May 20th, 2015

The Jackass in My Head: Barnyard Lessons From a Rustic Writer’s Retreat

by Kimberly Brock

A few weeks ago I was heading to Cashiers, North Carolina for what was heralded as the answer to my recent writer’s weariness. I’d been driving for several hours, twisting up winding roads where the earth falls away into deep gullies and the air grows thin and the mountain walls weep.

I was dizzy with anticipation, and probably the higher altitude. For months, I’d been waiting and worrying about this retreat. I’d been invited to attend as a speaker, and I’d become convinced I was secretly meant to be the comic relief. The other authors on the panel were big names with long, illustrious careers. I had no idea how I’d gotten so lucky to be included amongst them, but I was already sweating through my new jacket.

photo credit: Donkeys via photopin (license)

photo credit: Donkeys via photopin (license)

Upon arrival, I dumped my luggage in a pile in my room and texted the event coordinator to let her know I’d found the joint, mostly so I couldn’t back out of the whole thing and hit the road with some sort of excuse – got kidnapped, bubonic plague.

I’d been battling my inner running dialogue all day, the one that reminds me of all my shortcomings, all the bad decisions, the bad grammar, the bad breath.

Some writers call this voice the Inner Editor. I call it my Inner Jackass. In my mind’s eye, this voice looks a lot like the Hee Haw logo, sporting goofy teeth, ready to take a bite out of me any chance he gets.

With time to kill before our first panel and dinner, I tried on a pair of heels and practiced walking around, trying to be taller. Being taller means you are a real writer, doesn’t it? Being taller will make people believe you are smart enough to stand behind a lectern right? Being taller will distract them from my poor spelling.

I ended up giving myself a blister. It was a sign. I could hear my Jackass guffawing. I was out of my league and now, my shoes. I might as well hang a tag off the brim of my straw hat, he brayed.

I had nothing to say. My novel was drivel. I hadn’t written anything worth reading out loud in weeks. No, years! I’d published with a small press and everyone knows that’s because I’m second string. I never had a movie deal. I made a “C” in Honor’s English, likely the high point in my writing journey!

At this point, I started having that waking nightmare where someone asks me about the high concept in my current work. They’ll want me to teach them my secrets of success, fill out a story arc on a dry erase board. They’ll want to hear all about the main conflict in my new work, expecting to be knocked back in their seats by brilliance. They PAID MONEY to be here!

Big, sloppy donkey lips were nipping at all my soft spots.

My phone jingled. Here was the coordinator’s response to learning I had arrived safely. Get ready. It changed my entire weekend.

“Yay! I am feeding the donkeys. Heading back soon.”

Did you cock your head? Seriously?

I really did look around, wondering if I was being pranked. The place didn’t have phones or TVs in the rooms, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t being watched. The walls were knotty pine, perfect for peep holes. This was nothing short of portent, damn it.

The jackass in my head wiggled his eyebrows. He might have had a stogy between his teeth.

I read the message again and puzzled. Was I supposed to respond to this? Maybe it was some kind of cool kid code, like LOL or…I don’t even know any other secret texting acronyms. I was in trouble. Worse, maybe this was some clever, literary expression and I was too witless to understand. Or, God forbid, maybe it was about politics.

Before the text, I’d been trying to think up something smart to say on that evening’s panel. We were supposed to inspire the attendees with genius ideas about finding inspiration to write in the everyday. Now, all I was thinking was, Donkeys. Feeding donkeys.

I started throwing all my junk back into my suitcase. If I started driving now, I’d cross the state line just a little after dark, about the time anybody here would even miss uninspired, unsophisticated me. I’d just take my ass and go home.

But, as writers are wont to do, I couldn’t help appreciating the bizarre, neurotic irony of it all and my mind turned to metaphor. An idea bloomed. It was one of those moments where two wrongs make a right. Two donkeys and Kimberly Brock walk into a bar…

Seriously. It’s not just the Jackass in my head with all the self-doubt and anxiety that plague a creative mind. It’s all the jackasses who wimble on about how they don’t have time to read. The jackasses that make me feel guilty about devoting time to the writing, instead of mothering or wife-ing or tennis-ing or volunteering like a good suburban humanitarian.

The jackasses that mean well. The jackasses that are jealous. The jackasses that suck all the energy out of my soul. The jackasses that brag and dance and laugh all the way to the bank. Or jail. The jackasses that don’t even try. The jackasses who bully and tease and pick at my sanity. The jackasses who are mean and skinny. The jackasses with too many expectations. The jackasses that worry me out of my sleep. The jackasses who fire me up. The jackasses I love.

Considering all the myriad of ways in which jackasses have inspired me over the years, I started wondering if I should have been sending out thank you notes.

I didn’t leave. I spent the time before the first panel feeding my inner donkeys, which turns out to be the most effective bit of advice I have for writers seeking inspiration. Feed your writing with what nags at you, nips at you, brays and bewilders and bullies.

I put on my sandals and forgot about being tall or smart. Turns out, there really were a pair of friendly, hungry donkeys on the property. As is often the case with a couple of jackasses, they had no interest in writing, but ended up front and center in my work and what I had to say that night amongst my esteemed peers.

What inspires your everyday writing life, Kimberly Brock?

I answered honestly.


What inspires your writing? Do you feed the jackasses in your daily life that might inspire you, or do fear them? Do you let them fire you up or shut you down?

About Kimberly

Kimberly Brock

Kimberly Brock

Kimberly Brock is the award winning author of the #1 Amazon bestseller, THE RIVER WITCH (Bell Bridge Books, 2012). A former actor and special needs educator, Kimberly is the recipient of the Georgia Author of the Year 2013 Award. A literary work reminiscent of celebrated southern author Carson McCullers, THE RIVER WITCH has been chosen by two national book clubs.

Kimberly’s writing has appeared in anthologies, blogs and magazines, including Writer Unboxed and Psychology Today. Kimberly served as the Blog Network Coordinator for She Reads, a national online book club from 2012 to 2014, actively spearheading several women’s literacy efforts. She lectures and leads workshops on the inherent power in telling our stories and is founder of Tinderbox Writer’s Workshop. She is also owner of Kimberly Brock Pilates.

She lives in the foothills of north Atlanta with her husband and three children, where she is at work on her next novel. Visit her website at for more information and to find her blog.

34 comments to The Jackass in My Head: Barnyard Lessons From a Rustic Writer’s Retreat

  • Love, love, love this, Kimberly – not only because it made me laugh at 6 am – but because it’s SO good to hear that I’m not the only one! And, because I go down the road and share my latest ideas with three donkeys, every day. They don’t laugh at me.

    If an author with your talent (do I need to dogpile you to get you to believe that?) has this much angst, it’s okay for me to struggle through mine.

    Now quit dithering and write another book for me to love!

  • For me, it’s an extreme aversion to housework, The thought of having to clean toilets gets me to the keyboard every time.

  • I don’t think I’ve laughed so hard in years. The stogy was the last straw, and I hee-hawed like…like your jackass!

    And then I literally gasped when I realized this side-splitting post camd from the same author of the profound and moving post, Storytellers of the Blue World. Wow.

    Kimberly Brock, you are one seriously talented and versatile writer. Kudos and thanks for reaching out and and yet again touching the tender places where inspiration likes to hide.

  • Thanks for this post, Kimberly. It couldn’t have come at a better time as I begin writing my next novel and battle my version of jackasses – Monkey Brain. I’ve re-blogged this on my website.

    • Aw, thanks so much for sharing all my crazy with your readers! There’s power in numbers. …or is that peer pressure? Either way, WRITE, WRITE, WRITE!! xo

  • Perfect inspiration. And good timing. I’m on the Writer Unboxed panel for the Writer’s Digest conference this July. It’ll be a couple of rock star mentors, several multi-pubbed, award-winning novelists, a respected publishing journalist, and… me. *Gulp* With each passing week, I’m closer and closer to being the unpublished-yokel-nobody sitting at a table full of the shining stars of the pub world. And my inner jackass brays all the louder.

    Thanks for being “Just You” and surviving. I’m not as fabulous, but I appreciate the example, nonetheless. Here’s to using it all on the page. Great idea there, as well, Kimberly. I know just the character to impose my inner jackass upon.

    • I think you should have a Yokel t-shirt printed up just for this conference. I bet you could sell them for a HUGE profit. ALL creatives believe this about themselves. Secretly, I think they’re right and the ones who know it are the ones worth your time. 😉

  • Orly Konig-Lopez

    This post is perfect in so many ways! My inner jackass has become quite the sassy fatso lately. Loved this attitude adjustment. Thank you!!!!

  • Absolutely love this.I’m just sitting down to finish my third edit on my third book, none of which I’ve sold yet, but I keep slogging along!

    • Slogging is awesome. Slogging deserves the big awards. Slogging is heroic. Slogging beats selling any day, any time, anywhere. Selling has nothing to do with story. You’re a writer. Not a salesman. You are a teller of tales. A bard. A witness. An influence for the ages. The rest is chump change. Sloggers and Yokels are my favorite. 😉

  • Fae Rowen

    Since I am not funny, though my students laugh at me…, I loved reading about your experience. Talk about comic relief for a Wednesday morning! Thanks for confirming that those voices in my head don’t make me crazy–they make me a writer. For now, anyway!

    • I think the voices are crazy and the writing is our way of sorting out how we feel about all of it. Writers are code breakers, whether we’re deciphering genius or barnyard braying. 🙂 Maybe they’re ultimately the same.

  • Thanks for posting this. It was the perfect piece for today after a sleepless night of listening to my voices. I’ll be posting a link to it in my blog post today.

  • […] I sat down in the kitchen, waiting for the kettle to heat up my cocoa water. I turned on my computer and found the perfect piece to read, Kimberly Brock’s  guest blog about her inner voices. You can read it here: post… […]

  • Eek, I posted a link to your blog post, but I didn’t mean for my post to show up here. I am so sorry!

  • Can’t remember when I’ve enjoyed a “fun-post-with-a-pointed-message” moe than this one. Thanks.

  • Gina

    Same as all the above comments- this was really awesome! I laughed. I love the self-embracing tone of this- the thoughts that we all have at one time or another. I wish you continued good luck in your writing!

  • I started to read through all the other comments and then decided to stop and become the first original one to say “I love this and you very much”, because I so needed your words at this moment in my writing space. I just yesterday bemoaned about how I felt I am doing a lot of work in vain, reaping a pile of what –writing. That pile was fine when I didn’t want to share it, but now that I’m forced by nature, God, and my kid’s wanting a trip to Disney to share it with beta readers, editors, agents -Oh woah is me! The pile sucks. Btw I’ve determined all piles suck, think about it. Really they do! Laundry pile, slush pile, dog dodo pile, unchecked paper pile! Pile is an angry little sucka reaping havoc on us all. Anyway back to the topic at hand. Thank you and because of your words I have the courage to push through the pile. Blessings.

    • Nobody likes piles. 😉 But I do like the idea of reaping havoc on them. You’re a fantastic writer. I know. I read your blog often and more than that, I feel your support every time I contribute here. You’re a FORCE! xo

  • I loved this!!! Thank you so much. I don’t know why, when writer friends tell me my stuff is really good, I continue to listen to the jackasses in my head that me my stuff is laughably boring.

  • Can I tell you why I think we listen? Because it’s easier. And it provides us excuses to avoid hard work. Or accept a compliment (which is really stupidly hard for me). It’s easier to blame the braying than to put our work out there and be REVEALED. But in the end, what other reason is there for recording our impressions and experiences and dreams and fears? For me, the jackass is my fear that I’m alone, I’m the only one. So here’s the secret, Carol…THE JACKASS IS A LIAR. 🙂

  • Love you, Kimberly Brock! You are a hard worker, a fantastic writer, mom and friend! Love and hate some of those jackasses. We all have a different name for them. You belong wherever you are.

  • Kimberly, I loved this, what a wonderful sense of humour you have, I so related to the self talk and your comparison to the donkey, jackass, made me laugh at myself and put things clearly into perspective. Thank you

  • […] In her weblog publish, “Jackasses & Monkeys – Inner demons of writing,” Carol Bodensteiner reveals that her inside writing demons take the type of monkeys. She expresses aid on studying that others, resembling Kimberly  Brock, have comparable issues. For my part, Kimberly’s problem is worse. She is beset by Jackasses. […]