teach pastors how to effectively care for those living with chronic pain and illness in their congregations.
Most of my published work is for the inspirational market, although I write for the general market as well, which has been a challenge on many counts. Unfortunately, many of today’s inspirational publishers—as least those targeting the Christian market—tend to want to sweep the ugly side of life under the rug, leaving many in this demographic feeling invalidated and rejected. I’m convinced that if someone had listened to the abuse I endured years ago, I would not have ended up in a psychiatric hospital. I have myself that I would always write and speak the truth—even if it makes others uncomfortable. Period.
I hope to one day write a full-length memoir on recovering from a lifetime of emotional abuse. My first choice for a title is Joy Comes in the Morning.
If you could imagine the title of your story–what would it be?
What helps you to get your writing done–for instance–a writing schedule, taking a class, reading.
Plain old-fashioned discipline. Fortunately, while studying dance as a young woman under the tutelage of a lovely English woman, I learned the importance of showing up for class daily—six days a week—regardless of what I felt like. That lesson stuck with me and carried over into every area of my life, including my writing.
E.L. Konigsburg said it well, “The difference between being a writer and being a person of talent is the discipline it takes to apply the seat of your pants to the seat of your chair and finish…”
Other helpful tools that keep me inspired and help me get my writing done include:
- Journaling. I have kept a journal for more than 20 years, writing it in almost daily.
- Joining local writers’ groups and organizations.
- Attending annual writers’ conferences.
- Reading widely.
- Reading writers’ blogs.
- Writing daily—even if it’s just a paragraph or two.
- Sending editors queries and submissions for publication consideration.
What are your five favorite books–okay, you can make it a little longer if you need to.
There are so many! Several books have influenced my writing and set me on the path of sharing my story through the written word:
Reading Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott proved revolutionary for me, freeing me to share my story with others. One quote, in particular, resonated with me and set me on a path of telling others and myself the truth.
“Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer, you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act–truth is always subversive.” — Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
Other favorite books include:
- Writing to Heal the Soul: Transforming Grief and Loss through Writing by Susan Zimmermann
- On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
- Art & Fear: Observations on The Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles & Ted Orland
- Word Painting: A Guide to Writing More Descriptively by Rebecca McClanahan
- Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott
Currently, I’m reading Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey through His Son’s Addiction by David Sheff. Mary Pipher, author of Reviving Ophelia, said in praise of Beautiful Boy: “When one of us tells the truth, he makes it easier for all of us to open our hearts to our pain and that of others.”
Memoir writing is ultimately about telling the truth. The truth sets us free to heal from our deep woundedness and enables us to offer hope to others.
Is there anyone who does not want you to write your memoir? Why not?
Probably my parents, as they come across in a negative light when I share memories and events from my childhood in print. Frankly, I’ve not shared any of my published work that mentions my childhood abuse with them. I’m concerned how it might affect them emotionally. My parents are elderly and I have visions of my mother, in particular, grabbing her heart and keeling over right there on the spot from a heart attack if she reads what I’ve written.
I’m working through it, though.
Talk about who the audience is for your memoir. Be brief and concise.
My audience for my memoir(s) includes individuals living with depression, mental illness, abuse, chronic pain and illness, as well as those who love them.
What is the most significant turning point in your life?
My hospitalization, which was 20 years ago. It was then that I began to tell myself the truth about my childhood, my marriage, and my relationships. Facing the truth was the beginning of my healing.
There is a popular saying in the recovery community: “You’re as sick as your secrets.” That’s why memoirs are such powerful agents of healing—the process of putting into print that which we’ve kept hidden in the deep recesses of our souls invites restoration, understanding, and compassion for ourselves.
Author and inspirational speaker Mary J. Yerkes was nine years old when she first realized she wanted to become a writer, but it wasn’t until years later that her dream became a reality. Her many articles and stories highlight such important issues as emotional abuse, domestic violence, depression, and chronic pain and illness. She lives in Northern Virginia, where she enjoys writing, reading, and hiking the Virginia countryside with her collie, Misha.