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