I’ve always been a sucker for Joseph Campbell’s work, but when I started writing seriously, I found myself relying more and more on the hero’s journey that Campbell outlined and explored for much of his career. I realized that setting my characters on this path usually fits my writing style, and although I deviate from the steps from time to time, I owe a great creative debt to Campbell for spelling out this storytelling technique that is centuries old.
It occurred to me this week while I was journaling with my college students (ah, the things teaching teaches me!) that I have come to an end of one of my own personal hero’s journeys. It was writing the phrase “the new normal” that caught my eye and got me thinking. Let me ‘splain:
Six years ago, I started writing seriously and pursuing publication. This wasn’t my call to adventure; that happened three years ago, when author Brian Davis visited the middle school where I was teaching. He spoke to a small group of my dedicated writers, and told them about his own hero’s journey. He talked about quitting his job to focus on his writing, and how that kind of scary leap of faith was something he owed his characters. I perked up and listened, but I dismissed the idea of following in his footsteps almost immediately.
You see, my resistance to the call (to become a full-time writer) stems from generations of hardworking, practical Midwestern blood. Until my siblings and I came along, no one in my family made rash career choices. They were careful, cautious, and mightily aware of the value of a steady salary with benefits.
But a year after my call to adventure, I was finally ready to take a risk and follow my journey. I quit my full-time teaching job as the 2011 school year came to a close, and I launched into a writing life. I had a completed YA manuscript (not my first novel, but the one I thought was my best), and no clue how I’d be spending my days.
As I followed the path towards really feeling like a writer, practicality crept in, and I accepted some part time teaching work for an online university as well as a community college. But I insisted on calling myself a full-time writer, and most days I treated writing like my job. (Don’t get me wrong: I love teaching, but that’s another journey to explore another time).
And then a magical thing happened: I signed with an agent. She was my guide and mentor (and still is in many ways) before her own journey changed. When I decided to strike out on my own, I learned to face the dragons of formatting and promotion as I veered onto the indie author path. I even had a few dark moments of the soul along the way, but in the end, I circled back to the YA novel that had propelled me from the first.
Earlier this month, I sold that novel to Month9Books. It was a heady experience, but I didn’t understand why I couldn’t immediately leap back into my old writing groove. I berated myself for my lowered word count and frazzled approach to projects (both were once rigorously regimented every day), but then this week, I realized that I wasn’t stuck or being lazy; I have been struggling to adjust to my new normal, the bittersweet thing that comes after the culmination of the hero’s journey. Because of dragons, guides, and darkness along the way, the hero, although triumphant, is unable to return to “everything as it was”. It happened to Frodo. It happened to Luke Skywalker. Why did I think I would be immune?
It’s with relief that I write this post, because I feel like I finally understand my funky, listless month. I don’t think my publishing journey is anywhere near as epic as the tales Campbell charted, but it’s my own mythic structure, and it’s amazing to realize that I have completed at least one of my soul journeys already. Besides, if it’s one thing I learned from Campbell, every person gets to be the hero of her own story, and I’m looking forward to writing the next chapter!
Before the next adventure, though, I think I’ll take some time to simply enjoy the sensation of being right where I am for a change.