The beauty of the Hero’s Journey model is that it not only describes a pattern in myths and fairy tales, but it’s also an accurate map of the territory one must travel to become a writer or, for that matter, a human being.
The Hero’s Journey and the Writer’s Journey are one and the same. Anyone setting out to write a story soon encounters all the tests, trials, ordeals, joys, and rewards of the Hero’s Journey. We meet all of its Shadows, Shapeshifters, Mentors, Tricksters, and Threshold Guardians in the interior landscape. Writing is an often perilous journey inward to probe the depths of one’s soul and bring back the Elixir of experience, – a good story. Low self-esteem or confusion about goals may be the Shadows that chill the work. An editor or one’s own judgmental side may be the Threshold Guardians that seem to block our way. Accidents, computer problems, and difficulties with time and discipline may torment and taunt us like Tricksters. Unrealistic dreams of success or distractions may be the Shapeshifters who tempt, confuse, and dazzle us. Deadlines, editorial decisions, or the struggle to sell our work may be the Tests and Ordeals from which we seem to die but are resurrected to write again.
But take hope, for writing is magic. Even the simplest act of writing is almost supernatural, on the borderline with telepathy. Just think: We can make a few abstract marks on a piece of paper in a certain order and someone a world away and a thousand years from now can know our deepest thoughts. The boundaries of space and time and even the limitations of death can be transcended.
Many cultures believed the letters of their alphabets were far more than just symbols for communication, recording transactions, or recalling history. They believed letters were powerful magical symbols that could be used to cast spells and predict the future. The Norse runes and the Hebrew alphabet are simple letters for spelling words, but also deep symbols of cosmic significance.
The magical sense is preserved in our word for teaching children how to manipulate letters to make words: spelling. When you “spell” a word correctly, you are in effect casting a spell, charging these abstract arbitrary symbols with meaning and power.
We say “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me,” but this is manifestly untrue. We know that words have the power to hurt or heal. The simple words of a letter, telegram, or phone call can strike you like a hammer blow. They’re just words, – marks on paper or vibrations of air, – but mere words such as “Guilty,” “Ready, aim, fire!” “I do,” or “We’d like to buy your screenplay” can bind us, condemn us, or bring us joy. They can hurt or heal us with their magic power. The healing power of words is their most magical aspect. Writers, like the shamans or medicine men or women of ancient cultures, have the potential to be healers.