UPS did not deliver my professional writing career. A midwife did. I felt so nourished by how deeply she listened to me during a routine exam, I wanted everyone to know about these creatures I once associated with the Middle Ages. When was the last time I felt like a whole human being instead of a body part at any doctor’s appointment?
“Interview her,” nudged a voice inside me. I swatted it away. I was a nanny, not a journalist. I wrote essays and poems, not articles. I’d never interviewed anyone but my sister in my life, and that was only to annoy her with my new tape recorder when we were kids.
I clapped shut my inner voice with my inner hand and left. Two days later, the midwife called with test results. “Interview her,” the voice insisted. “This is your chance. Go.”
I plunged. “I’m a freelance writer and I’d love to write a story about you,” I blurted out. “I don’t know where I’ll send the interview yet, but would you be willing to talk to me?” All she must have heard was my enthusiasm— which fortunately matched her own. She and her partner had just opened their practice and would love the publicity.
I was a nervous wreck. What had I gotten myself into? I grabbed every book about the history of midwifery that I could get my hands on. When I showed up for the interview, the midwives acted as if it was the most natural thing in the world for me to ask them questions. They were as eager to tell their story as I was to hear it.
Within a week, I ran into a friend who told me about a new local monthly lifestyle newspaper looking for writers. I called the editor. He liked the midwife idea and asked if I’d write the story on speculation. If he liked it, he’d publish it and pay me and, if he didn’t, better luck next time. He bought that story and every other story I wrote for the next three years. I wrote profiles of cigar-makers, judo experts, Reiki healers, skydivers. Not only did my career expand, but my world expanded from meeting such a diverse group of people.
Three years after my first published interview, my clips earned me a job as a steady feature writer for a holistic health magazine. I found myself listening to the intimate stories of people I admired–who also happened to be promoting their books or workshops. Motivational speaker Wayne Dyer, and Carolyn Myss, author of Anatomy of The Spirit, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, pioneer of the hospice movement. It was like having hundreds of personal teachers. These were people who actively followed their own inner voices and spent their lives inspiring other people to do the same. Not one of them said, “Who are you to be interviewing me? Aren’t you supposed to be writing essays? Or taking care of little children somewhere?”
Writers are notorious listeners. We straddle more than one world all the time. While listening to juicy conversations at the coffee shop, we’re already translating them into our writing form of choice. We listen to the voices of our characters, the stray line that appears while we’re taking a shower. We carry pads of paper or grab the nearest napkin to capture inspiration before it disappears.
For a writer, paying attention to these so-called flights of fancy is the height of practicality. I’ve discovered that listening to the sixth sense is just good business sense. Besides, why should private eyes and reporters with a “nose for the news” have all the fun? It’s just a matter of learning the unique language your intuition uses to speak to you. Words? Images? Sensations? Heeding that inner pull toward sending your work to one market over the other, noting that prickly red flag sensation in your belly when talking to a potential client, sensing the right moment to call that source can save you time and trouble and lead you on a lot of adventures.
More times than I like, not listening reminds me why I practice listening in the first place. You think you have an ear for dialogue? Try eavesdropping on yourself sometime. I have a feeling you’ll like what you hear.
Jan Henrikson continues to enjoy the scavenger hunt her intuition takes her on as a writer, editor, ghostwriter, and writing coach in Tucson, AZ. Her work has appeared in such publications as Writer’s Digest, Byline, Chicken Soup for the Dieter’s Soul, A Cup of Comfort For Writers, For She is the Tree of Life, A Woman Forged in Fire, and SageWoman, among others. She is editor of Eat by Choice, Not by Habit by Sylvia Haskvitz, (Puddle Dancer Press, 2005). http://www.eatbychoice.com. Currently she is completing her book, Tales from the Menstrual Mafia: First Times, Worst Times, and the Periods In Between. You can contact her at jan – at – o-c-e-a-n.com.