Going to Robert McKee’s Story Seminar back in April was a step in the direction in owning this thing that I am, a writer. My expectation was dives into the Hero’s Journey to show how this classic structure kept popping up in art and life alike. I learned quickly. Robert McKee doesn’t do The Hero’s Journey. The reason is simple. Like Coke and Pepsi, The Hero’s Journey and The Story seminar are different brands of telling stories, though at the heart of it, they are the same thing, give or take a few ingredients.
Being an ENFJ, I choose to see the similarities but I still couldn’t resist asking Mr. McKee why he doesn’t mention The Hero’s Journey. Coming from an academic background, like Joseph Campbell, who originated The Hero’s Journey theory, Robert McKee defines The Hero’s Journey as a model for preserving the power of hierarchies and defines the structure as too limiting. He’s all about form and not formulas.
However, myself, I don’t take the Bible, Koran or The Hero’s Journey literally. Just as not every person who defines themselves as “religious” is a fundamentalist, you can acknowledge The Hero’s Journey and not force your hero to be heroic or male.
Every description is a metaphor which can be applied to an infinite number of situations and archetypes.
No way is Jesus a Jewish male, he’s all of us, and no way is Mohammad an Arab male, he too is all of us. Their miracles are only a representation of how reframing views and seeing with one’s heart causes transformation in the world.
I think at the root of McKee’s denial of The Hero’s Journey is one very simple thing.
His worldview is different to that of Joseph Campbell’s. Joseph Campbell was both a religious man and an academic who was also a humanitarian whose motto is “follow your bliss”. Compare that to Robert McKee’s motto “write the truth”. Writing the truth is a difficult act and one that builds character in the face of resistance.
Following your bliss is effortless yet it is like “write the truth” so, so hard to do when we’re constantly bombarded by the message that we must sacrifice ourselves and be martyrs to others’ agendas.
Robert McKee has a disdain for all types of hierarchy, especially religion and academia. McKee’s worldview is one I can appreciate as I’m neither a Christian nor am I fond of academia, the Government, corporate structures and basically all organisations because either by design or coincidence, they lead to the rise of power pyramids. Heck, maybe it’s human nature that we all move towards organising ourselves into pyramid-structures.
Seth Godin talks about this too. He says to identify the power plays, the people wanting status, wanting to move up in the world, seek them and offer them a way to get the edge they want and show them that they can get further in a way that’s affordable to them. That’s when your products and services will get sweet, sweet traction, connecting you to a tribe. This tribe may be a flat structure, like the Smurf Village, where you’re the provider of a very specific skill or service to a group of people who count on you. I think in Seth’s view, pyramids aren’t conducive to a functional society held together by the glue that is culture.
Pyramids are unavoidable but it’s possible to make them as close to the ground as possible so that the tip of the pyramid still has a connection with the base. Isolation serves no one. It doesn’t help that the leaders on top of a pyramid structure don’t see or feel the people at the bottom. They get more and more cut off from other people and then complain that it’s lonely at the top. It doesn’t have to be. The base of the pyramid need not be a place where desires to self-actualise and (the top of Maslow’s Pyramid of human needs) be suppressed.
Both Robert McKee and Joseph Campbell in essence say the same thing. There’s a force within us as writers and as people. It’s a creative force and one that’s got a mind of its own in directing us where to go. We must live with this internal force even in the face of the outer world being dominated by institutions and structures which may act in ways that go against it or suppress it. Both Joseph Campbell and Robert McKee have carved ways for themselves to work with those frameworks while following their internal guides and leading others to realise the same for their lives.
No way is writing the only way to reach the truth. For you that creative flow may be gardening or decluttering, or organising, or painting, or curating, or numbers or trying to solve the universe’s mysteries, or helping people define and live according to their values or speaking or observing or being present. Whatever it is, it is there.
I could use Robert McKee’s Story example, which doesn’t rely on a step by step, methodical and fleshed out map as Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey to talk to you about how as I try to realise my goal of becoming a published author I get more and more resistance and obstacles put in my way by the Universe.
Internet went down…
Just as I completed five articles in five days last week, my internet went down on Friday. Yep, major obstacle. I’m writing this on Word and will have to upload it to both Medium and to my blog as my 22 month old plays. Hopefully, I can manage to get this writing online before she runs into the shops and a like a little hurricane takes down all the shelves.
When you start doing the work and get into a regular flow, the universe will throw obstacles in your way. Count on it. This is how you build character and along with character, desire is strengthened. I write therefore I am a writer. If I don’t do it every day, then I fall out of practice. I can’t afford that.
My partner doesn’t see me as a writer…
Maybe because I’m not trained as a writer or didn’t really hold down any official job as a “writer” my partner doesn’t think I’m a writer and he tells me things like I should focus on being a mum and not get upset that I’m going nowhere as a writer.
This is all fine and good and in his mind super-supportive but it doesn’t get me in an emotional state where I feel understood. I also know that he’ll believe it when he sees it. He’s someone who doesn’t give merit to ideas, only to deeds. Again, his lack of understanding of what I do builds desire in me to keep doing the work, publishing and writing my book until it becomes a concrete reality, etched into my biography that I wrote and published a book.
I don’t like to wake up at 5am…
And really who does? I have to carve out this time before my partner and my 22 month old wake up because when they do, I’m on their time. This right here, between 5-6:30am is MY TIME.
The thoughts that are my allies
This idea that the universe will place more and more pressure on me and make it harder for me to write will only help me build character and make my writing sweeter. You know you’re doing the right thing if it gets harder to do the work and people and the elements start resisting you. If you can do the work despite of all this, you’re gaining strength and this is attractive.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers said it: “Can’t stop the spirits when they need you, this life is more than just a read-through”
Seeking spiritual help, and for me this is in the form of meditation, helps me push through whatever the universe throws at me. If at this stage it’s not having internet, I’m still pretty puny because really in the grand scheme of things, this is a pathetic excuse for not writing but I am writing so there… Universe, do a little better.
Now if Robert McKee comes and tells me I’m a lousy writer, well that may stop me on my tracks.
But I can always say to him that Joseph Campbell left this earth plane a whole man, will he?