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Is Writing A Song A Hero’s Journey?

Recently I was watching a video in which author David Mamet talked about writing drama (plays, screenplays). He made a direct comparison between the journey of the hero of the story and that of the writer writing it.

In stories, the hero’s role is to meet challenges, deal with them, and hopefully surmount them. In writing that story, the writer has to figure out how to deal with those same fictional challenges (for the hero)… The excitement of the hero’s story is directly dependent on how forthrightly, courageously, and imaginatively the writer has dealt with the challenges the story poses.

I had never thought of it that way. But there’s no getting around it. With music, the listener’s experience is based on how well I (the writer) did my job; that is, succeeded in overcoming my obstacles.

Did I meet the challenges that the material presented? Did I get the song right to the best of my ability? Was I lazy; did I take the easy way? Did I ‘sand down’ my original idea to make it more like other songs, hence (theoretically) more acceptable?

In the story, if the hero is lazy and takes the ‘easy way’,  it will be boring. Same goes for the shirking writer… a boring story – or song – will be the result.

Without wanting to be pretentious (but maybe being so, a little, unavoidably), the writer’s journey in writing is often a parallel of a hero’s journey.

Why? Because it’s hard! It’s not easy to climb that mountain when the weather’s bad!! And it’s not supposed to be. Many writers take it personally – ‘this song is hard because I lack talent’. Usually that’s not the case; it’s not personal, it’s just the nature of the beast.

Some songs fall into our hands like fruit from a tree, but most others are some sort of slog – that climb uphill. And, at least for me, there’s no telling which type of experience will make a better song. I have to take the journeys for what they are and not just accept the easy ones.

As I’ve said before, the songs that are really challenging to write are often the most fun to write. If you see meeting that challenge – climbing that steep, rocky incline – as something worth doing, then there’s a real feeling of accomplishment in getting to the top. Plus… then you have a song!

Let me know your thoughts, additions, disagreements in the Comments section below:

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4 responses to “Is Writing A Song A Hero’s Journey?”

  • Boy, oh BOY can I relate! I still have at least eight songs that I want to finish. How do you get yourself into a place where you are more apt to do so? I’ve undertaken the Artist’s Way program again and yet I still have those same songs that beckoned to me to start them and remain incomplete.

  • This post is so honest. There is always a part in the hero’s journey usually at the beginning of the third act of a film the or at the 75% point of any screen play , something always happens to the hero that makes things seem lost and they have to summon their strength to finish, I think there is a direct parallel, because where I often get “stuck” on songs is at around the 75% to 80% done mark, those last few details, the remaining nuances of melody to add, and verses to tweak are what I find often most elusive.

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