The Hero's* Journey ... for Writers, Artists & Performers

"Do you know that you too are on the Hero's Journey?"

by Philip Ruddy, MA, Associate Marriage and Family Therapist

As a writer, artist, comedian or performer, you are probably familiar with Joseph Campbell's model of the Hero's Journey.  But do you realize that YOU TOO are on this incredible, mythic journey?  When Joseph Campbell published his now famous Hero with a Thousand Faces in 1949, he likely had no idea of the the power it would still be yielding for creators, over 60 years later.  His discovery and conceptualization of the monomyth  — the theory that all great heroic tales developed by cultures around the world share the same 12 essential steps — are portrayed below:

source: The Story Wars

graphic source:  Winning the Story Wars

1. The Ordinary World

2. Call to Adventure

3. Refusal of the Call

4.  Meeting the Mentor

5. Crossing the Threshold

6. Tests, Allies, Enemies

7. Approach to the Inmost Cave or Dragon's Den

8. Ordeal

9. Reward (Seizing the Treasure)

10.  The Road Back

11. Resurrection

12. Return with the Elixir, Boon or Treasure

Film director and screenwriter George Lucas famously used this model as a blueprint for his original Star Wars trilogy, crediting Campbell and his works for their tremendous influence, during the arduous writing process. He stated:

 “It was The Hero With a Thousand Faces that just took what was about 500 pages and said, here is the story. Here's the end; here's the focus; here's the way it's all laid out. It was all there and had been there for thousands and thousands of years, as Mr. Campbell pointed out. And I said, "This is it." After reading more of Joe's books I began to understand how I could do this. When that happened to me I realized how important the contribution that Joe had made to me was. (…) It's possible that if I had not run across him I would still be writing Star Wars today. (…) He has become my Yoda."  --George Lucas, National Arts Club, 1985

In the late 1980’s, story analyst and film executive Christopher Vogler distilled Campbell’s 12 essential steps into a 7-page memo, which rapidly circulated through Hollywood and became an indispensible short-hand for development executives and screenwriters alike.  That memo, later expanded into the excellent book, The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, currently in its 3rd edition, functions as a terrific synthesis and interpretation of many of Campbell’s concepts, and has helped spread the word to thousands more writers and screenwriters.

As a depth psychotherapist who works in Hollywood with writers, artists and performers, however, I wonder how many realize the direct applications of Campbell’s monomyth to their own lives?  Many of my clients are surprised when I ask them if they realize that they too are on a hero’s journey. Indeed, Campbell’s blueprint is not just a plot device, but also a very real roadmap to our personal creative path.   Think about it:  As a writer, artist or performer, you left the Ordinary World when you moved to Los Angeles.  And why?  Because you had a Call to Adventure.  You had the desire to consciously leave the tried and true, and seek out a way of living that allowed you to express your authentic, inner self.  You wanted to write, direct, produce, perform, compose.  You wanted to build a creative life that was outside the norm.  Perhaps your friends and family were cautious or even critical of your choice.  (“Do you know how many others have the same dream? How will you make a living?  Why don’t you go to law school, so you have something to fall back upon?”) Did you consider at times, that they were right? That you should Refuse the Call?  Somehow, however, you persevered, and you came anyway.  Perhaps it was meeting one person — a teacher, coach or trusted friend who gave you a ray of hope.  Or an inspirational interview with another creative person you read online or saw on a program. Either way, you considered that person an inspiration — a Mentor, and you crossed the Threshold, moved here, got an apartment, maybe with a lot of roommates, but you did it.  Somehow.  And then came the Tests. The meeting of Allies, and yes, Enemies alike.  Yet, still, you persevered, making progress — forward steps, and sometimes backward steps, but still you continued.  And with each new lesson, you learned, you grew, you deepened your gifts, expanded your talents, and you found more and more of that unique elixir or treasure that lies within. 

 What is your personal myth?  Where are you on your own hero’s journey?

If you are curious about some of these questions and would like to explore them in greater depth, give me a call.  I wish you courage, imagination, flow and insight, as you venture forth.

Philip Ruddy, MA, Associate Marriage and Family Therapist #89594, works in private practice under the supervision of Jennifer Bergman, LMFT #44775. He helps creative artists, writers, producers, directors, punks, comics, rockers and film / music professionals explore and and master tools to transcend anxiety, depression, career / creative blocks, midlife transitions and relationship issues.  Call  (424) 354-3910 today for a free 15-minute consultation, and take the next step on your personal creative journey.

References / Sources:

Campbell, Joseph.  (2008). The Hero With a Thousand Faces, 3rd edition.  Novato, CA:  New World Library.

Vogler, Christopher. (2007)  The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 3rd edition.  Studio City, CA:  Michael Wiese Productions.

NOTE: * I use the term Hero above to describe any gender.