The Writer's Journey

In previous articles, I have stated that I had wanted to be a fire truck and an astronaut when I was a child. As I grew older, I discovered literature and creative writing and decided I would be a writer instead. Throughout junior high (middle school to some of you), high school, and college, I took a series of writing classes in which I was assigned a wide variety of projects from short stories to poetry to journalism. While attending college, I took a job at a local bookstore so I could surround myself with the words of others. I attended seminars and readings hosted by published authors. As I listened to them share their stories, rapt, I knew I would be one of them one day. The thing about being a writer --and every writer will tell you this-- is that you must write constantly. It has to be in your blood. If a writer is not writing, they are thinking about writing. And as time marched on, I realized that was not me. I enjoy writing as a hobby, but I knew I was not going to be the one to write the next great novel. I found myself lacking not just the discipline, but also the creative spark. My brain was not constantly burning with ideas like so many authors claim. It was a disappointing realization. It always hurts when a dream dies and I experienced a period of mourning.

I still have people in my life who encourage me to continue writing, to increase the volume, to elevate my craft. One of my greatest champions has been my longtime friend Jeff Garvin, who knows how difficult the journey is having become a published author with 2016's Symptoms of Being Human. In March 2011, we agreed to hold a personal NaNoWriMo (the official event is held each November), challenging each other to write a fifty-thousand word novel by the end of the month. We both achieved the goal and our respective first novels will probably never see the light of day, but Jeff continued on the fiction track and I turned my attention toward commentary, launching this website.

The main purpose of bookthump was to serve as a central repository for my experiences --nonsense or otherwise-- with the books I read. Too often have I been asked by a fellow reader for my opinion about a book we discovered we have both read and equally often I have had to admit I have little to no memory of the content. I think of this site as a book journal. It is not the fulfillment of that wide-eyed student's dream of being the next great novelist, but it does satisfy the needs of the adult I have become.

Years ago --I believe we were still in college-- Jeff gave me a copy of Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. At the time, I was secretly wrestling with the death of the dream, so it was both a heartwarming and heartbreaking gift. I gave it a prominent but permanent place on my bookshelf for years, knowing I might never read it for fear of tearing open ragged wounds. Then, in late March, Jeff approached me with an idea for a project. Hollering at each other over the cacophony of a local brewery's tasting room, we discussed his project that would require us to read Vogler's The Writer's Journey and mythologist Joseph Campbell's famous The Hero with a Thousand Faces. "Read Vogler by the end of April," he said, "Campbell in May". I threw back the last drops of the session IPA I was drinking and confidently agreed that I could meet those deadlines. Turns out I did not meet those deadlines because reasons, but I did finish The Writer's Journey on the last day of May.

Vogler's book is, as the author himself states in the preface, an "accessible, down-to-earth" modern version of Campbell's famous work. A student of Joseph Campbell, Vogler admits Campbell may be overwrought for current audiences because he cites so much ancient mythology and psychoanalysis that are no longer part of contemporary popular culture. I have recently started reading The Hero with a Thousand Faces and have found that the references Campbell makes are either entirely foreign to me or are completely different from what I recall. I used to love reading mythology when I was in elementary school, but the versions of the stories I read had been edited for young audiences. I feel like I need to camp out in the Mythology section of my local bookstore and absorb the adult versions of these stories.

In The Writer's Journey, Christopher Vogler takes the common story elements recognized by Joseph Campbell and analyzes several modern works such as The Wizard of Oz (1939), Pulp Fiction (1994), and the 1998 recipient of the Academy Award for Best Picture, Titanic. I found his analyses fascinating. That these starkly different stories share similar story elements was illuminating. I began thinking about my own works of fiction and was stunned to realize I had constructed my narratives in similar ways without even realizing it. Recalling some of my favorite stories, their frameworks share many of the elements Campbell and Vogler identify. This is not because authors steal from their predecessors. It is because good storytellers recognize the elements and structure that make a story connect with audiences. Readers enjoy novels about normal people who face extraordinary circumstances, perform heroic feats, and have spectacular adventures. Such stories allow us to escape our ordinary lives and let us fantasize about being someone greater than we are. This book opened my eyes to something that had always been there, lurking in my subconscious. No "Eureka!" moments, but there certainly was a considerable amount of chin-scratching.

Days after having finished The Writer's Journey and having started Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces, I feel a charged sensation, that fidgety buzzing one feels when their mind has been introduced to an exciting new concept. I am interested to see how this new perspective affects my future experiences with books and films. My journey continues...