Jackasses & Monkeys – Inner demons of writing

By Carol / May 20, 2015 /

I’m in Iowa City this week, sequestered at a bed & breakfast, doing a deep dive into writing my next novel. I write, I think, I walk, I write some more. All the while, I struggle with monkey brain. Monkey brain is the form my inner editor takes as it hoots and scratches and leaps around, yammering that the writing is No Good. Uninspired. Not Interesting.

I fight monkey brain all the time. Mostly by putting my head down, setting fingers on the keyboard, and reminding myself that it’s okay to just write. For today, just write one thing.

Today I received some unexpected help from author Kimberly Brock. For her, it’s not monkey brain. For her  the inner editors are jackasses. She wrote an inspired post on the topic of jackasses, posted on Writers In The Storm, and I share it for your enjoyment.

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)

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.

Read on for the rest of Kimberly’s essay.

* * *

Now I’m going back to my novel, encouraged to know I’m not alone with my monkey brain. We all have the inner editor – whether it takes the form of a jackass or a monkey. And sometimes they’re useful.

If you battle an inner demon on your writing, please share. And then go write something to put that jackass in its place.

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  1. Sharon Lippincott on May 21, 2015 at 9:22 am

    Fascinating concepts Carol. My monkeys are different from yours. Mine swing through the trees at random, taking my thoughts along with them, rendering me incapable of staying focused. They dangle distractions, and they’re a hindrance all the time, not just while writing. “Look this up NOW!” one shouts while I’m unloading the dishwasher or chopping celery for salad. When the monkey shouts, I enter a state of paralyzing need to obey. I need the closure of filling that gap. Sometimes I go back to the celery, but laundry may remain unfolded for days, a blog post unfinished for … maybe ever.

    Donkeys? No, the voices she attribute to donkeys are more subtle and indirect. Much harder to quantify. Mine are formless entities. They whisper from wispy mist. “It’s not good enough. It’s shallow,” they whisper. But wait. I reread and it IS shallow. It ISN’T ready for print. Those critical voices protect me. They drive me to more research on craft, to yet another round of edits. My whispering wisps protect me. I cherish them.

    By the way, Kimberly felt the need to be tall. I feel undernourished. I just attended a writing conference, and I, at a wee bit less than the top of the normal weight range for my height, felt scrawny for the first time since I was twenty. NO! I told myself. Writing success is NOT proportional to size! But maybe, just maybe, spending endless hours seated in front of a keyboard has something to do with both size and success.

    Now, I’m ready to write a blog post. Thanks for the prompt!

    • Carol Bodensteiner on May 21, 2015 at 9:35 am

      Sounds like your monkeys and donkeys do a lot to keep you on track, Sharon – albeit with the occasional distraction – as they force you to do more research and improve the quality with editing. I expect the trick for all writers with these inner editors is to be able to listen to and act on what helps and shut out or minimize what hurts or threatens to shut down writing entirely. Thanks for sharing your perspective. I look forward to reading your post on the topic.

  2. Chuck Robertson on May 23, 2015 at 11:44 pm

    I don’t know how relevant this is to what you’re talking about, but I wake up practically every morning asking myself what I’m even doing writing. Usually by the end of the day I’m feeling invincible in my writing. On the average, they even out.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on May 24, 2015 at 9:49 am

      Truly relevant I’d say, Chuck. It speaks to those inner voices in whatever form that attempt to foil our writing. The fact that you end the day triumphant speaks volumes. Good for you for keeping on.

  3. Joan Z. Rough on May 24, 2015 at 11:45 am

    Thanks for sharing these wonderful words on inner demons. We all have them and mine is a little girl who thinks she’s bigger than me.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on May 24, 2015 at 6:09 pm

      Sounds as though she be bossy as well as bigger, eh? They take all forms.

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