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Listen to the Deep Know: The Urge for a Writer's Life
By Ronlyn Domingue
Author of The Mercy of Thin Air: A Novel

I know the moment I realized who I was supposed to spend my life with. It was a Sunday in August 1987. He was a friend who shared my penchants for B-movies, Monty Python, and the band Rush. We were driving back to my house after spending the afternoon at a nearby park. I looked at him at some point and simply knew. At the time, it was ridiculous. There was no romantic connection between us. But in that instant, I felt what I call a Deep Know. A year later, I was in love with him. Seventeen years from that moment, I still am.

Most people have had at least one Deep Know. It's an insight so profound that being rational makes no sense and intuition is the purest form of logic. A person feels it in her cells, the manifestation in her gut. Even now, you're thinking about yours. The moments you just knew.

Here's another one of mine. After I got out of college, I landed a good job with a management consulting firm. Those were the days of reengineering and right-sizing. I managed the administrative office for a 20-member team. I was efficient, eager to learn. A vice president liked my moxie and offered me the chance to get an MBA on the company dime and a guaranteed well-paying job upon graduation. I graciously refused. No one could believe I did that, including that man I was spending my life with. In this case, I had a Deep N-O. I wasn't meant to be a management consultant -- although I suspect I would have been good at it. There was something else I was supposed to do.

Frankly, I knew what that was. I was supposed to write, but I was ignoring it. Adult practicality helped me smother the urge. I was really good at that.

Then through most of my twenties, I had what I call my dead baby dreams. In these dreams, I would lose a baby through abortion, stillbirth, or adoption. The babies were never wanted, and I felt intense guilt over my abandonment and failure of them. Then out of nowhere, I realized that those dead babies were my unwritten books.

The dreams stopped. I haven't had another one since.

I started to write again. I enrolled in a fiction course. The first short story I wrote was envisioned as a novel, and my professor noticed that. He was quite a prophet because he asked me if I was in the master's program for creative writing. "I'm not at that point in my life," I said. "It doesn't make sense now." Nine months later, I woke up in a cold sweat with a hum in my gut and later that day told the man I was spending my life with, "Oh no, I'm supposed to go to graduate school. I'm supposed to get an MFA."

Four years later, the short story I'd written had evolved into my first novel. That hum returned nearly every time I sat down to write, then a warm vibration in my ears that meant I was in "the zone." However, it wasn't perfect. A confluence in that novel eluded me, even in the last draft. Then it happened. I was writing a scene, allowing the image of constellations speak for itself -- and five words appeared: the mercy of thin air. My skin rippled, my breath caught, the hum droned in my ears. The mercy of thin air -- I had conjured the novel's title, revealed the unifying theme, and felt a Deep Know. My novel had become what it was meant to be.

Here's the revelation. Every deep know of my life converged at that moment. Because what I didn't mention is that I had my first Deep Know when I was eight years old, as I worked on a mystery novel. I, without question, knew that I was supposed to be a writer. I was too young then to know about expectations, circumstances, and fear -- the enemies of intuition.

You know exactly what I mean. You've felt it, too. You want to start (or finish) that story that's been itching under your skin for years. There's a suspicion that you -- or even someone you love -- undermine your desire to write. And you don't make a move because, well, you have good reasons. I won't pretend that honoring a deep know is easy. I won't even claim it's always possible. But that truism -- where there's a will, there's a way -- I think there is some truth to that.

Now what do you do? Question what's stopping you and figure out how to solve it. If you've had the Deep Know with you for a while but haven't honored it, perhaps you're trying to figure out your next steps. Is one of these blocks in your way?

  • Expectations. We all have to face the expectations of society, our families, our friends, and our colleagues. Consider that 100 years ago, many people didn't think women should go to college, and as recently as 30 years ago, women shouldn't work outside the home. And as for men, well, of course they should be earning honest -- and lucrative -- livings. You might ask yourself, "I want to write, but what would THEY think?" Ask yourself instead, "What do I want?" In the end, it's your life -- and your stories.
  • Circumstances. Your path might be cluttered with obstacles. You want to get an MFA, but you don't think you can spare the cost or the time. Would it be possible to work part-time? Is a low-residency program right for you? Perhaps you simply want to write and it's difficult to dedicate time to work on the book you started because you have children. Can you set aside an hour every morning or at lunch? Would your partner or a friend watch them for three hours twice a week? If you have an unsupportive spouse, family member, or friend, what is the basis of their resistance? Is this relationship worth strengthening through counseling, or has the time come for it to end?
  • Fear. This is the worst. It's connected to the darkness of the unknown and the heart of self-doubt. Sometimes, you wonder whether it matters if you write. Brenda Ueland said it best: "Everybody is talented, original and has something important to say." Sometimes, fear haunts you because you don't know what to expect. Let's say you finished a short story or a novel and want to get it published. Then what? There are dozens of on-line resources and books that give insight into how to make this happen. You can also attend conferences -- or find online writer communities -- and talk to others who've achieved what you want to. Learn what steps they took, learn from their mistakes. As for self-doubt, it always helps to have a core group of loved ones who believes in you. But ultimately, you have to dig deep, right into the gut, and nurture the hope that's there.

I have no regrets, but it wasn't all easy. I confronted and survived naysayers, near poverty wages, and -- yes -- self-doubt. I listened to my Deep Knows, and I've been rewarded. My first novel, my first baby, The Mercy of Thin Air, came out into the world in September 2005. I experience the miraculous hum of creation when the words come. I begin and end each day with the man who is the love of my life. And certainly, another Deep Know is on its way. I simply haven't felt it yet.

Copyright © 2006 Ronlyn Domingue

Author Bio
Ronlyn Domingue
is the author of The Mercy of Thin Air (Atria Books; September 2005; $24.00US/$33.00CAN; 0-7432-7880-1). She lives in Louisiana and is at work on her second novel. For more information, please visit