What is the Writer’s Journey?
Based on The Writer’s Journey, by Christopher Vogler
An accurate map of the territory one must travel to become a better writer and human being lies in the myth of the Hero’s Journey, a concept drawn from the depth psychology of Carl G. Jung and the mythic studies of Joseph Campbell. In the writing community, the Hero’s Journey is synonymous with the design principles of storytelling; but the beauty of it is that it works as so much more. To the initiated, it can become a complete instruction manual in the art of being human.
All storytelling, consciously or not, follows the ancient patterns of myth. from the crudest jokes to the highest flights of literature, all stories can be understood in terms of the Hero’s Journey: the “monomyth” whose principles are laid out in numerous quality books. The pattern of the Hero’s Journey is universal, occurring in every culture, in every time. It is as infinitely varied as the human race itself and yet its basic form remains constant. The Hero’s Journey is an incredibly tenacious set of elements that springs endlessly from the deepest reaches of the human mind; different in its details for every culture, but fundamentally the same.
The Hero’s Journey can be boiled down to three stages: the Hero leaves the familiar world behind; the Hero learns to navigate the unfamiliar world of adventure, and finally, the Hero returns to the familiar world.
The Hero’s Journey and the Writer’s Journey are one and the same. Anyone setting out to write a story soon encounters all the tests, trials, ordeals, joys, and rewards of the Hero’s Journey. We meet all of its Shadows, Shapeshifters, Mentors, Tricksters, and Threshold Guardians in the interior landscape. Writing is an often perilous journey inward to probe the depths of one’s soul and bring back the Elixir of experience — a good story.
Low self-esteem or confusion about goals may be the Shadows that chill our work, an editor or one’s own judgmental side may be the Threshold Guardians that seem to block our way. Accidents, computer problems, and difficulties with time and discipline may torment and taunt us like Tricksters. Unrealistic dreams of success or distractions may be the Shapeshifters who tempt, confuse, and dazzle us. Deadlines, editorial decisions, or the struggle to sell our work may be the Tests and Ordeals from which we seem to die but are Resurrected to write again.
But this isn’t cause for despair, because writing is magic. Just think for a second: 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.
We say “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” but this statement is manifestly untrue. We know that words have power to hurt or heal. The simple words of a letter, telegram, or phone call can strike you like a hammer blow. They’re just words — marks on paper or vibrations of air — but they can bind us, condemn us, or bring us joy. They can hurt or heal us with their magic power.
The healing power of words is their most magical aspect. Writers, like the shamans or medicine men and women of ancient cultures, have the potential to be healers. Shamans have been called the “wounded healers.” Like writers, they are special people set apart from the rest by their dreams, visions, or unique experiences. Shamans, like many writers, are prepared for their work by enduring terrible ordeals. They may have a dangerous illness or fall from a cliff and have nearly every bone broken. They are chewed by a lion or mauled by a bear. They are taken apart and put back together again in a new way. In a sense, they have died and been reborn, and this experience gives them special powers. Many writers come to their craft only after they have been shattered by life in some way.
Often, those chosen to be shamans are identified by special dreams or visions, in which the gods or spirits take them away to other worlds where they undergo terrible ordeals. They are laid out on a table to have all their bones removed and broken. Before their eyes, their bones and organs are split, cooked, and reassembled in a new order. They are tuned to a new frequency like radio receivers. As shamans, they are now able to receive messages from other worlds.
They return to their tribes with new powers. They have the ability to travel to other worlds and bring back stories, metaphors, or myths that guide, heal, and give meaning to life. They listen to the confusing, mysterious dreams of their people and give them back in the form of stories that provide guidelines for right living.
Writers share in the godlike power of the shamans. We not only travel to other worlds but create them out of space and time. When we write, we truly travel to these worlds of our imagination. Anyone who has tried to write seriously knows this is why we need solitude and concentration. We are actually traveling to another time and place.
As writers, we travel to other worlds not as mere daydreamers, but as shamans with the magic power to bottle up those worlds and bring them back in the form of stories for others to share. Our stories have the power to heal, to make the world new again, to give people metaphors by which they can better understand their own lives.
When writers apply the ancient tools of the archetypes and the Hero’s Journey to modern stories, we stand on the shoulders of the mythmakers and shamans of old. When we try to heal our people with the wisdom of myth, we are the modern shamans. We ask the same ageless, childlike questions presented by the myths: Who am I? Where did I come from? What happens when I die? What does it mean? Where do I fit in? Where am I bound on my own Hero’s Journey?
All this being said, we generally notice the pervasive influx of stories that simply hold no weight. These stories generally manifest in the form of famfiction and thin erotica. These stories are part of their writers’ journeys as well, as they are the shadow manifestations of the authors’ highest aspirations, but one they have not yet found the courage to write.
Our mission at FNX is to enable more and more writers to find the courage to write the stories they are really meant to write.
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