Friday, December 07, 2007

When You Hear That Little Voice Inside ...

... don't bully it!

from Jacqueline

I read those words about fifteen years ago, and immediately copied them into a notebook. Really simple stuff, eh? The aphorism was in a little book with other quotes along lines of, “When you bite into a ripe peach, expect the juice to run down your chin." I thought about that first quote again this week, when I stopped to listen to that voice and made a huge decision which I will share with you in my post today.

As you may remember, I went back to school this fall, starting a graduate degree course in Mythology and Depth Psychology that I have wanted to embark upon for a good ten years. Time and lack of money had prevented me from stepping out on this new path, but finally I thought, “The heck with it – just take the leap.” I worked out how I could balance my writing, my studying, the inevitable papers, and the rest of my life. More than anything, I held a belief that this course would be the catalyst in me making some kind of leap in my writing, after all, mythology is at the heart of story, it is story that touches the human condition. I was thrilled to be accepted and was like a dog with two tails in September when I started school. I’ve been immersed in some of the great works of civilization, some of the epic stories, and have taken on Freud and Jung to a greater depth. And I am completely up to date with my work.

Then, starting with a whisper, I began to hear that little voice, and at first I didn’t really want to hear what the voice was saying, because it wasn’t part of the plan. So I pushed it aside, until last week, when the little voice went up a decibel and I heard it loud and clear – mainly because I stopped to listen: Engagement in this work was taking valuable creative and spiritual energy away from my writing, rather than contributing to it. I was pouring all my creativity into the coursework. I may have the physical energy, I may have been able to compartmentalize my day, but something wasn’t working, and as woo-woo as it sounds, I can only describe that something as creative and spiritual energy. So, what did I do?

First, I bawled my eyes out.

But I knew what to come next, because writing is what I love, it is my passion, even on the not-so-good days. It comes first, and has to come first, always. So, this week I withdrew from the course, with a great degree of sadness, yet at the same time, knowing it was the right thing to do.

The events of this week and my emotional response to them reminded me – once again – of a story told to me by a friend some seventeen years ago. I was going through one of those troublesome times in life that we all encounter in one shape or form, what my dear friend Helen calls an AFGO – “another f*****g growth opportunity” – when my friend, John, came around to my house. I was moving at the time, so there was no furniture and we sat on the stairs with a beer each, tucking into sandwiches made with doorstep size slices of crusty white bread and slabs of sharp cheddar cheese, and John told me a story about another friend of his. The friend’s marriage had recently ended, and at the same time, he had been laid off from a high-flying job. He had been put in touch with an executive recruiting and counseling firm, and the person who interviewed him suggested he write an essay outlining the major milestones in his career and how he felt about them – a bit of the corporate touchy-feely stuff. Well, John’s friend went home and sat down to write his essay. Only he became completely immersed in his task and ended up writing through the night, just writing and writing and writing, and didn’t stop writing when the sun came up. And after he wrote the last word, exhausted, and read through his very long essay, he realized that what he had done was write about every single big event in his life, and how he felt about it. And the “ah-ha” for him, was that – right from childhood – any time of grief, of disappointment, or challenge, was the direct result of him ignoring his own best advice, a little voice inside that told of his discomfort.

There are a few people who know that my very serious riding accident in 2001 followed a time of ignoring that voice. I had a day job, and though that day job wasn’t particularly well-paid, it allowed me time to write, and I had just started my first-ever work of fiction – MAISIE DOBBS. But I became worried about not having a 401K, of not having savings, that sort of thing, and moved jobs, into a monumentally demanding role. Great benefits, except the one I most cherished – time to write. The voice kept telling me to give it up, but I ignored it. At the end of one business trip, a friend asked me how the new job was going and I said, “I’d give my right arm not to be doing this job – I don’t have time for my writing.” And the very next day I had an accident which almost cost me my right arm. But I did write that book.

So, as the saying goes, “When you hear that little voice inside, don’t bully it.”

But I rather like the juice on my chin from a big, fat, ripe peach.

Have a lovely weekend!


  1. How wonderful that you heard the voice and listened, Our J. I made the decision to write while I was in graduate school earning a masters degree in business of all things. I'm a firm believer in gobbling up every opportunity that comes my way. This program was a stimulus for your writing regardless of how long you were in it. Cheers to the next great adventure. And I love AFGO. Haven't heard that one before.

  2. From Jacqueline

    Thanks, Patty. I think if my day job were completely different from the course of study, the issue would not have come up at all, but it did. And I've not closed the door - perhaps in a couple of years I might apply again, and in the meantime, the school has some terrific short programs that I intend to take, and therefore continuing the relationship, so to speak.

    I wrote a short story inspired by one of my assignments - it's completely different from anything I've tried before. I think I might work on it some more and see if I can get it published. You never know!

  3. AFGO, indeed! We've all had our share.

    My problem...two little voices, the second one telling me not to listen to the first.

    Mythology will do without you for a while. We need you telling stories.

  4. from Jacqueline

    Thanks, Paul, I'll keep telling the stories. And I know what you mean about the two voices. I have trouble at times wondering which is which. Makes me feel a little like Don Camillo (anyone ever read The Little World of Don Camillo?)

    My friend Helen even referred to her MS diagnosis as an AFGO - takes some spirit, that.

  5. Jackie,
    This is a great example of the commitment it takes to write books people want to read. You know what you have to do. Very impressive.

    When people say to me, "I want to write I just don't have the time." I know I'm not talking to a serious writer.

    You're serious and the example I'll use when talking to these kind of people.

    Jim B

  6. In a different vein, good news Jackie, BBC America is bringing back "Life on Mars."


  7. In a different vein, good news Jackie,on 11 December, BBC America is bringing back "Life on Mars."

  8. from jacqueline

    Thanks, Jim, for your support, really lovely of you.

    And Jon, I loved Life On Mars so much, I've already seen both series - had a friend make DVD copies for me. But I won't let on how it ends. Also, don't know if you already know this, but a series is in the works starring Philip Glenister - the Gov - and set in the 1980's. Looking forward to that one.

  9. Have now added "AFGO" to my vocabulary.

    Ooooh, Jacqueline, your news really hits home. I made the decision to defer writing a novel until I was through with my toughest grad school classes, but to not wait until after I finished school to start writing.

    After 18 months of just writing the occassional short story and mostly working on building my online promotional pages (blogs, myspace), I'm now past the hardest part of grad school with 2 easy classes ahead, plus all the classes geared toward writing my thesis; starting next week I start my novel.

    Yes, I'll be writing a novel at the same time as the thesis, and yes, one of my writer "friends" - a middle-aged guy who dropped out of grad school because it got in the way of writing - told me I was nuts to stay in school and write at the same time - because he couldn't do it, he assumes I can't either.

    I've blocked off days on my calendar for writing my novel, and one day a week for school work (I only go part time and only take 2 classes per semester). In December 2008, I'll graduate, and I can tell you that my degree in forensics generates more buzz and interest in me as a writer than the writing itself - if there's one thing I've learned these past couple of years is that platform matters.

    Have I been resentful toward school for forcing me to defer writing that novel? Certainly. Were there days when I considered dropped out? Oh yeah. Is my novel more fully formed in my mind because I've put off writing it? You bet.

    My first semester was the toughest, knowing I still had an entire year ahead of not writing after that first semester was done. By not writing, I felt like I was in a long, dark tunnel, but I kept putting one foot in front of the other knowing the rewards of having this degree would be great.

    And now I'm finally out of the tunnel (fall semester ended yesterday) and I'm 100% confident now that I can manage school and writing. I completely respect your decision, and as a middle-aged college student myself, know full well how tough it is at this stage in life to go back to school, even if the muse weren't calling.

    I do hope you'll go back to school, though, even if it's one class per semester - it's such an opportunity, that I believe, in the long run will enhance your opportunity for publication.

    All the best to you, and happy holidays.

  10. You are inspiring, Josephine! I think that if I were studying history, for example, the decision would not have come up, but the study of mythology in particular, with over 1000 pages of reading and analysis per month of material that can be highly psychoactive, clashed too much with my writing. And it wasn't a time issue, because I managed to compartmentalize the two endeavors, I found that I had too many stories in my head to concentrate 100% on the one story I needed to concentrate on most - mine. And of course, I do a lot of research for my novels, so I'm reading and analyzing my own materials at the same time.

    While the degree's construction does not allow for one class per semester (I would have gone for that), the school does have workshops and other courses open to the public throughout the year, so I will be keeping the relationship with the school until I can go back to work on the degree. In 2008, for example they have a course on mythology and violence, which I will be attending.

  11. Were it not for my little voice I would be:

    -in a destructive marriage

    - tied to a friend who made me feel terrible about myself and my dreams after every time we talked

    - living in a city away from the woods, fields, and hills I've come to love so much

    - working in a job that offered no fulfillment and just a too small paycheck

    - thinking about returning to school instead of applying

    - wanting to write instead of writing

    The list goes on and on but you get my meaning. It's like that old E.F. Hutton commercial (at least I think that's the ad) when my little voice speaks, I listen.

    Sandra Hamlett

  12. Your comment says it all, Sandra - brava to that little voice, and long may it continue to claim out attention.

    Thank you.

  13. I had a minor AFGO this week (wonderful word!). The little voice told me to wear my ugly raincoat, because it had deeper pockets than the pants and jacket I wanted to wear.

    I managed to lose both my wallet AND my car in a single evening. Wallet as a result of the shallow pockets, and the car as a result of being a bonehead. Luckily, I got both back, but not before I cancelled my debit and credit cards and making Eddie Muller walk around with me in the rain to find the stupid car.

    Maybe that should be an AFGrrrrrrrrrrrrrr?

  14. Oh, Cornelia, what a thing to happen. But Eddie is a great guy and you couldn't have been walking round in the dark with a nicer person - they don't call him the Tzar of Noir for nothing. Bet you really were up for the bar of noir after that little shenanigans!

  15. I was catching up on your website and blog, when I read this particular entry. I was feeling nostalgic regarding our friendship of approximately 15 years now!

    I still remember how very lucky I felt to have placed that phone call to you the very evening you had completed your first manuscript. I felt very privileged to share in your celebration with a toast of champagne! One of my favorite memories cast in time...

    I love you my friend,