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.
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?
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 kimberlybrockbooks.com for more information and to find her blog.