The Writer’s Journey
As writers, we often utilize the Hero’s Journey to set up our stories, a technique that allows a reader to follow protagonists through their character arcs. But most people don’t realize it’s really a template for how we live our lives too.
When we work on a writing project, no matter what that is, we can go through exactly the same progression our characters do, taking a journey of awareness about ourselves. In fact, I believe that writers learn something from each and everything we create which not only makes us better writers but can also make us better people.
Each writer’s journey begins with an Inciting Incident, also called a new idea, which takes us out of our Ordinary World. We mull that idea over for a period of time, then we finally start putting words onto paper, which propels us into the Extraordinary World of lessons and trials and new understandings of what we want our readers to take away from our work. What theme do we want them to experience — a sweet love story or a compelling memoir or a how-to book? Any of these will use the same journey.
From the beginning of the task, we’ve had ideas of what we want to say but it may be difficult to put down on paper. We may wrestle with our own demons, so to speak, as we think and concentrate and think some more. But, finally, we probably will have an “ah-ha” moment, also called the Reversal and the way becomes clear. We’re given the answer and know what it is we want to do, and we go forward with conviction.
The journey isn’t over yet, though. We still have to write the darned book! But now, we have a new understanding of what we want and the direction we need to go. This part of the journey is usually full of excitement and purpose – almost a race to the finish. But there is still struggle and occasional confusion, even when we’re sure of where we’re going.
The Breakthrough is the last part, and I think the best one, where we take the “step of faith.” One of my favorite movies is the third one of the Indiana Jones franchise. Indy is trying to find the Grail — the cup Jesus used in the Last Supper — because his hand has been forced. The bad guy has fatally wounded Indie’s father and Indie must find the Grail to save him. The last task is to “take a leap of faith” by stepping forward without knowing what will happen next. Indie pauses here, because he is more of a thinker than a believer, but his instinct tells him to take that step, which leads him to the goal he seeks.
It’s the same way with us. When we start our writing journey – or any journey, for that matter — we often don’t know what we want or where we’re going, we just know we have something to say. It may not be the “greatest novel ever written” but it’s our own journey of discovery. So we recognize what we want to do, we learn the lessons and, finally, we take that step of faith.
Sometimes, it doesn’t work the way we thought it would. I’m not going to tell you it’s always a one-way trip in exactly the right direction. Sometimes, we fall flat on our faces. But the beauty of it is that we still have the opportunity to go on — either on the same journey (learning the same lessons again) or on a new one (with new lessons).
Regardless, we will eventually make the breakthrough we want to make. And our life will never be the same.