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Easing the Journey Through Shadow & Light

  • Dawn

That's How the Light Gets In: The Artist as Struggling Hero

Anti-Anxiety Tool of the Week: Share Stories

"The stories people tell have a way of taking care of them. If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That is why we put these stories in each other's memory. This is how people care for themselves."

from Crow and Weasel by Barry Lopez.

Stories can point to our commonality, our humanness--something we so clearly need to foster in these days of division and fear. So be brave. Care for your stories. And share them. With one person, with a group, or maybe even on a Moth Radio Hour stage.

That's How the Light Gets In: The Artist as Struggling Hero

Feeling anxious? Fearful? Doubting yourself? You might be on the hero's--or heroine's--journey.

Many of you have read Joseph Campbell's book The Hero with a Thousand Faces and/or seen Bill Moyer's interviews with Campbell, "The Power of Myth" on PBS, so you're know what I am referring to. If not, the hero's (or heroine's) journey of transformation is one of the major arcs of Story in our world, found in a huge percentage of cultures across the globe.

It is a story "in which a character ventures into unknown territory to retrieve something they need. Facing conflict and adversity, the hero ultimately triumphs before returning home, transformed," often with some special knowledge or"elixir" that will allow him or her to aid her fellow human beings ( The story line usually unfolds in three acts, with various sub-stages or scenes.

Harry Potter anyone? Star Wars? The Lion King? Even Heidi, for goodness sake! I'm sure you could list many, many more. There are, of course, thousands of variations on this very basic plot. For example, in the Lord of the Rings, Frodo (and Sam) are not trying to retrieve something but rather destroy it. But the basic pattern holds.

Here's a great, detailed depiction of the three "acts" of the journey. You can access a bigger version of this wonderful graphic at including a brief description of each stage of the journey as experienced by Bilbo in The Hobbit , a nice way to see how the generic journey works out in

a particular story.

I am right in the middle of taking an online workshop by award-winning author and creative writing professor, Todd Mitchell, on the hero's journey for writers--not how to tell a hero's journey story, but how my journey as a writer is a hero's journey. I listen in very short increments, sometimes as little as three minutes at a time--the content is that rich and relevant in my life as a writer right now.

After years of crippling fear about putting my work out there, the most important thing I am learning from this workshop is that fear, doubt, self-criticism, etc. are a very normal part of the creative process.

As an artist (and I mean that in the broadest sense of the word) sets out on their hero's journey in Act 1, what are known as "Threshold Guardians" appear. In the more traditional hero stories these are monsters or other types of enemies, outer realities which often mirror or pull up inner states of doubt, fear, and self-criticism. In the artist's journey these inner states often are the Threshold Guardians. "I'm not a good enough." "There's too much competition." "Nobody else will like this." "They'll think it's poorly written, not relevant, uncool." "I'll never be able to finish this." "This is a stupid story." "Why did I ever think I could write?" For the most part I have let these fears run me as a writer.

I've finally realized that some (very young) part of me seriously believes that if my writing is rejected that she will die a horrible death. She is terrified. And in fact, if rejected or abandoned, an infant or small child very likely will die. So instead of ignoring, mocking or chastising her, or trying to convince her that her fears are pointless, what I need to do is hold her, comfort her, reassure her this is normal, and that I will stay with her no matter what. And then go forward to face and move past those guardians, knowing that I probably won't die. Literally. But also knowing that some old parts of me may need to die--perhaps the very fear and self-doubt that has held me back, this terrible back-breaking, creativity-breaking worry about what others may think.

No work of art by any human being is going to be perfect. That is the nature of humanity and life and creativity. Consummate musician and songwriter Leonard Cohen puts it this way:

Ring the bells that still can ring.

Forget your perfect offering.

There is a crack in everything.

That’s how the light gets in.

It's time to move beyond my fears. More on all this, and on my novel, next week.

In case you're interested, I highly recommend Mitchell's online workshop. At $67 it's a bit steep, perhaps, for 105 minutes but well worth it, in my opinion, for anyone involved in a creative endeavor, especially if you are stuck or afraid or avoiding your project. Mitchell also has a book out on the topic, Breakthrough: How to Overcome Doubt, Fear, and Resistance to Be Your Ultimate Creative Self. I know, it sounds a bit hokie, but it's very good!

And while I'm at it, here's a link to a free, fairly detailed explanation of the hero's journey on Reedsy, where I found the graphic I shared above.

Until next time,


Image credits:

Frodo and Sam, Warner Brothers

Kids listening to story, Getty Images

Hero's journey,

Cave of light, Martina Misa Tummeltshammer

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