Monday Motivation: The Writer, the Hero, and his Journey
Let me make a quite unremarkable observation that writing a story is, in its own right, a Hero’s Journey. Join me as I trace the Writer’s Journey over the course of composing a story…
The writer, our Hero, bestirs himself to action after a struggle with inertia and self-doubt.
He reluctantly sets out on his Journey into the unfamiliar world of Story*. If he’s lucky, he’ll have a Mentor to suggest alternative and perhaps superior roads to his destination, and clever ways of overcoming the many smaller obstacles he’s bound to encounter on the path. If he chooses, he could take with him on his odyssey a few Companions, friends and advisors who have declared themselves ready and willing to read bits of his manuscript and comment honestly (but kindly) on them.
Almost at once he runs into tests and challenges. One or more of his characters, keeps insisting that she doesn’t quite fit the story. (A writer we recently listened to reported on how much better her story worked after she changed one of her good guys into a bad guy…)
His characters will also insist on proceeding according to a map that he hasn’t been given access to. Reining them in can take a great deal of revision and redrafting.
He’ll be ambushed by sub-plots which threaten to outshine his central narrative. He’ll have subsidiary characters threaten to outshine his protagonist.
His antagonist turns out to be a straw man – and offers no real dramatic resistance to his protagonist’s fight for what he wants.
He finds himself being swept down cul-de-sacs by a raging torrent of story that then just… dribbles away.
But with sufficient patience and faith, he manages finally to complete the first draft. But is his Journey done? Alas, no. Because it’s frequently at this point that writers are plunged into a dark night of self-doubt and self-flagellating misery. The damn thing’s no use, it’s rubbish. The characters are all feeble, without life, too obviously dancing the puppet-master’s quadrille. There’s very little original in it and what is original is badly executed.
(And, of course, the dialogue’s execrable.)
And so, bowed and defeated, the writer – that’s you! – consigns his manuscript to his file of lost dreams and swears he’ll never write another word. That eager writer who stepped out into the challenging world of Story has been crushed and is no more. His Nemesis – doubt – has won.
But a few weeks later, emerging from his creative fugue, the writer, the Hero, wearily and without hope opens the file. Out tumbles his MS. The thoughts foremost in his mind are: will he toss this in the trash can, or is even that too much of a reminder of his failure?
Oh, what the hell. Let him just take a quick look at the damn thing. He reads the opening paragraph. Mmm. He remembers the hours it took to devise that rather cunningly baited hook. Actually, it’s not bad – although he recognizes now that his character would respond to this chap rather differently. If he just added a few more lines here, and tweaked that there…
And so the Journey continues. A revision of a motivation there, an extra set-up over here, and that wrong turning there reversed. Mmm. Much better. He renames his file: Second draft, and he gets to work. He remembers what Hemingway said: “The only kind of writing is rewriting.”
Of course, almost every Journey consists of a series of smaller Journeys. And each large Journey is only one of the many others of which our lives consist. And so the second draft is yet another Hero’s Journey…
But that’s another story that I’ll tell another time.
*Even the most prolific of writers, as they dive into a new narrative, will find themselves in unfamiliar territory. Every Story World is a New World with its own perils. The Writer is trailblazer.
Read Jo-Annes latest blog ‘Writing Secrets: It’s voice that allows us to share their highs and lows‘