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.
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.
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.
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.
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”?