You are a celebrity ghostwriter, award-winning journalist, and Emmy-nominated reality show creator. Now you’re out with your first book, Zen Bender: A Decade-Long Enthusiastic Quest to Fix Everything (That Was Never Broken). What was the catalyst for this book?
Zen Bender was organic, in terms of how it came to be. I lost my job in TV news like so many other people in 2008, thanks to the recession, so I started ghostwriting self-help books for celebrities. As part of that process, I started reading self-help books for research. And then I just got really into them.
From there, things went next level. At the same time, I was going to LA for a month or two each winter, usually for a client, and quickly discovered that every possible healer or healing process is there and so I hit that guru circuit hard, like it was my job basically (it sorta was, but that’s a stretch). I tried it all.
And then one day years into this bender, I realized I’d being doing way too much and that it had been on some level making me feel worse—like the vision board seminar I took that made me see all of the things I didn’t have instead of all that I had, which was a lot. I started to write an essay and then it turned into a book proposal and I sold it and Zen Bender was born.
Tell us more about your self-help journey. Any surprises or aha moments?
Well, one big aha moment was the realization that regardless of all of the fixes I ate up like they were potato chips, walking usually did the trick. Also a side effect of reading a book like Marie Kondo’s was not that something huge happened, but that after throwing away all my clothes, and only keeping what brought me joy (which wasn’t much in the wardrobe department), I started measuring everything with how much joy it brought me—what I ate, who I associated with. And all of that gave me the ability to say no more, which I wasn’t good at previously.
But a lot of the times, the aha came in the form of “wow” that was dumb. When I was deep into the Zen Bender, I just kept soaking it in. Hoping for the big fix. There were a lot of tiny little hidden fixes and maybe they all added up to something big I just haven’t been able to connect with yet. But, the dating seminar was a dumb aha of sorts, but with a positive twist. I realized—geez, you’re telling me that if I have long shiny hair, men will think I’m fertile and want to marry me?. That’s not right. That’s screwed up advice. I guess it was a bonus that I was in tune enough with myself to know I needed to get up and leave that seminar.
One other positive aha—again, sort of a slow reveal—was that the sound bath meditation and the Reiki and some other stuff I was doing, were in fact meditative. And that’s a good thing. Those things all slowed me down and stopped the spinning in my head. Once I realized it was all some form of mediation, I realized that meditation was worthy of my time. Because I felt the same calm after all of it.
I won’t give you the final Zen Bender epiphany but the book ends on an aha moment essentially and a positive one at that.
What are some of the habits or learnings from your adventures that have actually stuck in your daily life?
Acupuncture is preventative medicine for me. I go monthly no matter what. It fixes everything. I try to do yoga a few times a week and walk and walk and walk. Meditation is something I like and see the benefits of, but have had a hard time being consistent. I’ll work on that though. And Reiki. All of these things help me sleep too and that’s an added bonus or maybe that’s even the main attraction.
Any self-help books you’d recommend?
Gosh there are so many it’s hard to narrow down to a few.
Anything by Gretchen Rubin is useful, especially her first book, The Happiness Project, Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun.
Marie Kondo’s book is worth reading, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.
The Most Powerful Woman in the Room Is You: Command an Audience and Sell Your Way to Success impressed me a lot, by Lydia Fenet.
Notice my theme—more empowerment, less traditional self-help.
How do you feel about self-help as a genre? Is there something for everyone?
As I wrote about in Zen Bender, self-help as a genre can be amazing if taken with a grain of salt, and also used sparingly. Rather than live by any one coach, guru, or spiritual guide’s words like gospel, it makes sense to take it in, assess how it might best apply to your own life, and pull a thread or two or three from any one movement.
Sometimes we read something and then we hand over the keys to someone else and let them drive our lives because we want so badly to believe they have the magic fix. That’s the dark side of self-help because that often ends in disappointment or worse, highlights all of our holes. And it becomes a vicious cycle of needing more fixes.
On the positive side, if a self-help book gets you to journal, or to read more, or to walk… Great. That’s a win. If there’s a placebo effect of sorts because you start doing something and you feel good, great. That’s a win. And with much of the stuff I tried in Zen Bender, it was a way to be present and focus on what I was doing at that moment. All of that is good stuff. And just learning new perspectives and hearing new things—I’m all for that all the time.
You provide many other services. Tell us how you assist others in shaping or writing their own self-help (or other) books? Which of the ones you’ve collaborated on might be of interest to my audience?
The process for working with someone on a book is different each time. Some people like to be interviewed and I can record them and then write. They never touch the keyboard. Others like to write and send me notes to put into sections and chapters and rework and soften up. It’s always different. I’m a question asker and I sometimes get people to tell me stories they didn’t think were all that relevant to their book, but then they really are. So in that sense I get them thinking about things that maybe didn’t initially pop into their heads. I make sure people know it’s their book, their words, their stories, and I’m just there to put them all together. I want people to love their books. I take seriously that it’s their life’s body of work and we’ve got to put it together properly.
Many books I’ve worked on are worthy, but I can’t mention all of them. Play Big: Lessons in Being Limitless from the First Woman to Coach in the NFL by Dr. Jen Welter is empowering and reminds readers to keep at it. She writes something along the lines of success isn’t just about skill, but fortitude. That really resonated with me. She was the first female coach in the NFL. She had no roadmap, so she made one. That’s a cool notion.
In addition to ghostwriting, I write essays, columns, and articles in my own name for various publications and I edit and write content for businesses as well on a long list of topics.
What resources do you recommend for those who wish to write self-help?
Hmm, that’s a tough question. I’m a big fan of classes. Writing workshops are great. Writing classes are helpful because they get people thinking. If you have a network of writers, get together once a week and read each other’s work. That’s always helpful because other people have insight. And like with self-help, take that with a grain of salt. Hear them. Soak it in. Assess where they are coming from. Then decide if their wisdom is aligned with your vision for your book.
Generally—my main advice to writers is Ass in Chair. Meaning sit down and write. Don’t talk about it just sit at the computer and write. Nobody can really teach you that. No resource needed.
For women, read The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance—What Women Should Know. That’s not self-help, but it’s extremely enlightening in terms of why women often lack confidence compared to men. It’s riveting.
Connect with Stephanie Krikorian:
Contact form: http://stephaniekrikorian.com/contact-2/
Book: Zen Bender: A Decade-Long Enthusiastic Quest to Fix Everything (That Was Never Broken)
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Stephanie Krikorian is a New York Times Best Selling ghostwriter who has collaborated on more than twenty nonfiction books for various authors. In 2019, she penned her own humorous account of trying all things self-help, in her first solo book, Zen Bender: A Decade-Long Enthusiastic Quest to Fix Everything (That Was Never Broken). Stephanie’s work has appeared in multiple publications including the New York Post, O, the Oprah Magazine, Hamptons, and other publications, including the Wall Street Journal, where she chronicled her second attempt at her first New York Marathon after her initial efforts were thwarted by Super Storm Sandy in 2012.
Stephanie is an award-winning journalist who spent more than fifteen years in TV news as a producer and foreign bureau chief, mostly for CNBC and BusinessWeek TV. She also worked in digital news, developing, launching, and executive producing WSJ.com’s live, online programming and was the editor-in-charge of planning and futures for a digital news project at Reuters called Insider. She created and executive produced reality show that was nominated for a New York Emmy.
Stephanie splits her time between New York City and East Hampton.