The advantage of looking at The Hero’s Journey is that we have absorbed MILLIONS of stories. We already understand the pattern. As a tool to plan or organize resources, I’ve never seen anything like it. Yesterday, I was asked about writer’s block–is it a real thing, and how to deal with it? Let’s walk through this, using The Hero’s Journey.
I teach this stuff because I believe there is something inside each and every one of you that can change the world with your stories. If I can get you to that point…we can change the world together.
First, let’s assume we’re writing a story about someone who is engaging with “the Machine” and writer’s block is kicking their butt. Ugh. But…we know that at the end of the story, they are publishing stories and books and having a happy career! Wow! That means that whatever problem they are suffering now is TEMPORARY. And given that, the rest is just strategy.
- Hero confronted with a challenge. The challenge is to finish and publish n Can’t do that sentence a day.
- Reject the challenge. The fear is that it means their efforts are doomed.
- Accept the challenge. Commit to having your career, engaging with the fear, doubt, faux fatigue and guilt.
- Road of trials. THE MACHINE, a daily process of writing a minimum of a sentence a day, 1-4 stories a month (or, if you’ve already published 10 stories, that minimum might be 1-4 chapters a month). Day after day. It can feel like grinding gears, like driving with your brakes on. That nothing is working, all is lost, that your work is crap.
- Allies and Powers. You seek a teacher who is sympatico with you, preferably someone who is actually a writer himself. If that writer is Steven Barnes, then you ask what writer’s block is, have I experienced it, and how to defeat it. I then reply that writer’s block is ANYTHING that stops you from writing, finishing, polishing, submitting, constantly improving your work. Any breakdown in “the machine.” I hit that point when I was working on stories and not publishing anything. I mean, rejection after rejection. And I thought my stories were crap. But other writers said that their early work was crap, and they just had to keep reading, keep writing, keep submitting and getting feedback. I was working all day and coming home at night and writing. The only person who believed in me was my wonderful girlfriend Toni. And I had that voice in my head saying: “you’ll never make it. You don’t have what it takes.” I felt sick in my guts to think that the one thing I wanted most in life was impossible for me. Just give up, that voice said. Do something else.
But…Ray Bradbury told me that there were two entirely different parts of your head: the “flow” self where you are just writing like a madman, running barefoot through the grass…and the editing part where you look at the first draft and prune and work it over. And that the editing “adult” part will always have a louder voice than the child “play” part. Always. And that you just had to tell it to shut the @#$$ up.
Flow. And Editing. Two different “powers.” Confusing them is the source of all “writer’s block.”
So I trusted Bradbury, and myself, and kept writing. Actually studied “flow” as a separate thing, with Tai Chi and Yoga and Meditation and sixty beat per minute Vivaldi string music and other things. NOT DRUGS OR ALCOHOL. I believe that to be a MAJOR mistake. NEVER “get yourself in the mood” to write with drugs or alcohol. That’s like using a winch to lift your weights in the gym. You are SPECIFICALLY trashing your ability to do the work, and it will catch up with you.
(that said…if you wanna celebrate at the end of the day? Mazel Tov. You’re an adult, with the right to make adult choices!)
6. Confront Evil–Fail. Probably the worst single moment of my early career was the night I got a call from Harlan Ellison telling me my first solo novel, STREETLETHAL wasn’t ready for publication.
7. Dark Night of the Soul. It was raining that night. I was living alone, my relationship with Toni on the rocks. And I remembered curling on the floor and crying my eyes out.
It was too late to pull the book back. I had to keep going, keep writing, despite the fact that this was a disaster.
8. Leap of Faith. The “Leap of Faith” is always one of three things: faith in yourself, faith in your companions, or faith in a higher power. For me it was remembering what Bradbury had said: there is writing, and there is judging what you have written. The two must never be confused. I was allowing Harlan to influence the “editor” part of my brain, allying his voice to the monster in my mind that wanted to stop me.
I could not allow that to happen. I had to FLOW. Create text. Keep going. I trusted my “companion” mentor figure, and I trusted my own heart.
9. Confront evil–succeed. IF you take the other steps, deal with fear, keep learning and growing, finding new mentors, don’t let despair stop you…you grow and change and get the goodies. And one day I gave Harlan a VHS copy of my Outer Limits episode “A Stitch In Time” and a few days later he called me and said: “THAT was good, kid. You made it.” And again, I cried. But the tears were very different this time.
10. The student becomes the teacher. And this is critical. When you hit that next level, you learn most by sharing with others. Don’t create a pedagogy, just document your process. I still struggle. Get rejected. Get bad reviews. Feel despair and discouragement…
The difference is that I’ve walked this path again and again and again, and recognize the steps, and know that it’s a Superchicken world: “Fred, you knew the job was dangerous when you took it.”
Yeah, I did. THAT’S the value of Lifewriting.
(if this story resonates with you, please join us in the journey. I promise to take good care of you. Imagine being part of a supportive community, getting new LIFEWRITING prompts weekly. You can have your writing dreams…just see it and commit to doing the work! www.lifewrite.com)