Imagine having your own personal mentor—someone encouraging yet honest, who could help you set and achieve your goals, turn your moments of doubt and fear into sources of strength, and discover what you’re truly capable of when you’re at your best. Life coach and publishing industry veteran Kendra Levin is that mentor. And in The Hero Is You, she can help you do the best writing of your life—and live your best life while doing it.
With wisdom drawn from her years as a life coach for writers and behind-the-scenes stories from a panoply of bestselling authors, Levin shows you how to become the hero in the narrative of your own process. Offering a fresh approach to Joseph Campbell’s storytelling archetype, the Hero’s Journey, The Hero Is You includes more than thirty exercises designed to help you reinvent your creative process from the inside out.
This book will show you how to:
- Identify your biggest challenges and render them powerless
- Start a project that you love—and stick with it
- Design a structure for writing regularly
About the Author
Kendra Levin is a certified life coach for writers, as well as a children's book editor, teacher, and writer. Since 2008, she has helped writers and other creative artists all over the world meet their goals and connect more deeply with their work and themselves. She has worked in the publishing industry since 2002.
Kendra has taught classes for a range of populations from media professionals to prison inmates. Her theatrical works have been produced Off- and Off-Off Broadway and regionally, and her eclectic professional writing credits include celebrity speeches, bar guides, and Mad Libs. She's a regular contributor to Psychology Today, and her home base is New York City.
Visit her at kendracoaching.com and follow her @kendralevin.
Read an Excerpt
The Hero is You
Sharpen Your Focus, Conquer Your Demons, and Become the Writer You Were Born to Be
By Kendra Levin
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 2016 Kendra Levin
All rights reserved.
identify your gifts and vulnerabilities and begin the work
You are already a Hero — whether you recognize it or not.
When I introduce the idea of the Hero's Journey as a metaphor for the writing process to the writers I work with, some inevitably balk. "I can't call myself a 'hero,'" one said to me early in our coaching relationship, "I haven't even done anything yet!" But being a Hero doesn't mean you've rescued kittens from a tree or performed some feat of epic strength. By the time you reach the end of this chapter, you will have taken Heroic action. In fact, I'm willing to bet you've done so already without even realizing it.
When I met Lucy at a writers' conference, she was in the middle of a major transition in her life. At lunch, elbow-to-elbow in a packed hotel ballroom, she told me her story: she'd spent two decades climbing to the top of the heap of academia and had become a distinguished professor of computer science, paving the way for other women in a male-dominated field. But the work, which had never been her passion, seemed to grow more and more political. As she watched her daughter turn from toddler to child, she felt strongly that she wanted her daughter to grow up with a mother who pursued her dreams instead of one who complained bitterly about her work every night.
When we met, she was just about to get her masters degree in creative writing that she'd been pursuing on the side in a low-residency program. Her instructors had been encouraging, and friends she'd met through the program had even connected her with potential opportunities to earn money related to writing; freelance editing gigs, copywriting, and a chance to teach had all fallen into her lap with apparent serendipity. She could technically afford to walk away from her old career. But, she confided, she wasn't sure she was ready.
"Who am I if I'm not my job?" she asked as we finished our brownies. "After all these years and all this work, can 'writer' suddenly be who I am, like flipping a switch?"
"It sounds to me like 'writer' is already who you are," I told her, "whether you're ready to embrace that or not."
Six months later, I got an email from Lucy through my coaching website. She'd tracked me down to see if I was available to work with her, and I was delighted to get to hear the next chapter of her story.
She'd completed her degree, said yes to the opportunities that had come along, and was phasing out of her job. In her email, she described her anxiety, but on our first call, she was flush with excitement. In her new work, she was getting to tap into skills she'd known she had but never had the chance to use in her former life. And she was thrilled to be writing more.
"I still don't know who exactly I am," she told me cheerfully, "but I'm looking forward to finding out."
On the bumpy, confusing, ever-evolving journey toward being someone she could take pride in, Lucy was discovering what it means to be a Hero.
A Hero, first and foremost, is a person on a quest for identity and wholeness.
A Hero, first and foremost, is a person on a quest for identity and wholeness. Who am I? What is my place in the world? What am I on this earth to do? How do I find the places, the people, and the vocations that will fill me with satisfaction and fulfillment?
When you pursue the answers to these questions by seeking out change and by challenging yourself, you become a Hero.
Every writer is on a lifelong quest. When you have a passion for writing that compels you to create, you live in a constant state of rigorous exploration. Each project brings a new adventure, and a new opportunity to push your boundaries and discover hidden layers of riches inside you. A Hero is a person with the potential for evolution.
Another objection I've heard from writers reluctant to call themselves Heroes: "It sounds too self-important."
I'm not encouraging you to have an inflated ego. In fact, by acknowledging yourself as a Hero, you recognize that you are someone who still has lots to learn, who has the potential to grow into a more advanced version of yourself. You're at the beginning of a journey that will bring you face-to-face with your most frustrating weaknesses and flaws, push you to the limits of what you're capable of, and show you what's missing from your arsenal of skills. Being a Hero means that, instead of being cowed by these situations, you'll embrace the chance to strengthen those weaknesses, push those limits, and develop those skills.
To go on that quest for identity and wholeness, to bring about that evolution, you will have to step forward into change, like Lucy did. A Hero is a person who says yes to the adventure.
The mythic structure of the Hero's Journey sends a Hero away from home and onto a path into an unknown world, punctuated by moments of terror and wonder, culminating in a climactic experience that irrevocably changes the Hero, who returns home wiser, stronger, and capable of helping the next Hero with his or her own journey of self-discovery. We can see the Hero's Journey reflected in our lives anytime we seek out or go along with a new experience. And as writers, we see it every time we embark on the writing process with a new project.
Are you a person who says yes to the adventure? If you've picked up this book, you've already done that.
A Hero is a person who is connected with his or her own inherent gifts.
Time to start writing. Open your blank book or journal to the first page.
On one side of the page, write down the names of three people — living or dead, real or fictitious, it's up to you — whom you most aspire to be like.
On the other side of the page, write down the three qualities you most admire in each person.
Now, fold the page in half so only the character traits, not the names, are showing.
How many of these qualities do you already possess?
A mentor of mine used this exercise years ago to show me how much easier it is to recognize the attributes we admire in others than in ourselves. But so often, the people we most long to be like, our heroes, are simply versions of ourselves that are further along in life than we are, or who've employed the qualities we share with them to take a different path than we have so far. To forge our own paths, we have to understand what our natural gifts and strengths are and foster them with our attention.
Just like the people you admire, you have inherent qualities that might already be inspiring others. It's your choice what to do with them.
You are a Hero.
Heroes exhibit three kinds of behavior that I suspect you already do.
The Greek root of the word "hero" means "to protect and serve." In myth, Heroes often embark on journeys in a quest to protect something precious to them — a person, a place, a way of life.
Throughout this book, we'll be exploring ways for you to protect something very precious to you: your writing. We're going to nourish your work itself, from its most nascent stages to a polished project you release into the world. Protecting your writing means creating a personalized way of working that is sturdy but flexible, so developing your process will be at the heart of the work we'll do.
Heroes model for us what it means to be in process. When we meet our favorite Heroes, they are just at the beginning of an ordeal, like writers starting a project. They show us how to get through a series of challenges and come out the other side wiser and stronger.
We'll look at how to protect your writing time as sacred, how to bolster yourself with support from other people, and how to guard your psyche from the pitfalls you're most susceptible to.
As you embark on this journey, think about what else in your life needs protection. What parts of yourself are vulnerable, tender, or at risk? Is there an area where you feel helpless or frustrated and wish a Hero would swoop in and rescue you?
By the end of this journey, you'll be equipped to be your own Hero, a strong protector.
Service is also at the heart of every Hero's Journey. Rather than acting solely out of ego, Heroes serve a cause greater than the self. The cause could be as grandiose as saving the world or as contained as helping one person, but for the Hero, the purpose is for some greater good.
Writing can feel like a self-focused act. To do it, we have to take ourselves away from other people. We're working on projects that express our personal visions, which we dare to believe others will find interesting. We make time for writing at the expense of acts that seem to serve others — spending time with loved ones, caring for our children, volunteering, participating in our communities, keeping our homes from looking like Superfund site candidates. We isolate ourselves from communication, ignoring phone, email, and social media (or at least, we try to), and can even begin to lose our deeper connections to other people. Talking about feeling alienated from his peers, author Rick Moody told me, "My classmates from high school and college were all moving into genteel middle age, and I was still making ramen noodles and holing up for weeks at a time. It was great for writing novels, but probably stunted my emotional maturation."
Being a Hero in your writing journey means balancing the self-focus that is essential for writing with a sense of a broader purpose. You're not writing in a vacuum, to amuse yourself, or simply because you want people to pay attention to you. You're writing because you have something to say that you feel needs to be said.
What is it about this story or message that burns to be told — and by you, specifically? What do you want to add to the world with this piece of writing? Ezra Pound called artists "the antennae of the race"; what are you picking up on your antenna and translating into a message that people need to hear? Whom are you hoping to reach, perhaps to show them they're not the only ones who feel the way they do, that they're not alone in the world?
What greater cause are you serving by being a writer? If you don't have a ready answer right now, you may by the end of this chapter.
To achieve their goals, Heroes in myth must make sacrifices. They give up the comfort of home to go on an adventure, and they often have to let go of even more — sometimes the person or thing they love most — in order to reach what they seek.
I'm sure you've already experienced the sacrifice that being a writer involves. You become a time thief, pilfering minutes or hours from everything else you need or want to do and sacrificing it to your writing. You loosen your connection to society, withdrawing to be alone with your work, sometimes even losing the people in your life who don't understand your need to pursue this isolating passion. Sometimes, you sacrifice your sanity or the appearance of sanity; you catch yourself talking out loud to one of your characters while at the grocery store, or have to excuse yourself in the middle of a party to furiously scribble notes before you forget the idea you just had.
And if you came to this book because you've been struggling to fit writing into your life, you may need to sacrifice even more. Over the coming chapters, we'll be looking at what elements of your life you can nudge out of the way to clear more space for your writing, and how to make it a higher priority.
But in exchange for the sacrifices you make, you get a priceless gift.
A comedian told me about a fellow up-and-coming comic who was performing at Manhattan's famed Comedy Cellar when Chris Rock happened to show up. After the show, she got the opportunity to share a few drinks with the comedy legend. One of his statements particularly stuck with her. Chris Rock said, "I never found myself in a hole I couldn't write myself out of."
As challenging and frustrating as writing can be, it is also a lifeline. It's something you can do anywhere, under any circumstances, and bend to any purpose. A musician needs her instrument, an actor needs his script, an artist needs materials like paints, brushes, or — depending on the artist — elephant poop, but a writer can create using the most basic tools. We may believe we need our computers, but entire novels have been written on cell phones, and in a pinch, a pen and paper still work just fine. From those simple tools, whole worlds are born.
To write is to be a wizard, creating something out of nothing. Being a writer, and a Hero, means being a creator. And if you didn't believe it was worth the sacrifices, you wouldn't be here.
Let's look at how to begin the work of protecting, serving, and sacrificing that will help you start your own Hero's Journey.
Who Are You?
Every good story begins with a great character. Whether we're reading a book, watching a film or show, fiction or nonfiction, we need to care about the main character from the very beginning or we won't enjoy the ride. When you're writing a character, you need to know as much as possible about your subject — even things that don't make the final cut — in order to write authentically and vividly about this person.
In the Hero's Journey of your own process, you need to know everything you can about the Hero — you — before you embark. The exercise that follows is designed to help you identify your strengths, recognize your vulnerabilities, and clarify your mission as a writer. It will also help you figure out which chapters of this book may be most helpful to you right now.
And we'll do all that with the help of a game best known for being played by Vitamin D-deficient teenagers in basements.
Inspired by role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons, this exercise will reveal what kind of Hero you are.
* * *
EXERCISE: CHARACTER SHEET
Create a visual representation of your avatar. It can be as realistic or as imaginative as you like. You could pick a fictional character you admire or simply find an image that resonates. Whatever you choose, it should reflect who you want to be and how you intend to see yourself on this creative journey.
NAME: Choose a Hero name.
MISSION STATEMENT: Why do you write? What do you want your writing to accomplish? Write a one-sentence mission statement that ties your work, or the motivation behind it, together.
PROJECT VISION: What is your vision for this specific project? Why is it important to you? What do you hope it will contribute to the world? Why does this story need telling? Write a one-sentence vision statement for the project.
HISTORY: Give a brief bio of yourself.
SKILLS: Rate yourself on a scale of 1–5 (1 being worst, 5 being best) in the following categories with regard to your writing process. Be honest, not brutal.
Inspiration: Getting a lot of ideas that excite you and spark your imagination.
Connection: Asking for help or support when you need it.
Intuition: Listening to and following your gut when making decisions.
Focus: Resisting distractions, insecurities, and other challenges to focus.
Resilience: Pushing through the stage(s) of the writing process that most challenge you (i.e., getting started, getting through the first section, crossing the desert of the middle, finishing what you start, revising).
Patience: Dealing with going through a fallow period.
Courage: Overcoming adversity and setbacks and turning them into opportunities for growth.
Flexibility: Shifting between different modes of thinking or action, i.e., between drafting and revising.
Confidence: Feeling secure about your work, your ability to execute your vision, and yourself.
Based on the scores you gave yourself on SKILLS, note your GREATEST STRENGTH and your GREATEST VULNERABILITY and highlight them.
GEAR: What are the tools you use for your writing process? Think beyond your computer: Do you have a favorite location to do work? An old hoodie you like to wear while writing? Books you like to have nearby that inspire you?
ENERGY FUEL: What fuels and energizes you when you're writing? (I.e., coffee, tea, snacks, music, writing with a certain friend)
ENERGY DRAINS: What sucks away your energy when you're writing? (I.e., being distracted by your phone, falling into an Internet hole, social media)
TREASURE: What is your treasure? What is the special gift you carry with you wherever you go, that writing helps you share with the world?
When you've completed your Character Sheet, you may want to post it somewhere prominent, where you'll see it when you sit down to write.
We'll come back to these character traits throughout the book, and use this exercise as a blueprint for the work you'll be doing on your process.
* * *
Your First Step
Now that you're aware of your strengths, what do you want to apply them to first? I don't want you to have to wait until you're deeper into the book to begin the work you came here to do; let's start it today.
Excerpted from The Hero is You by Kendra Levin. Copyright © 2016 Kendra Levin. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter One: The Hero Identify Your Gifts and Vulnerabilities and Begin the Work,
Chapter Two: The Herald Follow and Create Inspiration and Change,
Chapter Three: Allies Build Your Support System,
Chapter Four: The Mentor Learn from All Teachers and Follow Your Inner Wisdom,
Chapter Five: Threshold Guardians Conquer Distraction,
Chapter Six: The Shapeshifter Change Your Point of View,
Chapter Seven: The Trickster Play, Break Your Own Rules, and Remember to Have Fun,
Chapter Eight: The Goddess Identify Your Natural Cycles and Make the Most of Them,
Chapter Nine: The Shadow Fight the Destructive Impulse and Discover Your Hidden Power,
Chapter Ten: The Superhero Finish What You Started and Apply What You've Learned to Revision,
Chapter Eleven: The Steed Share Your Work — and Yourself — With the World,
Chapter Twelve: Mentor-Hero Be a Mentor for the Next Hero's Journey,