Closing address: Writing and the hero’s journey by Kim Falconer

I hadn’t met Kim before the workshop, but I had seen one of my twitbuddies talking to her.  I approached her with some trepidation about writing a closing address for the workshop, expecting a polite refusal, but instead meeting a wonderfully kind and encouraging author.  I am delighted that Kim accepted my request to close the workshop, and I know you are going to appreciate what she has to say.

Writing and the Hero’s Journey

Follow your bliss and doors will open where once there were only walls.  Joseph Campbell

Introduction: All writers are on a hero’s journey. They face the same challenges as Jason and the Argonauts, Psyche and Eros, or any other person who ever stepped out of their comfort zone and into the unknown.  To fully appreciate this is to come into alignment with oneself. The first step is awareness and that means seeing the adventure for what it is—an archetypal journey. It can mean the difference between feeling helpless or powerful, stuck or fulfilled.

Neo’s choice, Matrix

The Call to Adventure: It varies for each writer but the journey begins with the same question—do you want to write? When we hear the call, we are given a choice, as when Morpheus says to Neo, You take the blue pill and the story ends. Take the red pill and you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.

The Departure: Here we know something’s up. It is often a restless feeling were we itch to turn our musings into a manuscript. Many heroes initially refuse the call—as Abraham Maslow said, we resist becoming the greatest we can be. Excuses include: too busy, have ‘real’ job, single mum, dad etc. It often boils down to I am scared that I will fail, or succeed. So, one dabbles.

Crossing the First Threshold: Dabbling is dangerous because the Muse takes it as a yes. We have answered the call and crossed the first threshold. The weather can get stormy but the good news is this stage always evokes supernatural aid, no exceptions.

Yoda as supernatural aid, from George Lucas’ Star Wars

Supernatural Aid: Your SA comes in many forms. Merrilee’s workshop is one of them! It can be a critique group, an introduction, a supportive partner or a helpful computer tech. My SA came twelve years ago in the form of Stephan King. I bought his book On Writing and read it cover to cover in one go. Mr King did two things for me. 1) He got me thinking like a writer. 2) He got me writing every day. Pretty good supernatural aid!

The Belly of the Whale: This stage is just like it sounds like—separation from the known world, darkness, no windows, bad smell. It usually coincides with the ‘blank page’, conflicts within, (or without), rejection or looming deadlines and other pressures. Even when there is a clear vision of the outcome, the ‘belly of the whale’ is a transformational device in the form of a washing machine. You get tossed around, wrung and spun out. I go through this stage from the moment I begin a new book until the first draft is complete, and that’s with a rough plan AND a publisher. I recognise it now, so I don’t freak out. Before I thought I was nuts, but by entering this stage, the writer shows the muse her willingness to undergo ‘the metamorphosis’, to die and be reborn. It’s that intense. Get used to it.

Initiation: In the first initiation (also known as the second Road of Trials) the writer encounters a series of tests, tasks and ordeals. Like the Fool, many walk into this blind because they think once their MS is ‘completed’, all the hard part’s done. (For examples, in 2005, after months of sending out query letters, and buying books on how to write eye catching query letters, I received the same response: Rejection. This is an vital initiation process. We all go through it. The whole point is to not give up!

The Meeting with the Goddess: The meeting with the goddess represents the point in the journey when the writer experiences an all-powerful, all encompassing, unconditionally loving divine intervention on their behalf. It happens to everyone. I promise. It’s our reward for previous trials.

For me the goddess came in the form of a friend, a script supervisor who said she knew someone in publishing and would contact her on my behalf. This publisher said, ‘Tell Kim to talk to Stephanie Smith at HarperVoyager. She’s the one to get.’ I was thrilled for about five seconds until I realized that Voyager was one of the ‘big houses.’ They didn’t consider un-agented manuscript.

Drawing Hands by M C Escher

Enter the liminal region. Different from whale belly, this is a virgin forest, an unexplored region of space. It is a state of mind where identity is temporarily suspended. Disorientation leads to transformation and self-understanding. (It really does!) Liminal experiences can be induced by multiple rejections from agents and publishers, seemingly solid brick walls, diminished confidence and unreachable goals. (Think of Ulysses wandering for years after the Trojon war. Uber liminal.) Joseph Campbell addresses this stage with the perfect antidote: Follow your bliss and doors will open where once there were only walls. (This is probably the most important sentence ever spoken so I usually work it in to ever talk at least twice.)

After wandering in the luminal it came to me I simply needed an agent so I set about getting one. It’s amazing how action can vitalize the spirit. I wrote to every agent I could find listed. They all rejected me. Back into the woods . . . (It’s important to note here that in this, the writer never stops writing. There may be a lot of waiting, but every day, the writing!)

Second meeting with the Goddess: The goddess often appears more than once. My goddess #two was Jeanette Maw the good vibe coach. I told her my woes and she said, ‘Kim, if you were trying to catch a horse, would you go about it this way?’ Huh? I don’t want a horse! Was she even listening to me? She clarified. ‘Think of anything you want as a wild horse. If you were after one, would you chase it with clenched fists and waving arms?’ No, probably not. She told me to relax, go to the beach, goof off. She said something would turn up and it did. Enter goddess #three. As soon I let go of the struggle, an author friend rang and in chatting she said out of the blue, ‘Send me your synopsis and I’ll see if my agent (who’s not on any lists) has a suggestion.’ I sent. He liked! Good bye rejection! Hello interested publisher by the name of Stephanie Smith! (Serendipity is quite common on the hero’s journey )

More Road of Trials: Even though the agent says yes or a publisher says yes, there is usually a lot more work to do. Often agents have suggestions for revision that will improve the manuscript. They also want to know their new client is going to be able to take editorial direction, work with publishers and editors. There can be a great deal of revision done AFTER the work is contracted. The writer has to be willing to step up and the agent and publisher need to know they can do it. (Insert more belly of the whale)

The Ultimate Boon: This is when the hero obtains her goal—the golden fleece, the holy grail, the publishing deal. For me this moment came when I got the call from Stephanie after she’d pitched my first series to ‘the board’ at HarperCollins Aus. Stephanie rang and said. ‘We got a YES!’ I was incoherent for days afterwards—the ultimate boon! (Writers can prepare for this moment by having a pen and pad by the phone. The publisher will tell you all kinds of important things about what will happen next but usually one is no state to comprehend any of them.

Knight in armour La Belle Dame Sans Merci by Sir Frank Dicksee

Refusal of the Return: It is not uncommon for writers to find it difficult to return after their first publishing deal. Why come back to everyday life after supping with the gods? Fortunately, the journey is perpetuated as the ‘approved’ manuscript usual requires multiple edits and long discussions of proof reader comments. All tests and challenges to keep the hero on the road.

Rescue from Without: Just as the hero may need guides to set out on the quest, often times she needs one to bring her back. I find the first copy of the published book brings does this. When it appears in print my feet touched the ground. I’ve come full circle. (I always cried too. Part of the process!)

Master of Two Worlds: This is transcendence where the writer becomes comfortable in both the inner world of creativity and the outer world of everyday life. It is freedom, something the hero knows only when she lives in the moment, neither past nor future. That’s where I am headed again, but for now I’m back in the belly of the whale, working to an October 1st deadline. How about you? What stage of the journey has your attention right now?

Kim Falconer is a SF/F writer published by HarperCollins Voyager Australia. On the bookshelves so far are Spell of Rosette Jan 09, Arrows of Time Aug 09, Strange Attractors Feb 2010 and Path of the Stray Aug 2010.

She is currently working on her second series, Quantum Encryption. She can be contacted via her website, on FaceBook, Twitter and on the Voyager Online blog. Kim welcomes comments and feedback, especially from emerging writers.

Thank you so much, Kim.  I had great fun working out where I was along the journey.  How about you, readers?  Can you relate to Kim’s “writer’s journey”?

22 thoughts on “Closing address: Writing and the hero’s journey by Kim Falconer

  1. Pingback: Creativity workshop: the end, and thank you | Not Enough Words

  2. What a fabulous, inspiring piece. Thank you so much for it!

    I am deep in the belly of the whale (with a touch of the liminal region hanging around) and YES! Merrilee’s workshop is most definitely supernatural aid.

    I thank you for sharing some of the guideposts to look forward to on this journey.

    Intense, you say?

    • The belly of the whale as well?

      Somehow I get comfort knowing a fellow writer is there too. We inspire each other and we all success together!

      Thanks for speaking up and Viva la Intensity!

  3. Fabulous post. I agree Merrilee’s workshop was a goddess send. I have no idea what would become of the stories I’ve written without this workshop. I probably would have just hitting a wall repeatedly.

  4. p.s.Oh, God, it’s late and I’m tired. As soon as I pressed “post comment,” all I could see was the fifty-thousand “sos” in my unedited comment. Classy! ;)

    • I didn’t notice until you mentioned. What you were feeling came across beautifully.

      And I do so agree, Merrilee is a magical, supernatural aid for those lucky enough to participate! Yeah!

  5. This piece was so inspiring. Thank you, Kim.

    I felt so peaceful when I read this sentence: “It’s that intense. Get used to it.” I can never seem to convey to my non-writer friends what it’s like, how tough it is — and how glorious. One of them recently asked to do some writing exercises with her, thinking she might like to write a book, and after less than a month of regular practice (only 2 or 3 timed writings per week), she wrote to me saying how tough it was, how she felt like her insides were coming out, how she’d never want anything badly enough to continue down that path. I guess it takes a writer to understand. Yes, it’s that intense.

    Sounds so worth it, though. And anyway, I don’t think I ever really had a choice. Feels like it’s part of my wiring. :)

    You are so right that Merrilee’s Creativity Workshop has been one of the masks supernatural aid wears. I have learned so much from my time here. Thanks again, Merrilee!

    • Meriedith, thank you for commenting on the intensity! I heard a saying once (not sure of the author now) that was something like, ‘If you give up on your dreams, they weren’t your dreams.’

      That sums it up for me. :)

    • Serendipity is an amazing experience, a glimpse at the ‘unseen real’!

      Thanks for dropping by, Jeannette. And thank you for being part of my Hero’s Journey. Your words on ‘open palm’ are now part of my life!

      Big love,

  6. Merrilee and Kim – two of my own personal goddesses in the one place, what could be better? Who says goddesses are not appearing?! What could be more of a supernatural aid from outside than a FREE workshop of such immense value, and the sharing of this brilliant concept by someone who has gone where we all think we want to go too?

    As someone who is taking a 6-month break from writing to find out if it really is my passion (my body seems to be thinking otherwise LOL!), I love that this journey applies to ALL of us in ANY creative endeavour. And what part of life is NOT a creative endeavour? Okay, I struggle to see ironing as one, which is why I never do it… but I bet there are people out there who love nothing better than the adventure of creating perfect pleats!

    Thank you both from the bottom of my heart for your generosity and the bliss you spread around you. Wholehearted appreciation and hugs and mwah!!

  7. It’s wonderful when a published author takes the time from their hectic schedule to encourage new writers! I was able to relate to many things in Kim’s post. That is, all except becoming published:P
    I believe the journey is essentially the same for all new writers when you see it at its bare bones. We all have a tremendous need to write and to share, but it’s the perservance of staying the course that set those apart from being merely writers and published ones.

    My journey has revealed much about myself. The most important revelation was never quit, no matter how crappy your writing seems! The act of forging on is a testament of the new writer’s soul.

    Thanks Kim for the post and thanks Merrilee for asking her!

    • I like how you emphasise ‘staying the course’. One’s writing improves with each novel, I promise, and it may not be the first novel that is ever published. Is that disheartening or is it honing your craft?

      It’s honing!

      Just keep writing and when one book is complete, write the next and the next! When you can say to yourself, ‘this is who I am’, others will see you that way too. (and when I say others I mean agents, publishers and readers!)

      Will Smith gives the most amazing talk about this. It’s on Youtube. ‘Before anyone else can believe it, you have to believe it yourself!’ So inspiring!

  8. So basically, regardless of how talented, hard working, and persistent you might be, you still need outside intervention if you’re going to succeed?

    What a charming message that is. :\

    I know many good writers for whom it has been five decades or more, and the goddesses have yet to appear in any form.

    • I think of it as support, but yes, it takes more than one lone writer to create a published book. Look at the acknowledgments in whatever you’re reading right now. It’s not a one woman show.

      The key is to love what you are doing. Love your writing. Love the process. If you do, it will take you where you want to go. That place may not always be what you thought you were after, but it will take you there and it will be authentic!

  9. “Dabbling is dangerous because the Muse takes it as a yes.”

    Um… yeah. So I’ve found. Not that my muse beats me up or anything. It’s just that she has this way of making me really, REALLY cranky if I don’t write for a week or so. I think she puts something in my coffee.

    Anyway, GREAT post, good lady. Now that I know the first draft is the belly of the whale, it makes much more sense that it stinks. :)

    • lol Simon! That cranky feeling is your inner guidance saying ‘write!’ Just do it!

      It’s a relief for all of us to know first drafts can be rough as guts. Takes the pressure off!

      Glad you liked the journey :)

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