A version of this interview first appeared last month on Aggie Villanueva's Visual Arts Junction blog.
Awakening Your Muse: Writing Coach Mark David Gerson
by Aggie Villaneuva
Stumbling across Mark David was a treasure trove for me, even as a professional writer. He asks multilayered questions that will strengthen any writer who plumbs them, but more, he offers personal coaching to achieve that end. ~ AV
VAJ: Mark David, you fill a void in writing education. When and how did you get started in this nontraditional type of education? What is the story behind your web pages?
Mark David: Thanks, Aggie. I suppose my unconventional approach comes from the fact that I hated writing and pretty much any creative pursuit all through school. Somehow, at some age, I got shut down creatively and continued to do my best to avoid having to write well into my teens.
In a sense, my Muse tricked me into becoming a writer. Or, rather, she pulled me along -- “safe” step by safe step -- until I was hooked.
It began in high school when I was volunteered to coordinate publicity for a school play and had to learn how to write press releases. That PR-related writing continued through college and into my earliest jobs out of university. From there I ultimately moved into newspaper and magazine work as a freelance writer and editor. It was during that period that a colleague somehow talked me into attending a writing workshop.
Until then, my stereotyped view of writing workshops had involved public humiliation: You’d read what you’d written and would then be viciously critiqued. This workshop was nothing like that. It was nurturing, supportive and creatively awakening, and it became the foundation for my coaching and for everything I’ve taught and written about writing ever since.
The teaching and coaching ultimately led to my book, The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write and its companion recording, The Voice of the Companion: Guided Meditations for Writers (I used often guided meditation as a tool in my writing classes and workshops). It also led to this blog of tools, tips and inspiration for writers.
I also have a personal web site and a blog more related to personal/spiritual growth. These are not unrelated to my work with writers, as I strongly believe that life and creativity are intrinsically linked, which, of course, feeds right back into my nontraditional approach!
VAJ: What type of writer most commonly comes to you for coaching?
Mark David: I’ve worked with all sorts of writers -- both as a coach and in my classes and workshops. My approach transcends genre and experience level. Having said that, though, I tend to attract writers who are open to writing from a deep inner place and who are prepared to express themselves authentically. I work best with writers who see writing as more than a job, but as something that is a vital part of their self-expression.
VAJ: Are your coaching sessions only for the novice with an urge to write, or do you work with long-established professional writers too?
Mark David: Again, my clients and students come from the full spectrum -- from novices who don’t believe they can write to published authors. I work a lot (though not exclusively) with people experiencing creative blocks. These can express themselves equally as an inability to get going, an inability to keep going or an inability to complete. Writers at all levels of experience have these issues, and all have benefited from working with me.
VAJ: In a nutshell, how would you explain your offerings to the writer or would-be writer who wonders if your course is for them?
Mark David: The first thing I like to point out is that I offer no single course or program. I work intuitively with each individual (or, in the case of a class, each group) to discern their particular needs. No two coaching series are alike. For that matter, no two of my classes are alike — even those that carry the same name. In fact, I’ve had students take the same class with me multiple times, because they know each experience will be unique.
Perhaps the most important thing I share with prospective coaching clients is that my work as a writing coach often intersects with my work as life coach. As I said earlier, life and creativity are inextricably linked. Our writing issues are often expressions of our life issues. If a client truly desires to get to the root of the former, he or she must be prepared to also deal with the latter.
Of course, not all coaching issues are deep issues. More often than not, though, they are. Even something as simple as making time for writing can relate to how we make time in our lives for ourselves.
VAJ: Your title is “Coach.” Do you spend personal coaching time with your students in workshops, over the phone, teleseminars? How exactly are your courses set up?
Mark David: I call myself a “coach,” but I really see myself as a guide and catalyst and I work with people in whatever ways that time, logistics and technology permit. Most of my coaching clients are not local; even when they are, I often conduct sessions over the phone. It’s just more convenient for everyone. While I still offer most of my classes and workshops in person, I have offered teleseminars in the past and am now exploring video-conferencing technology so as to make my workshops and classes more widely available.
VAJ: Mark David, when a writer first starts working personally with you, where is the very starting point at which you begin?
Mark David: The starting point is the writer him- or herself. As every session and series of sessions is unique to each writer’s needs and issues, there is no common starting point, other than identifying what’s going on for each individual and responding accordingly. Creativity is not about formulas and repeating what’s been done before. It’s about invention and individuality. Therefore, there are rarely boilerplate solutions, even when dealing with something as common as writer’s block.
VAJ: Mark David, you coach us to delve into our spiritual and psychological sides. How far do you take your students into the practicalities of writing?
Mark David: As far as they need to go! I’m happy to focus on craft and technique if that’s where the session or class needs to go. But even there, clients and students often find my take to be nontraditional! For example, my attitude toward editing is much more intuitive and respectful than most conventional approaches, which you can probably tell from my workshop on the topic, which I call “The Heartful Art of re-Vision.”
VAJ: Based on past students, just how effective are your sessions towards becoming a professional writer versus a self-aware writer?
Mark David: Unless you choose to treat writing as a 9-5 job divorced from passion and calling, the road to being a successful professional writer begins by being a self-aware writer. The subtitle of my book says it all: “answering the call to write.” I work best with writers who feel that profound call and are ready to answer it. If they’re not, I may not be the best coach for them.
VAJ: For the writer or would-be writer reading this and still wonders if your sessions are for them, what would you say?
Mark David: The catchphrase I use on my book and in most of my work with writers is, “You’ll never feel the same about writing again.” If you’re ready to write from the heart, to surrender to the stories that have always been inside you, to revolutionize your writing life and/or to live your creativity, then I’m your guy!
VAJ: Any parting words of wisdom to all writers?
Mark David: Trust the story, even if you don’t yet know what it is. Trust your innate creativity. Take it word by word and allow your pen or the keyboard to spell out the story for you. Allow yourself to be the passenger on your creative journey, not the driver. And, of course, read The MoonQuest and get a copy of The Voice of the Muse -- both the book and CD set! Seriously, if you can begin to believe that your story always knows best, you’ll never go wrong.
VAJ: Thank you so much for your time and your insights. Yours is a work we will all remember.
• Aggie Villanueva's original interview
• More about my coaching services