QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Heroic Journey of Every Writer: Part Two

By Martina Boone @4YALit
Today, we continue the journey from where we left off on Monday. Following the dreaded rejection.


But there's a hidden treasure in every rejection, a measure of achievement. We have tried. We have succeeded at putting ourselves out there. And we are learning that being creative requires us to face rejection. We are preparing ourselves for years of rejection yet to come. Rejection by agents. Rejection by editors. Rejection by acquisitions boards. Rejection by reviewers. By readers.

Art is subjective. Not every agent is going to love our work, and when we submit our first book, or our second, or third, or sixth, we may discover that it's still meeting with rejection. But maybe, maybe, instead of a form rejection, if we keep battling, we glean a piece of knowledge that points us in the right direction. We learn what we are good at writing. Do we have a great voice? A way with description? A facility with rhythm? Plot? Characterization? And we learn what work we have yet to do, all the elements of writing where we need improvement. We discover that rejection can be energizing, and we realize that we stand on the brink of a landscape that is only just opening up before us.


Having come through the initial battle, we must now regroup. We pull out the craft books. We dig deeper. We seek more experienced mentors. We attend different kinds of writing conferences—conferences focused on craft instead of sales. We read more fiction than we have ever read before, and we begin to read it in a different way, critically, not to find fault, but to peer beyond the curtain of story to examine the motions and machinations of the wizard. Now we are determined to complete the journey and come home with an agent and a book deal. We can smell success… Our mentors can smell it on us. (And yes, this is often the point where we do find ourselves wearing the same pajamas the entire weekend and feeding our families cold, leftover pizza for breakfast on Sunday morning.)


The faster we race toward that finish line, the more painful it is to trip and fall. And we will go splat at some point. Getting a Revise and Resubmit on a manuscript may make us believe we are almost there. Or at least that the next manuscript will surely be an easy sell. After all, this time, we've done everything right. We've plotted. We've schemed and themed. We know (and like) our characters better than our siblings and in-laws. (At least some of them.) We would like to move out of our current homes and take up residence in our storybook settings. And yet. And yet. When it comes down to it, we may be close and still not close enough.

At the climax of our writer's journey, we are going to be tested again, usually when we think we can see a champagne bottle set out on the table. That's the moment when we stumble and go down. We fail. Again.

At that moment, while we're lying curled in a fetal position on the cold cobblestones and whimpering for chocolate, the thought of picking ourselves up and trying again seems like more heartbreak than we can bear. Another round of revisions? Another unagented manuscript? Another unsold book? Or one that's published but undersells or underperforms our hopes? It's all useless anyway. What's the point? We can't DO this anymore. We can't keep spending a year or more writing a manuscript, pouring ourselves into the pages, only to fail again.

But wait. This—yes, THIS—this exact moment, is our defining moment! Our darkest moment. Our long night of the soul.

Everything we create comes from within us. By sharing it with the world, we lay ourselves naked for judgment and ridicule. That's painful. It's hard. It's our battle. Sometimes it can feel as if death would be easier. Certainly, it's easier to give up.

As Walter Smith put it, "Writing is easy. You just sit down at the typewriter, open a vein, and bleed it out drop by drop."

It is also worth remembering that writing fiction is both a selfish and selfless endeavor. We write to communicate. The human spirit aches to share experiences. There are readers out there hungry to escape or enhance their own lives. And they may be struggling with a problem they will solve through or during the reading of a book. They may be searching for just the thought, the sentence, or idea, or emotion that we have labored over within the pages of the book we've written.

The moments of communion when a reader feels a book was written just for them—we've all felt like this when reading, right?—is what lets a book live on and grow beyond us. It's the elixir we are all hoping to find and bring back. The writer's holy grail. The lucky few writers who achieve a communion like that leave behind a legacy. And doesn’t that deserve a battle? Aren't we willing to fight for it? Aren't we willing to keep learning to achieve it, fighting to achieve it—because, yes, we will have to keep fighting, fighting harder, with every new manuscript we begin.

If we want, need, that elixir, we will pick ourselves up after that long night of the soul.

We will be reborn into a world that's very much bigger even than the one that we believed we had found. We finally know how very little we actually know, and we see the breadth of what we have yet to learn. That in itself is staggering. But we are committed to a lifetime of learning, experimenting, reaching. We are strengthened by our successes and our failures, and in the act of pushing past our dark moment, we finally break through that dark veil of doubt that held us back from writing in the first place. The turmoil in which we began is finally resolved, our wound is healed at last.


We return to our families and jobs at peace with ourselves, prepared to continue the journey of the writer. Whether we have achieved the first stage of publication or finally broken through with a novel that takes us to the next step, or anything in between, we carry success within us. Because we no longer feel like we're in a hurry to get "there." We can let ourselves fall in love with the process. We can love the writing, the current book, the next book, knowing that there is an endless well of creativity inside us. Not every book will sell. Not every book will sell well. But every book will teach us something, about ourselves, about our world.

Every book is a brand new journey.


"If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Follow your bliss and don't be afraid, and doors will open where you didn't know they were going to be." ~ Joseph Campbell

Can you relate to the writer’s journey?


Martina loves reading and writing books about beautiful, vicious, magical worlds that intersect our own, and about the monsters of myth and folklore that sometimes show more humanity than we do. She's the founding member of the Adventures in YA Publishing blog and runs the monthly First Five Pages Workshop. Follow her on twitter as @4YALit [http://www.twitter.com/4YALit] or visit her website.


Anonymous said...

Oh, wow, Martina. This post is beyond perfect. Thank you for summing it all up so beautifully.

Deren Hansen said...

The beauty of your observation, Martina, that in writing we undertake our own hero's journey is two fold: first, as writers we tend to see ourselves as disembodied storytellers--the story isn't about us--when in fact the experience of the story and of telling the story involves a parallel set of episodes of trying, failing, growing, and trying again; and second, that a hero's journey doesn't have to be "heroic"--most people would have a hard time equating writing a book with killing a dragon and yet the underlying pattern of individual growth is the same.

The correlation between the hero's journey and the writer's journey fascinates me. There is a similar feminine archetype that Kim Hudson calls, "The Virgin's Promise." [See her book by the same name.] It's a pattern of individual growth within a community that speaks to the writer's experience creating their work and finding a place for it in the community of books and readers.

There's neither time nor space to do justice to these intriguing ideas here, but if you'd like to hear more I've released a volume in the Dunlith Hill Writers Guides called "Character and Archetype" in which I discuss both archetypes, the ways in which they inform our writing lives, and the way in which that experience enriches our stories.

Carolyn Abiad said...

Think I'm going to lock myself up in the shed for this next part of my journey. Must finish my revision!

Martina Boone said...

Hi Linda,

Wow! You are much too kind. But thank you! I hope you are having a lovely week!

Hi Deren,

I'm not familiar with The Virgin's Promise, although Vogler has The Heroine's Journey, which he adapted from Maureen Murdock.

Obviously, I'm fascinated with the monomyth and mythology in general, so I'll have to check out your Character and Archetype. Thanks for sharing the links! :)

Hi Carolyn,

Yes! Get revising. It's going to be AWESOME!


Traci Kenworth said...

Well said!!

Cathy Ballou Mealey said...

This resonates beautifully.

As you promised, part II did not disappoint.

Thank you for inspiring me!

Julie Musil said...

Holy cow, I absolutely loved this. Thanks for the inspiration, Martina!

Martina Boone said...

Thanks, Traci!

Cathy, oh, I'm so glad you got something out of it!

And Julie? Hugs! You just made my night! :)

Lyndy Lauglyn said...

Hi Martina,
Yes, your journey resonates well. I've learned to make rejection my friend in the sense it tells me not to repeat the same experiment and expect a different result. Let's hope everyone has the opportunity to follow their bliss. Thanks for sharing yours.

Desmond X. Torres said...

Hi Martina:
Beautiful series of posts!

I went to your website, and had some problems with it. My browser is Google Chrome if your webmaster's interested. I tried to email you through it and gave up after three attempts. Here's my email, and again thank you for such wonderful posts-
came across your website via your blog post that Karen Woodward cross posted to her blog (I'm an avid follower of hers). Your piece on Writing as a Heroic journey was an extraordinary work of prose. Have you considered submitting it to the NY Times? They have a regular feature on the craft of writing and I believe other subscirbers like myself would get a kick out of reading your thoughts.

Secondly, and more importantly, I have a comment on your website. I looked it over, and then went to where you have your books listed. I didn't find any links to your books via Amazon or whoever else may be selling your work.

I'll speak frankly. I think you're missing a real opportunity to acquire readers. I'll give my own experience in this matter.

I read your blurb on the first book listed- the one with 'Wind' in the title. Your description appealed a great deal to me. It reminded me of one of my favorite books that I read as a teen titled 'Prince Ombra'. What you said in your 'About Me' section of how a good YA novel stays with you rings so true.

So I went to look for the links and came up empty.
It's entirely possible that the links are on your website, and I didn't find them. If that's the case, then my bad (well, kinda- I DID look). Now I have to go and do a search yadda yadda...

But there are sooo many books out there, y'know? How long will my interest last? Don't worry about me- I can point and click with the best of 'em, but I can't help but wonder what percentage of possible new readers of your work just say 'Oh well... I'll look for it later when I have more time, motivation or whatever...'

You write really, really well, Martina. I think that there are some lives that will NOT be enriched by your work who otherwise might have been.

But yeah, that's only my opinion, based on my experience.
Desmond X. Torres

Angela Ackerman said...

Wonderful job here, Martina! I am so glad to see this up at last--you worked so hard on it and completely embodied the journey of all of us SO WELL!