Whatchya doing this weekend? Staring at your computer screen and wondering if you’ll ever finish that beast of a book or screenplay?
Wouldn’t you rather watch Marlon Brando eat a bug?
In the past, I’ve written about The Hero’s Journey and how helpful it can be to create story. But it’s also useful to think of yourself, the writer, as the Hero in a very long, arduous quest. A journey where things will go well, fall apart, and give you the kind of self knowledge and insight that will make you a better writer.
When the doubts start rolling in, and trust me, THEY WILL, use the lessons of The Hero’s Journey to finish your project.
1) Be an Active Hero. I know you’re probably sick of me saying so, but write every day. Even if it’s just for 30 minutes or an hour. Even if it’s crap. In a story, the hero must pursue his or her goal through action. So must you. This means sitting down each day and writing, actively working toward the goal of finishing.
2) Envision the treasure. Just as the protagonist in The Hero’s Journey dreams of finding the lost “Sword of Highmore,” or defeating a dude named “Voldemort,” you too need to be specific about your goal. Paint your book’s cover in your mind. Is there a girl standing in the fog, looking out toward nothing? SEE (and I mean LITERALLY) SEE people showing up to watch your movie. What will the title sequence look like? Find a book that is similar in length and tone to yours. Hold that book in your hand. Feel its weight. If you can visualize the final product, you make it real. And when something feels real, you’ll take action steps toward manifestation.
3) Embrace the Ordeal. If you’re not hitting rock bottom at some point, questioning everything you believe about yourself and the story you’re working on, there’s something wrong. Every writer, at one moment, believes they have failed. Just watch the terrific documentary HEARTS OF DARKNESS, about Francis Ford Coppola’s making of APOCALYPSE NOW. 200 shooting days in, most of his actors were doing copious drugs, Martin Sheen had a heart attack, the Philippine Military kept taking back the planes they had loaned him, and Marlon Brando showed up, well, as himself. And oh yeah, Coppola still didn’t know how to end his movie. He sat around in the Philippines fantasizing about various ways he might accidentally “die” so he wouldn’t have to finish. But he’d financed the film himself, everything he owned was on the line, and he had to keep going. He had a simple choice– he could try to frantically write a “scene” to end the film, or just admit he had no idea what the hell he was doing and start improvising with Brando and Sheen. He did the latter, and an amazing ending to an amazing film was born. Don’t be afraid of this dark moment. Know that it will come. YOU WILL HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU’RE DOING. Laugh into this dark cave. Ha Ha Ha Ha! Then cry. After the crying, you’ll probably get a good idea.
4) Drink the Elixir. Even if it feels like poison. What are the lessons you’re learning on this writing journey? How has this project made you learn new skills? What fresh insights do you have about yourself? How can you carry this knowledge into your next project? Be aware not just of all the ways you are improving as a writer, but the ways you sabotage yourself. Remember, the elixir has the power to heal.
Take Action! When you start doubting you’ll finish, look to The Hero’s Journey. Be active. Write every day. Embrace the low points. Envision your book or movie as a real thing that already exists. Take action to bring this already “real” thing out into the world.
Be thankful you’re not dealing with Marlon Brando (see below for bug eating scene.)
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