Answering The Call To The Writer’s Journey

Are you answering the call, or being pixie-led?

Are you answering the call, or being pixie-led?

We were talking the other day – Charlie and I – about the strange things that happen when you are a writer.

(C: One of those being you end up having conversations with your friends in print.)

What I mean by this – and I’ve spoken about it in my blog in the past – is that at some point, when you’re a writer and you let yourself go, you find yourself writing from a place that is not your rational self.

Most of us, being scientifically trained humans of the twentieth century, like to believe that our writing, as well as all our other work, is a portion of our intellectual labors, something rational and clear and obvious.

Most of us, at least most of us who have been working at this for any amount of time, also know that this is wishful thinking.

Oh, we talk a good game. At conventions and writers’ gatherings, you’ll hear us discussing how we decided to do this, and we tried to do that with the story, and about how this effect was put in to give you this idea.

But get us in the bar, after hours, when there’s nobody here but us chickens, and you’ll find us singing a different tune.

I don’t know any single professional writer who’s been doing this for more than ten years who hasn’t had one of the following happen to him:

  • A story was finished before you planned for it to be.  That is, you’d made an outline, and you were writing along, and suddenly, unexpectedly, you realized the sentence you’d just written was the last one in the short story – or novel – and when you went back and read the story, it was complete up to that point.  The rest of your beautiful outline would add nothing.
  • A character appears out of nowhere and takes over the story, and later you realize he/she is absolutely indispensable.
  • A character dies whom you’d intended to live.
  • Something you put in as a place holder for research you haven’t had the time to look up yet – something you could not possibly have known and which in fact takes you a while to track down when you finally can – is absolutely accurate.  This happens way too often to be mere lucky guess.
  • You pull a subplot out of thin air to pad your historical narrative and later discover it really happened.
Once you open the magical door, you never know what might walk in.

Once you open the magical door, you never know what might walk in.

(C: My first experience with this was a True Confession story I wrote in the mid-70’s.  All of a sudden I was writing down what I was “watching” and I was excited because I didn’t know what they were going to do either, except I know the boy and girl would end up living happily ever after, because that’s just how I roll.  My second was a story about Hemingway in which my Hemingway character said things that I later found, almost word for word, in an interview Hemingway gave shortly before his death. It was a fairly obscure interview, and Hemingway fan though I am, I’m quite positive it could not possibly have been something I’d read.)

I could go on. Part of this is, I’ll grant you, your subconscious at work.  Any really good writer has to let go and learn to trust his subconscious. The subconscious adds echoes and fills in thin places and sometimes makes the world “real” even if your conscious beliefs are at odds with reality.  (All the progressive authors who write believable heroes and villains, for instance. Joss Whedon’s creation of Firefly.)

But another part is something else. If I were a Jungian I’d suspect I’d been traipsing through the collective subconscious.

These gifts of the deep levels of the brain are so strange and inexplicable that one of my friends – Kate Paulk – calls it Gateway Writing.

Having run into a few of these, Charlie and I were discussing it, and thought it would make for an interesting series on the creative process and how to trust your own inner writer. Because trusting yourself and your voice is at least half the battle to becoming a writer – or a good one.  This is part of Dean Wesley Smith’s article this week, and if you’re a writer you absolutely should go read it. (C: What she said.)

I propose that we follow the structure of the Hero’s Journey for these posts.  (There is a book called The Writer’s Journey) which I read many years ago, and which compared the development of the writer with the mythical Hero’s Journey  I haven’t touched it in years, but I’ve brought it out and put it on my desk today. I shall refresh my memory.)

Like the hero about to embark on an adventure the writer starts in the real world. This is the quotidian reality all men experience.  Can we set off to create new worlds if we do not enter another world?  Can we answer the call and remain unchanged?


images courtesy shutterstock / MoreenBlackthorne / Ellerslie