The writer’s journey, much like the hero’s journey, is similar. There’s the ‘ordinary world’ where the would-be-writer is oblivious to all the angst it takes to become a published author and simply enjoys the written world and gulping down novel after novel. Then the ‘call to adventure’ makes the would-be-writer think, ‘what if …’ Sometimes it’s a ‘mentor’ character. Sometimes it’s desperation. Sometimes it’s throwing a book against the wall and saying, “I can write better than that!”
Immediately after ‘the call to adventure is the ‘refusal of the call.’ “Oh, no, I can’t do that! I don’t have time! I don’t know how! I’m not (fill in the blank here: smart enough, worthy…)! I don’t know anyone who writes books or who even lives in New York!” There are all sorts of excuses that would-be-writers use. They’re good at excuses. They have a good imagination. You see, they’ve already begun the transition from being a would-be-writer to a writer.
Next, the writer meets a mentor. This could be a teacher, a professional writer who takes the writer under his or her wing or even another fledgling writer who comes along side and encourages. The writer begins to ‘cross the threshold.’ Once beyond this point, it’s very hard to go back. How do you turn off the imagination once it’s been turned on to possibilities? The writer is committed.
But there will be ‘tests, allies and enemies’ found. Finding the discipline to sit down every day to write is a test. Finding the right words is another test. Learning the craft is another test. The writer also begins to meet other writers and makes friends, finds allies (those who will support and encourage and lift her up when she is down) and unfortunately learns who the enemy is. This is the hard part. Because there will be those who belittle what the writer is doing. Sometimes it’s family or friends. They don’t understand how a writer bleeds on the page. They don’t understand each manuscript is like giving birth to a child when they say, “It’s horrible! It’s ugly! Why do you waste your time? This book is better than your last. Your first book is better than this one.” Would you say that to a parent? “Your child is ugly! Your child is horrible! Why do you waste your time? Your last child is better than your first. Your first child is better than this one.” The writer learns who to trust, which critique groups will be honest and yet encouraging. The writer learns who to share their hopes and dreams with. The writer learns that jealousy and lack of imagination are the true enemy.
Then the writer ‘approaches the inmost cave.’ I’ve heard Chris Vogler call this section just simply ‘the approach.’ Whichever, the writer is learning her strengths and weaknesses in writing. Growing the weaknesses, playing to the strengths. She is also learning during this time what she wants to write. Historical? Contemporary? Romance? Mystery? Horror? Fantasy? Inspirational?
Next the writer faces the ‘ordeal, death and rebirth.’ What is the writer most afraid of? For some it’s rejection. For others it’s any criticism. I have seen many writers turn back here, their writer spirit killed. They go back to their ordinary world, changed, and yet try to resume their ordinary lives. But once a writer, always a writer. They will never see their world the same again. And many live with a part of their soul dead. Sometimes during this time, the writer has to kill one of her manuscripts. It’s painful to admit that a particular manuscript is too flawed to ever sell.
But once a writer experiences the death of part of her dream (okay, it’s going to take longer than one year or it’s not going to be my first manuscript to land on a book shelf) then the writer digs deep and decides this dream is worth fighting for. So she ‘seizes the sword’ (remember the pen is mightier than the sword!) and declares she will fight, er… write until she sees her name (or some version of her name, like a pseudonym) on the cover of a book.
‘The road back’ is a rededicating herself to the change. Sometimes chase scenes are involved here. Yes, the writer chases down an editor at conference or chases down a lost manuscript at a publishing house. The writer does her research carefully, discovers exactly what kind of dish soap the agent of her choice uses so she can attract that agent’s attention with her next proposal. The writer has learned much thus far and is more confident. She knows the market. She knows many published authors, editors and agents by this time. She’s comfortable at a writer’s conference. She is now writer warrior.
Then there is a final battle. You knew that was coming didn’t you? All seems lost for a moment. A contest lost. A manuscript rejected by one house. Only to be loved by another. This is the moment the writer has been waiting for – ‘resurrection!’ This is the moment of confirmation that the writer has been waiting for, the phone call of a life time (and you thought it was tough in high school waiting for that boy to call)! Victory! Publication!
Finally, ‘returning with the elixer’ is holding that manuscript which is now in book form, hugging it, showing it to the writer’s fellow writers! Doing the ‘happy dance’ with all those who have cheered her on from the beginning, encouraging others to begin the journey!