Her third cup of coffee was getting cold. Sat at the typewriter, slightly apprehensive of the blank page staring back at her, she knew it was already judging every word that was about to stain its purity. Some say, there’s no such thing as writer’s block. Why, then, did it seem like an impossible task to craft the first line of her story?
Prologue: Once Upon a Time in November
As you may or may not know, November is National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo, as it’s called, began in 1999 as a challenge for writers to produce the first draft of a novel (50K words, no less) in the span of 30 days. Anyone who reaches the finish line is declared a winner, and notable works such as Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern were born during NaNoWriMo.
If you accept this free challenge, the deadline and rules will guide your creativity, motivating you and giving you structure. You’ll have a chance to build momentum, learn from the process, and connect with fellow scribes along the way. Still, “Whatever you thought NaNoWriMo is, it’s more than that”, states the official website for the project.
The same could be observed about content creation – it always proves to be a more vibrant quest than we anticipated. So what is the common denominator between novel writing and content marketing? The hero’s journey.
“It’s ok to be the teacup with a chip in it. That’s the one with a story.”
– Matt Haig
Chapter One: The Call to Adventure
The concept of the archetypal hero’s journey was systematized by Joseph Campbell, professor of literature, who discovered all stories have common patterns. The first stages are about answering the call to adventure, leaving your ordinary setting, stepping out into the unknown, or… refusing to leave your comfort zone and avoiding change.
The blank page in your typewriter is your cue. As the protagonist of your story, you choose whether to venture out and write your novel, start a business, a YouTube channel – you name it – or stay warm under the blanket of mundanity. Writer’s block is a refusal attempt. A little part of you must be scared of something; after all, creativity is the domain of the brave.
Should you opt for seizing a sword and shield (or pen and paper), we can promise there will be method to your madness. And the good news is, no one has to see your first draft. For all you care, your initial efforts can stay buried in your bottommost drawer, never to be seen by a single soul.
Hence, the question arises: what do you have to lose?
Chapter Two: Know Thy Enemy
If you’re still with us, congratulations! It means you most likely managed to shush the little voice in your head trying to coerce you into inaction. How does it feel to be one of the chosen ones destined to light up the path for those who follow? We bet your fingertips are itching with excitement.
The next stages of the hero’s journey are all about meeting a mentor, crossing the first threshold, and encountering potential friends and foes – a marketing adventure if we’ve ever heard of one!
First, we all need to learn from someone. And that doesn’t only mean knowledge per se, but also the wisdom to know that we can, in fact, become the chosen ones exactly as we are. Whether it’s your first-grade teacher, your sister, or a person on the internet willing to share their expertise, someone has to point us in the right direction and spark the courage to take the first step.
Once we realize it’s ok to have the audacity to be different, stand out, and rebel against the status quo, we have to cross some kind of a line. Needless to say, nothing will ever be the same after that. Dare anyway. You might get burned – actually, scratch that – you will get burned, multiple times. But pain is a reminder that we’re still alive, that we can feel, that we’re not brainless cogs in the machine.
Paraphrasing Walt Whitman, we are large, we contain multitudes.
No matter what you choose to do with your life, sooner or later you will encounter both friends and foes on your path. We wish you as many allies as you could possibly fit into your quest. Yet, the truth is, mean creatures are out there right now, lurking in the shadows. They might bite you in the comments on social media, undermine your expertise in their reviews of your business, and find countless ways to put you off course.
Brace yourself. Your skills and your talent compose your armor which will be put to the test on more than one occasion. Be so good at what you do that even the cruelest of algorithms will cease to matter in reaching your targets. Choose your weapon – pen, typewriter, a Word document – whatever equips you with the most strength and confidence. There’s no turning back, you’re about to enter the battle.
Chapter Three: Eye of the Storm
The enemy is at the gate, the castle is under attack, and the struggle is very real now. The following stages of the hero’s journey are about the ordeal and the results that it brings. Time to face our demons, doubts, and insecurities all at once. The pen in your hand might start shaking a bit but that’s ok, we know you can do this, you know you can.
Success is never a straight line, it’s the squiggliest of all lines. Two steps forward, one step back. On the path to greatness, you will fail, you might cry, and get lost. Provided that you follow your heart, your inner compass will always point you towards your North Star so that every step of the way the mission of your business will shine before your eyes. Aim for that light.
When you try to get a novel published, for instance, you might hear that your idea will not sell. Reassess, repurpose, and refresh your story, strip it of the inessential, approach it from a different angle, but leave its core intact. Follow Margaret Atwood’s advice. In her creative writing Masterclass, the author proposes a different beginning to a well-known fairy tale, Little Red Riding Hood. What if it started like this: It was dark inside the wolf… Hooked yet?
Fall in love with the process, rewrite the battle as an opportunity for growth. Destiny might sometimes seem like more than we can handle but if you focus on the poetic side of the strife, you’ll never lose motivation. Seek discomfort and there will be no limits to what you can achieve.
Once the dust settles, when you can catch your breath and look around, you’ll notice a lot has changed. The castle walls have fallen down so that you can rebuild them stronger. Some of your fears perished in the fire of the ordeal. You’ve gained new information, new weapons, and tools. The storm has cleared the air.
Chapter Four: There and Back Again
You might find that you died on the battlefield. At least the old you did. Parts of yourself have been resurrected to construct a brand new writer. With a stronger identity and a new sense of purpose, you now get to return home, victorious. Equipped with new insights, you might feel like a philosopher in Plato’s allegory of the cave, who ventured out of darkness to gain enlightenment.
You found freedom.
Your story now serves a purpose that is bigger than yourself. There are people out there who need to know that they will get through this, just like you did. You get to pass on your newfound wisdom to others, add value to somebody else’s life. Your triumphant homecoming, the final stage of the hero’s journey, will connect you with your audience on a deeper level, attract more readers to your content, and immerse them in your story by making everyone feel like they are the protagonists now. It’s all about what you can do for others.
“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”― Robert Frost
It sounds like a cliché, but the power really does reside within you. And sometimes you need to go through hell and back to jumpstart your brain, snap out of writer’s block, gain a new perspective, and fill up the creative well. You’ve learned the rules well enough to break them if need be (yes, even the NaNoWriMo guidelines). It is time to set your own.
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”(from “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost)
Epilogue: The Shape of Your Heart
She wiped drops of sweat off her forehead. “Isn’t it astonishing how much of writing isn’t writing?”, she concluded. The journey of her self-discovery, now living on the pages of a manuscript, will soon take a life of its own in the hands of somebody else. She took a sip of her now ice-cold coffee and flinched at the bitter taste of it.
“We are all stories”, she thought, putting another blank sheet of paper in the typewriter. Could it be..? Yes, it certainly felt like it. She was ready for another adventure.