Friday, August 28, 2020

More Notes on The Writer's Journey and Other Insanity

 As we continue to explore how the unexpected might inform our writing, it becomes all the more challenging to stay motivated given the current crisis. One way to keep my head in the game is webinars.  Boy howdy, this year I’ve had the joy of attending some inspirational webinars, including a couple of Emma Dryden’s discussions, on revision and another on agents. I’ve attended several classes hosted by Harold Underdown and Eileen Robinson, their most excellent novel revision graduate online workshop with KBR Workshops.  This time, I want to highlight another most excellent class hosted by Lorin Oberweger’s Free Expressions. 

This was a lecture given by Christopher Vogler, celebrating the 25th anniversary of his book, The Writer’s Journey (Michael Wiese Productions, 1992). 

The Writer's Journey is an old favorite, a steady, inspirational read. So I was beyond excited to hear Chris Vogler discuss his approach to writing. Talk about drinking the Secret Elixir! Chris Vogler explored the monomyth and its relationship to story. He explained -- to my delight -- how myth is a metaphor for a mystery that is beyond human comprehension. And story is the expression of that metaphor.

While the book explores the monomyth, and its impact in the storytelling process, Vogler expands the myth to include the writer. The writer as hero. Every storyteller bends this archetypal pattern to her own purpose or the needs of her culture. That’s why the hero has a thousand faces, states Chris Vogler. And that’s why  at the heart of the story is always a journey. The writer’s journey.

In his lecture, Vogler discussed another excellent read, Lajos Egri’s The Art of Dramatic Writing (Touchstone, 1942). He used Egri’s discussion on character to supplement his discussion on writer – a character unto herself --  going on a journey. Character, according to Egri, is the fundamental material writers use to reflect Life’s  great themes. And in storytelling, writers seem  always interested in the darker shape of things because that’s where the mystery lies, the thing  that needs to be understood. At a fundamental level, a writer writes to understand this mysteriousness in life and humanity. Characters risk everything to go after what they want. In that risk-taking, the best of characters – the heroes – often lose everything in order to gain that understanding. 

The hero’s journey, you may remember, is found in all sorts of storytelling. Writers go on a similar journey, states Chris Vogler. In fact, as he states, “The hero’s journey and the writer’s journey are one and the same.” 

Most writers I know received their call to adventure at a young age. George Orwell knew he wanted to be a writer by the time he was five. Neil Gaiman also discovered his love of story at a young age, describing himself as “a feral child who was raised in libraries.” J.K. Rowling wrote her first story at age six, a book about a rabbit with measles. Raised by her grandparents, Lucy Maud Montgomery battled a debilitating sense of loneliness by creating imaginary friends, Katie Maurice and Lucy Gray, who lived in a fairy room behind a bookcase. 

Writing is certainly hard work, “a perilous journey inward to probe the depths of one soul.” It is a fearsome process, no matter how many books one has under their belts. Sue Grafton, author of the wildly popular Kinsey Millhone Alphabet Series, once stated, “Most days when I sit down at my computer, I’m scared half out of my mind.” The mighty Stephen King noted, “I’m afraid of failing at whatever story I’m writing – that it won’t come up for me, or I won’t be able to finish it.” Even the mythic J.R.R. Tolkien said, as the first book of his iconic series was published, “It is written in my life-blood…I am dreading the publication, for it will be impossible not to mind what is said. I have exposed my heart to be shot at.” 

Chris Vogler shows that anyone – new as well as established writers – who sets out to write a story encounters all the trials and tribulations, joys and rewards of the hero’s journey. 

A writer encounters her trickster, taking shape as computer problems, doctor appointments and time management issues, and other “enemies of the status quo" that also bring perspective on the process. Pandemics, too, fall under this category.

A writer meets the grumpy threshold guardian in the form of our inner and relentless judgments of our work. The tension rises as we face the searing remarks of a reviewer, a copyeditor, an agent, or an editor. And finally, we cross the Rubicon. We are published. But the journey is just beginning, as we “fully enter the mysterious, exciting Special World” of a published writer. The ordeals become all the more exhausting as we face deadlines and revisions and constant rejections. As we build our platforms and speak – holy moly! – to readers. And our beloveds go out of print, and favorite editors retire, and the rise of the internet dragons. 

Along the way, if we are lucky, we meet our sidekicks, our Dr. Watson, our Rory and Amy, our Hermione Granger, our Samwise Gamgee. Sometimes, we meet our mentors, our Dumbledore or Gandolf wielding his magic purple crayon, the sage who gives advice, who tells us to keep going, just keep swimming. Don’t give up. 

Take hope, states Chris Vogler, “for writing is magic. Even the simplest act of writing is almost supernatural…We can make a few abstract marks on a piece of paper in a certain order and someone a world away and a thousand years from now can know our deepest thoughts. The boundaries of space and time and even the limitations of death can be transcended.” 

It was an exhilarating lecture!

 -- Bobbi Miller

Friday, August 21, 2020


Howdy, Campers ~ and Happy Poetry Friday! (poems and link to PF below)

I've been playing with Golden Shovel poems a lot lately--they seem to tap into my pandemic-related moods I'm not even aware I have. Recently I began to use dictionary definitions instead of a line from someone's poem. I call those Golden Definition poems. And now I'm splashing in the waters of what I call Golden Quote poems. 

The idea behind all of these forms is the same: take one line and use each word of that line (in order) to end each line of your poem. C'est tout--that's it! 

I'll keep this short  (hard for me!). Here are four of my Golden Something or Other poems:


by April Halprin Wayland

I keep wanting things. I keep having

them, and then they're gone.

I keep flicking ashes, watching them go astray.

I keep playing with my watch or

watching mists disappear. I feel I've missed


something or someone. The

one thing that steadies me is the way

you sit still when I talk about being bewildered

in this wilderness. I feel I need a machete as sharp as

a surgeon's scalpel, something that hurts to

use. I keep opening drawers. I keep opening doors, as if I'm about to place

one foot outside. Should I?  Should I put it on this wet grass, going off in a new direction?

poem (c) 2020 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.

One definition of LOST: having gone astray or missed the way; bewildered as to place, direction, etc. 

(I played with the last line just being "Etc," but that didn't work.  Then I made it longer, but it was a depressing ending. So I ignored the "etc."  And I can do that because I'm Goddess of Not-A-Golden-Shovel poems.)

by April Halprin Wayland

There is no hope,

but what there is

is everything else: the

jewels beneath the ocean, the feeling

that shivers over my arms when you do that,

a little blond head sticking out the window to see what

the squirrel is doing. There truly is

a field full of all the things I've always wanted—

so full, in fact, that I can

spend the rest of my life and be

in love with all the things I have and I've had.

poem (c) 2020 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.

HOPE: Hope is the feeling that what is wanted can be had.

drawing (c) April Halprin Wayland



by April Halprin Wayland

First there was the bear. But she was tired,

and by the looks of him, the bear was tired

too, with

dark circles under his eyes and seemingly nothing

going on in his tired

head. And with

everything the way it was, everything

sliding down the hill towards them, she was too tired

to deal with

something as trivial as the

bear. Surely the world’s

phone directory was heavy with other saviors. In fact, guess its weight:

there had to be a lot of goddamn golden names in there. Or what about the bear? He

was snoozing now. Choose HIM. Had 

he ever raised his paw to help?  Never.

Which meant it was his time to step up. He should be the one chosen

to fix everything, to

save the whole goddamn world, not her. Are you listening, Bear?

poem (c) 2020 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.

Here's the quote: “Tired, tired with nothing, tired with everything, tired with the world’s weight he had never chosen to bear.”― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and Damned 

drawing (c) April Halprin Wayland

by April Halprin Wayland

She wanted to thank

the dog. "Do you

write him a letter, do you thank him for

licking you?" she wondered.  Listening

to him scratch his rump (thump, thump, thump), she was overwhelmed with

love. Finally, she wrote, "Oh how I love your

wagging tail, your chocolate eyes!"

poem (c) 2020 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.

Here's the quote from my friend Julie Rose Palmer, writer, poet, artist and musician. She wrote, “Thank you for listening with your eyes.” (about reading her emails).


How about you?  Try a GOLDEN SOMETHING-OR-OTHER poem ~ invent it. Then write it!

Thank you, Ramona, for hosting Poetry Friday at Pleasures From the Page!

posted with hope and gratitude by April Halprin Wayland and her dog, Eli 

drawing (c) April Halprin Wayland

Friday, August 14, 2020

From Once upon a time…to…Happily ever after! – thanks to Richard Peck’s Best-ever Writing Tip!

Once upon a time I had the good fortune to learn my craft from the 

inimitable award-winning author Richard Peck, a true Best Man if ever 

there was one.


The result?

My stories, no matter the format, now organically end happily ever after.

I gladly pass along Mr. Peck’s keen eye-opening words so your 

Beginnings and Endings do what they must:

     “On your first page is the last, on your last page the first.”  

Stuck on your ending as you finalize your revision? Revisit your 


Unsure of your beginning? Reread your ending.

And, reread books, especially picture books, to see the truth of Richard 

Peck’s advice.

If you’re unfamiliar with Richard Peck, or even if you’re not, take a 

moment to read this glorious tribute, then seek his published work. 

His contributions to children’s literature are note-worthy.

SCBWI offers his brilliant Master Class on Writing the Novel for 

Young Readers in the current Summer Spectacular Bookstore

And, for pure Show, Don’t Tell, read Matthew Winner’s post on First 

Page/Last Page connections.  The examples underscore Richard Peck’s 


Thanks to Molly Hogan for hosting Poetry Friday today at 


Molly’s August 7 post addressed gratitude.

I remain forever grateful to Richard Peck for all he taught me – 

in person and through his books, about writing and Life.

Happy writing!

Esther Hershenhorn

Friday, August 7, 2020

Two Connected Bits of Writing Advice from Ann Patchett and Sharon Darrow

As we near the end of our series of posts featuring favorite writing tips, I'm relieved none of the other TeachingAuthors has discussed the advice I'm sharing today. It's actually two bits of advice. I heard the first many years ago from one of my first writing teachers, Sharon Darrow. I'm paraphrasing her words here, but Sharon said:
When you're writing, imagine you're using a pencil that has an eraser on the end. Everything is fine as long as you focus on the writing--on keeping the pencil moving. But if you stop to erase (to edit), you'll stop the writing flow. There's no way to physically write and erase at the same time.

I recently heard Ann Patchett say something similar in an interview on the July 22, 2020 edition of the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast. (I'm a big fan of Gretchen Rubin's podcast and books. I mentioned her book The Four Tendencies in my post 3 Aids for Creativity in the Time of the Coronavirus.)

In the podcast, Rubin and her sister, Elizabeth Craft interview Patchett about her bestselling adult novel, The Dutch House (Harper). The book is the latest Happier Podcast Book Club pick and the first Patchett novel I've read. (Note: the podcast interview contains lots of spoilers, so if you're planning to read The Dutch House, do it before listening to the podcast.) Near the end of the interview, Patchett shares several pieces of writing advice. Gretchen Rubin posted a graphic on her Instagram account of the tip I want to share with you today:

As Patchett says, there are times when we need to look at our work critically. But that comes later, after we have a solid draft. We need to make some art first so we'll have something to shape later.

When I'm working on a draft, I try to hold onto the image of the pencil moving across the page and resist the urge to "erase."

Don't forgot to check out this week's Poetry Friday round-up hosted by former TeachingAuthor Laura Purdie Salas.
Posted by Carmela