The Hero’s Journey, Or The Arduous Path of the Writer

You want to be a writer?


There’s just a few things you should know about the path you are about to take. Strap your seat belt on. Keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times. Please set all electronic devices to silent. Now here we go!

Level One: The Novice

I can be a writer, you think. Anyone can do it. I get tons of likes on my Facebook posts all the time because I’m so eloquent and witty. Writing has always been your destiny. You aren’t destined to rot in a cube with all the other liberal arts majors! It’s going to be you, a lap top, and the written word. People will pay you beaucoup bucks and eagerly await your next entry, demanding it even!

You write little things. You start a blog and don’t tag anything and wait for the people to rush to your page. You write 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo and immediately submit it to agents because you know you just wrote the next bestseller. You look for writing contests and write small pieces of fiction with a little editing and pay $25 per submission, because you have to pay a little to make a lot, so it’s worth it!

Your mom and your best friend follow your blog. No one responds to your query letters (wait, that’s what they’re called?) and you receive gracious form letters thanking you for your writing contest submissions and subsequent subscriptions to online literary magazines, but your work won’t be included in the next edition. You realize this might be harder than you thought.


Level Two: Realism Sets In

You start Googling how to become a bestselling writer. You learn what a query letter is, and that you have to make it really catchy because New York agents are bombarded with 200 a day and don’t have time to waste. You write another novel while editing your first one, and you realize that the first one was crap anyway and the second one is surely the one that will get picked up. Then you can go back to the first one and pitch it again later.

You learn that tagging your blog and social media posts is the only way the world is actually going to see what you write. You tag paragraphs worth of topics, and you get 36 new followers. Yay you! You polish up your second query letter, which is a form letter, because you don’t have time to personalize this stuff when you’re sending to twenty agents in a day! You write more stories and submit them to literary magazines, but all the MFA students are beating you because they’re trained writers. That’s all it is.

Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately this isn’t a right fit for us at this time. Writing is very subjective, so we encourage you to keep submitting your work to other places. Good luck! The literary agent form letters say, over and over and over again.


Level Three: Make Or Break…Down

I love writing…or do I? This is so dumb. I thought I was talented, but maybe I’m just giving myself too much credit. Obviously everyone else is way more talented than I am, even though when I read my work I’m really moved by my own prose. And my mom said it’s really good too, and she wouldn’t say that if it weren’t true. 

You’re still working your day job, daydreaming about a life you’re actively watching other authors enjoy. How did they get there? Your book is at least as good as theirs, and better than so much of the crap that gets published! This sucks! Not one of your short stories got accepted. Not one. And after you finally had your query edited, all you got was a partial request from an agent, who didn’t like it!

Basically life is a long hallway of doors. At first, you knocked politely, testing the knob ever so gently. Then as time wore on you knocked harder, eventually pounding and thrashing against door after door after door, begging to get in while trying to look professional at the same time.

You write another angry book about your terrible childhood. Everyone loves books about sad childhoods and death and stuff. This one will sell, launch your writing career, and then you can spend your days changing the world through the written word, just as the good lord intended.

Yes, this will be the one.


Level Four: The Day Finally Arrives

You’ve researched writing and publishing and marketing and sales and literature and finally, you’ve done it. You landed that agent. You landed a small publisher. You bit the bullet and self published, entering the realm of Indie Author. People make tons of money as indie authors, and they don’t have to give it all away to greedy publishers. Win!

You gaze in admiration at your book. That beautiful thing you’ve been waiting to see for sooo long, and its finally here! It’s been a week, and you’re like 34,000th on the Amazon Bestseller list, which, when you think about it, is pretty great. There’s probably like a million books on there. You create an author page on all social media and run ad campaigns. Any day now Paulo Coelho is going to see your book and realize that it’s the book that will change his life. Then he’ll tweet about it, and you can FINALLY start living that literary life.

And not a moment too soon. Your bank account is getting really low with that temp job.


Level Five: The Hangover

Ok world. My book’s been out for like three weeks. What’s going on? You’ve reached 23,000 people through your social media ads, and you’ve sold 39 copies of your book. But…you had to spend a little money to make a lot of money, right? Where is that money, so you can retire as a writer? What?

It’s like that long hallway of doors led to a door that opened…into a bare, empty room with another closed door. And on the other side of that door you can hear millions of voices…the people who are just waiting to read your book and give it great reviews on Goodreads (not that jerk who gave it a one star for no damn reason). But you worked so hard just to get here…now there’s more thrashing against another door?

You cry out to the world. I’m here, I’m here! Read my stuff! And you get two more Twitter followers that aren’t marketing hawks trying to bilk you of your money. You’re told that the best way to advertise your book is to write another book.

So you get started on that.

Level Six: ?

How should I know? I’m not Rick Riordan, or Ms. Rowling or Mr. King. All I know is writing is a grueling, difficult path. If you are just starting to get into it, and your end goal is to be the next bestseller, maybe you’ll be the exception. Like people who can eat all they want and not get fat, we who suffer here in the trenches hate you (sorry). But if you’re preparing for the feat of calling yourself Writer, hopefully this gives you an idea of the obstacles you will face. And you will defeat them, O Worthy One. Because you are a special snowflake to me, and you deserve all good things. This ride ends in scary mystery, I’m afraid, like most things in life.


So to those of us with day jobs–hope you have a great holiday weekend, if you don’t have to work retail on Thanksgiving, that is.

I hope you enjoyed the ride. Please remove all your personal belongings before exiting the car. Enjoy the rest of your day as a Hopeful Writer!


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