Your Hero’s Journey and Mine

I’m from the Northeast. But my hero’s journey played out in the South. My family is middle-class, but my journey was strictly blue-collar. Why? Something impelled me to that part of the country and that stratum of society.

Larry McMurtry has said he thinks of himself as a herder of words, across a prairie of pages

I drove tractor-trailers, I worked on oil rigs, I picked fruit as a migrant laborer; I lived in hellholes without electricity and running water; my friends were mechanics and roustabouts and body-and-fender men. Why? Had I been in control of my journey, I could have selected any one of hundreds of other places and people and odysseys. Something made me choose this one. What? I had no idea. I didn’t even know that choice was involved. Something simply compelled me.

The hero’s journey is a metaphor for our artist’s life-to-be. It’s a foreshadowing, an adumbration of the Artist’s Journey to come. The passages are parallels. One prefigures the other.

Before my hero’s journey, I couldn’t write. After, I could. I write like a truck driver. The virtues that sustain me are blue-collar virtues, Southern virtues, workingman’s virtues. Everything I learned on my passage that I thought was useless has proved to be fundamental, indispensable.

Larry McMurtry says that he thinks of himself as a cattle driver of stories. He herds words across a prairie of pages. I like that.

Have you ever seen the video of Ana Forrest, the yoga instructor, doing unbelievable stuff in a handstand? Ms. Forrest, I understand, was a drug addict. There’s a connection. The dark, criminal, single-minded focus that the addict needs to survive (her hero’s journey) becomes the disciplined, single-minded will to master her own body and to surrender to the imperatives of her art.

Listen: no matter how crazy or down or preposterous your current state, it remains a passage toward the light. If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t feel crazy.

Trust me. When the lights come on in the darkroom, what looks to you now like a negative will develop into the photo you’ve been searching for all along—a photograph of yourself.

DO THE WORK

Steve shows you the predictable Resistance points that every writer hits in a work-in-progress and then shows you how to deal with each one of these sticking points. This book shows you how to keep going with your work.

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THE AUTHENTIC SWING

A short book about the writing of a first novel: for Steve, The Legend of Bagger Vance. Having failed with three earlier attempts at novels, here's how Steve finally succeeded.

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NOBODY WANTS TO READ YOUR SH*T

Steve shares his "lessons learned" from the trenches of the five different writing careers—advertising, screenwriting, fiction, nonfiction, and self-help. This is tradecraft. An MFA in Writing in 197 pages.

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TURNING PRO

Amateurs have amateur habits. Pros have pro habits. When we turn pro, we give up the comfortable life but we find our power. Steve answers the question, "How do we overcome Resistance?"

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16 Comments

  1. Joanne park on January 8, 2020 at 8:44 am

    I had 26 jobs before a more permanent career , many considered menial. I always strove to do my best. Each experience and the people I met along the way have found their way into my writing and on to my personal journey.thanks for this piece. Joanne

  2. Peter Brockwell on January 8, 2020 at 8:50 am

    ‘Cattle driver of words across a prairie of pages.’ Oh yes! ie, Get out of the way of those words! Let the words order themselves into place. I like Tim Ferriss’ thing about a difficult creative project asking: ‘What would this thing look like if it was easy?’

    Thank you Steve, and Happy New Year to you and all the team.

  3. Kwin Peterson on January 8, 2020 at 9:14 am

    Beautiful Steve. Yesterday I did my annual re-read of The War of Art and this is a nice button on that. Clearly the dots of our journey connect at some point in our lives. If you ever want to write about the moment (if there was one) in which the journey coalesced into something clear and comprehensible, I would be interested to read it!

    • Kevin on January 8, 2020 at 10:04 am

      Kwin, I would recommend Turning Pro. It talks about the moment you are referring to

      • Jule Kucera on January 8, 2020 at 12:41 pm

        Interesting… I’ve read Turning Pro probably a half dozen times. While I remember Steve and a typewriter and the house that was only a shell, I especially remember Rosanne Cash’s dream.

  4. David Smith on January 8, 2020 at 11:44 am

    My family – mid-Atlantic, middle class, college professors – didn’t understand my “career” as a mechanic/logger/miner/carpenter in the British Columbia interior. Moving back to Maryland in mid-life and finding success as a writer and consultant didn’t shake the blue-collar vibe or the “outsider” identity. I’m OK with being the “Crazy Uncle” and have just learned to not share much about the voices…

  5. Bing on January 8, 2020 at 11:49 am

    At age 16 I smoked some marijuana with my wild buddies. I went to bed that night and said to myself, ‘I am a drug addict’, I knew I had opened a very serious door that would lead to other drugs and it did. It took almost 30 years to put that ragging fire out. Recently I thought about all of those years of addiction and wondered why at age 16 I chose to become a dope fiend as a career choice. Thanks for the post.

  6. Sandra on January 8, 2020 at 11:56 am

    Beautiful and inspiring.

  7. Bill on January 8, 2020 at 12:36 pm

    Heavy stuff, somehow just what I needed. I have had lots of blue collar jobs some very low level ones, picking cotton, pickling tanks and the like and I did not think they would have any value either but did come to realize them as gifts served up to me if I could learn how to make them work. I remember a Walton’s episode where one of the characters was a drifter/writer who ended up on the Walton farm to get some food in exchange for honest labor and John Boy was trying to pick his brain for some writing tips and one of his lines was ” I became a wordsmith when I started being able to make the words do the magic i wanted them to.” I thought that was a great line, as is the prairie one. Not sure if I got it exactly right though. Thanks.

  8. Jule Kucera on January 8, 2020 at 12:42 pm

    “When the lights come on in the darkroom, what looks to you now like a negative will develop into the photo you’ve been searching for all along—a photograph of yourself.”

    Yes.

  9. Yvonne on January 8, 2020 at 1:55 pm

    My two favorite days of the week are Wednesdays (because of your posts), and my writers group, in that order. Many times I measure hard weeks between Wednesdays, when I can next read encouragement and wisdom from you, and this post is a perfect example why. What an incredible perspective, and so timely, too. I really, really needed to hear this on multiple levels. Thanks so much, Steve, for always taking time to encourage and offer advice.

  10. York on January 9, 2020 at 3:15 am

    The timing of your Writing Wednesday posts and the depth with which they penetrate my being and resonate with me is always astounding.

    Keep on.

  11. Mia Sherwood Landau on January 9, 2020 at 8:28 am

    Not to make you feel old, Steven, but I gave my apparel designer daughter The War of Art and Turning Pro, and she’s sharing bits with her teenage aspiring rockstar son. Your words and timeless ideas transcend generations in my family. I pray my books do that someday, too.

  12. Susan Setteducato on January 9, 2020 at 8:38 am

    Ana Forrest defies gravity. And she uses her wounds to help heal others . I’ve come to believe that no matter what genre we write in, that is what we’re compelled to do.

  13. K on January 9, 2020 at 9:57 am

    ‘If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t feel crazy.’
    Thank you for this 🙂

  14. Anne Marie on January 10, 2020 at 5:58 pm

    Love Larry’s quote – yes! I am adding that to my life plan 🙂 Love the Tim Ferris quote in the comments too. God bless you all and your blessed presence in our lives 🙂 🙂

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