Writers may well be BORN, but then its up to them and chance if they’ll be MADE. I’ve often thought of us as human bonsai trees, shaped – sometimes twisted – by often painful experience into the peculiar profile of a watchful spectator. But it’s not enough to simply observe and report – unless you become a journalist. You need to move deeper, which can often simultaneously take you down the path of healing yourself. This allows you to bring into your life and work a level of compassion and emotional understanding that can serve the writer’s larger purpose. Writers serve as an interpreter for the powerful unseen currents that move through individuals, families, groups, societies and translate them into the universal language of myths, archetypes and metaphors.
I was blessed by encouragement from a handful of supportive teachers along the way, and one of them led me to experience the man who understood and illuminated the age-old role of storytellers in human society better than any other. If you’re interested in writing yourself – even as a reader – then you owe it to yourself to experience the work of Joseph Campbell. When the time is right, he can open your eyes to the big picture that’s, honestly, right there in front of us from the beginning. And it’s when writers plug into the subconscious powerhouse he describes that they can move past entertainment and sentiment to offer the kind of nourishment that people have sought from “stories” since the first shamans re-enacted the hunt.
For it seems we need stories for much deeper reasons than distracting us from our daily routine. We need them to help make sense of who we are and the strange places we find ourselves. They’re mirrors that allow us to see, often through the strivings and failings of fictional others, what our own lives are trying to tell us. That’s the high end of a writer’s purpose, one they should embrace and honor.
Campbell says that we have, basically, two choices in how to exist in today’s world: you can live by through and for the financial … or the mythic. I believe that the work of genuine masterful storytellers can help keep us on the second path. Among the many things you might find along that way may include a sense of meaning in life, deeper compassion and connection, maybe even something like enlightenment.
If you MUST write, work with that idea. Hold onto it through storms and strife. Lash yourself to its mast. You’ll come through it, and what you’ve gained for the effort will bestow its own reward.