While you’re writing your novel or memoir about your hero on the page, you’re also becoming a hero. You may not think of yourself as a hero: heroes are guys who rush into burning buildings while everyone else cries or they pop a grenade into a machine gun nest to save their buddies’ lives. But you are a hero because you’re living your art while the majority of the world thinks that’s no way to make a living. You get up, fight off sloth, face the blank page, face doubt and criticism and do it all over again and again every day without a guaranteed monetary reward. You break through fear to embrace faith EVERY SINGLE DAY. That’s being a hero, my friend.
I teach the Hero’s Journey which is basically going from the known world into the unknown world. The safe place to the unsafe. If you want to write a great story, you need to take your characters into their own Hero’s Journey.
A Hero’s Journey looks like an upside-down check mark with the top of the check being the summit/climax. The climb is filled with obstacles, but also with mentors, experiences, and education. Once you reach the top, you can start anew on a new Journey, and/or you can help your community as well as mentor others on their Journey.
In the film Finding Nemo (2003) clown fish Marlin and his wife Coral are about to welcome their brood of eggs into the world. They live in a sea anemone in the coral reef and Marlin is bursting with joy and a zest for life—until almost everything he loves dies. His wife and all of his children, save Nemo, are lost in a barracuda attack. The attack leaves Marlin scared of the ocean and he becomes an overprotective single parent who doesn’t let his now nine-year-old Nemo out of his sight. Nemo is a normal boy (fish) who wants friends and fun. He’s not sure of himself because if his dad doesn’t trust him, how can he trust himself? Plus he has a stutter and a gimpy fin, a birth defect from the barracuda attack—he can’t swim as well as the others. On the first day of school, Nemo joins his new friends in a prank to spite his father, who has once again embarrassed him, telling everyone he needs extra help because of his fin. Unfortunately, Nemo’s oppositional behavior results in him being whisked away by a scuba diver, who takes young Nemo to his dental practice in Sydney Harbor. Now separated by hundreds of miles of ocean, Marlin must face his fears and rescue Nemo.
Marlin starts off on his Hero’s Journey at that moment because of a tremendous loss. Along the way, Marlin meets his mentor, Dory, a cute, but forgetful blue tang fish, as well as sharks, jellyfish, ancient surfer-dude turtles, a blue whale, a helpful pelican and finally Nemo, who has just faked his own death. In every Hero’s Journey, there is a “near death,” close to the end of the story where the hero either gives up or presses on. Sometimes the mentor has to step in and reinstill hope. Marlin gives up. Devastated, Marlin returns home, but then Dory recognizes Nemo and everyone meets again. But before everyone can live happily ever after, Nemo must put himself in danger to save other fish and his dad must trust him to do the right thing. The movie ends with both Nemo and Marlin bringing back their strength and leadership to the coral reef community so that they can inspire others to enter their own Hero’s Journey.
I love this movie not only because of the great story, but because it illustrates the Hero’s Journey so well and it does it with two heroes. Marlin is the main hero, but Nemo is also a hero in his own right and they both come back together to be each other’s heroes/mentors.
As writers, like Nemo, you probably experienced a loss that led you to become a writer. It could have been a job loss, your parents died, you moved away, you became an empty nester, you retired or you just survived a health scare. After I became estranged from my parents, I knew I had to write no matter what. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but this watershed moment in my life handed me my decision.
After you’ve made your decision to begin your Hero’s Journey, you’ll need to pick up a mentor or two, as well as join in community events and programs that support writers. I didn’t have one specific mentor, but found many great friends through workshops I took and I gained knowledge and confidence while in my graduate school program in English at NC State in Raleigh, North Carolina. What educational opportunities are you participating in that will further your journey?
During your Hero’s Journey who may find that your family is not supporting you or that your friends don’t like the “new you.” This is normal and painful. You might find some “tor-mentors.” These are enemies who disguise themselves as mentors. You’ll need to let go of your old friends and forge ahead—they might be jealous of your writing passion and they want to weaken your resolve by saying you’re doing something that’s wasting your time. Acknowledge their concern, but ignore them. But if you’re married to these doubters, kindly explain you need time to flourish in your writing, but you will give them time too. Being married to an artist ain’t easy!
Along the way, I published my poetry books and hit several “little deaths” with rejections, lack of focus, lack of support and marginal work that lacked life. But I bounced back and now I mentor other writers on their Hero’s Journey. I’ve also started another Hero’s Journey with my guitar, violin and Irish dancing. I’m not there yet, but these journeys are easier because I’ve already ventured on my first Journey in writing.
I want you to declare yourself a hero. Now, ask yourself where you are on the Hero’s Journey and what needs to happen to help you reach the top. You can do it! Faith over fear!