Be Your Own Hero

If you’ve been a writer for more than five minutes, no doubt you’ve been introduced to Joseph Campbell’s work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. (If not, consider this your introduction. You’re welcome.) Campbell combines psychology with mythology to uncover the connections between folk tales told in different cultures across human history.

Through his research, Campbell found a standard set of archetypes in myths told around the world. In short, stories unfold in similar ways, no matter where they originated, because humans find these story structures the most satisfying. Storytellers have used these techniques for millennia.

So we writers often follow the Hero’s Journey for our characters, but what about ourselves? From time to time, we find ourselves mired in doubt and fear; we second guess; we lose our way. It can be difficult to summon the courage to keep typing, and it is sooo much easier to settle down to a Gilmore Girls marathon on Netflix with a bowl of chips and guacamole. (I’m just guessing.)

32964445A few weeks ago, I had the good fortune to attend a talk by author, editor, and coach Kendra Levin. She knows a thing or two about helping writers be confident and stay calm. In her new book, The Hero Is You, Kendra suggests that we can embark on the Hero’s Journey by placing ourselves as the hero of our own story. I’ve never thought about myself as the hero of my own story. Have you?

How can I apply this to my writing life? Heroes protect, serve, and sacrifice.

  • Protect: My time, my ideas.
  • Serve: The greater purpose, what I am trying to say to the world through my writing.
  • Sacrifice: Gilmore Girls may have to wait.

It helps to create a realistic framework for how heroes do this.

  • Goals:
    • Track your progress. For me, this could mean meeting a certain word count each day or simply ensuring I work on my writing projects daily.
    • Break your journey into manageable chunks. It’s daunting to look at my WIP and think about how many pages I have yet to write. Having a separate document for each chapter makes me feel like I’m accomplishing something.
    • Reward yourself for each milestone. Maybe I’ll watch the first episode of Gilmore Girls.
  • Know your strengths and weaknesses:
    • Strength: I’m a morning person. Get up early, get words on the page.
    • Weakness: Oh, there is something called Gilmore Girls on Netflix?
  • Allies:
    • Find your tribe. Frodo had Samwise, Luke Skywalker had Han Solo, and Lorelai had Rory. I have a dedicated and intrepid writing group. (They are terrific, and I’m not just saying that in case they read this.)



At the end of her talk, Kendra asked us two questions:

  1. What is one small step you can make in the next week to work toward your goal?
  2. What step could make the biggest impact?

I really didn’t do Kendra’s book justice in this small space. The Hero Is you: Sharpen Your Focus, Conquer Your Demons, and Become the Writer You Were Born to Be delves into the different archetypes of  the Hero’s Journey and how that relates to your writing journey. You’ll find lots of encouragement and camaraderie within the pages. 

Have a great weekend, everyone! 


The One with the Peanuts Wisdom

I must interrupt part two of the harrowing and riveting tale of my encounter with the Goddess Pele to tell you about A Tale of Two Comments.

The first was what I’ll call the Worst of Comments. A few weeks ago, a negative (and anonymous) remark came from a student in one of the creative writing classes that I teach. Of the hundreds of students I’ve taught over the years — in person and online — I’ve never before received such a hurtful statement in a course evaluation. I’ll spare you the details. I’m all for constructive criticism. In fact, I seek out helpful, focused remarks because I know there’s always room for improvement, and I want students to feel that they’re benefitting from the lessons. Suffice it to say that this was a personal (rather than a curriculum based) assault. I heard the faint call from the pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey in the freezer.

But then I saw a Peanuts episode this holiday season. Schroeder plays the piano while Lucy asks if he’s going to take her to the party.

Schroeder: Musicians don’t dance. And anyway, I’ll be playing the piano at the party.

Lucy: I don’t mind the rejection; it’s the smile that bugs me.

Indeed. It’s the smug satisfaction that so many people get from self-righteous criticism which really sticks in my craw. This isn’t only in the classroom. It’s online at places like Yelp and Amazon and practically de rigueur on  pundit “news” programs. But, hey, that’s another post. In this case, I’d done my best. If the person was that unhappy, he/she should have come to me (in a mature, non accusatory way) sooner. Or, as Dickens put it: “I am no more annoyed when I think of the expression, than I should be annoyed by a man’s opinion of a picture of mine, who had no eye for pictures; or of a piece of music of mine, who had no ear for music.”  So thanks to Lucy (and Charles) I left the pint of ice cream untouched.

Image via Wikipedia

Solidarity, sister. Image via Wikipedia

Then, as if to prove my mother’s old saw that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar: the Best of Comments. Just a few days later, two lovely notes arrived via email. One was from a fellow student in the same class who wanted to let me know much he’d learned and that, through the exercises, he’d gained confidence in his writing. The other was from someone who had come across some of my stories and essays and enjoyed them enough to send me a few words of encouragement. How amazing that two people took time out of their days to reach out to me, which made it all the more special.

I don’t think this feeling is limited to writers or artists. Anyone who puts themselves out there whether through a creative endeavor or raising children or submitting a proposal at work, whatever it is, opens themselves up and hopes to be well received. That’s not to say we should be praised indiscriminately, but isn’t it nice to know that someone recognizes and appreciates the effort we’re making?

Back to Peanuts.

Peppermint Patty: Have you made any New Year’s resolutions, Chuck?

Charlie Brown: Yes. You know how I always dread the whole year? Well, this time I’m only going to dread one day at a time.

Image via Wikipedia.

Image via Wikipedia.

I believe that the energy you send out comes back to you. Goodwill begets goodwill. So here on the first day of 2014, I’m making a plan (goodness, please don’t use the “R” word!) to spread that happy, shiny feeling. I started a few years ago with my Shine series and I’d like to pick up where that left off. Once a week, I’m planning to drop a note to a fellow writer or anyone who brought a little inspiration into my life to let them know that I appreciated their efforts. I hope to keep my gratitude list going so that by the end of the year, I’ll have sent notes to 52 people.

Are you making any of those things that rhyme with “evolutions”? How do you spread goodwill?

Happy New Year, everyone!