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The Wrong Voices


Max my dog is licking my hand like it's a popsicle, particularly interested in my engagement ring — it belonged to my husband's grandmother. I had to take the ring off when I had neurosurgery over twenty years ago after a man in a Volvo station wagon rammed into my car, injuring my neck and back. I remember the fear rumbling through me when I handed my husband the ring. I remember being wheeled down the hospital hall with Evan walking next to me. It was our seventh wedding anniversary and we were trying to kid about how next year we were going to go someplace where the food was better.

But today from all the memories of that horrid time, I'm recalling the voice and face of a lawyer. It was several months after my surgery, my insurance company said I had to sue the man who hit me. It was this lawyer's job to make it seem like I had lost no earning potential from the accident. Back then, I was a new writer making hardly any money. My lawyer had coached me on how to handle this and I was confident I could, that is until the sneering questions began.

Oh, so you're a writer are you?  How much money have you made?
How is it exactly that you spend your days — being a writer, I mean.
What have you written that I'd know?
I'm trying to understand how you think this little accident set you back…I mean, professionally…is that the right word?

Those words cut through me. I felt like crying. I didn't respond well at first; I was tongue-tied, confused. And then I got mad. "Look, I've been killing myself to get the words right, to yank the stories out of my gut. It takes hours and days and years! You want me to bring in my boxes of drafts? I'm a writer, sir. Nothing you say can't make it so."

He asked if I would send him a copy of my first novel when it came out.  What a turkey.  I'm not comping you.  "I think you'd better buy it yourself," I told him. He laughed a lawyerly laugh. When I got home that day, I wrote like a thing on fire.

There will always be voices out there telling us we don't matter. It can be the memory of a snide lawyer, an inner critic, something from the past that keeps pulling us away from who we are and what's important. We've just got to learn to turn down the volume when the wrong voices rise up and get to work. But that car accident? It was the event that got me into writing for young people. I don't recommend it as career enhancement, but it was one of those ejection seat moments that propels you to a special place.

"So," people ask me. "How did you start writing for kids?" Well, you see, this guy in a Volvo plowed into my car a long time ago, and something in that just jarred the stories free.

3 responses to “The Wrong Voices

  1. Thanks for this, Joan! I was just whining to my husband about the insubstantial feeling of being a “prepublished” author.
    Loved Hope Was Here, and have Squashed on my bedside table.

  2. i was having a bad day. sometimes i wonder if my inner critic parrots the voices of other critics around me – my parents, my teachers and sometimes my classmates.
    yeah, still a teenager with teenage insecurities.
    i love your books with plots that are easy to relate to, your blog with encouraging nuggets of wisdom, and this post with an issue that strikes a chord with everyone, regardless of age.
    thank you (:

  3. Thank you for this post! I am currently about three fourths of the way through my first draft of my first young adult novel. It seems like mostly it is the inner critic that tries to get me down. But I know it is important to keep pushing forward and believing in what the story has the potential to become despite all of it’s current imperfections. I have to hold on to that- believing that it can be great.

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