Academic Literacy, Study Skills
This #Take5 post is a follow up to all the fruitful discussions recently held on the LDHEN list about the 12-steps of the narrative – and the different ways that they can help us to conceptualise writing – and how we might use that in our work with students.
This very practical and instantly useful blog has been written by Heather Dyer a consultant with the Royal Literary Fund who uses The Hero’s Journey in her writing workshops with dissertation students.
You’re a Hero on a Journey
We’re hardwired to see stories in everything: a relationship, a thesis, a life. Even a recipe has a narrative arc that shows how one thing leads to another. The desired outcome of a story is always discovery and growth – if we understand how and why things happen, we can shape outcomes in the future.
In academic writing workshops, I use the archetypal story structure ‘The Hero’s Journey’ to help participants reflect on – and reshape – their dissertations, research projects, academic career paths and personal challenges.
The Hero’s Journey
The Hero’s Journey is a universal story model outlined by Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Campbell collected myths from all over the world, identified common elements or stages, and then put them together in a ‘monomyth’. Typically, the hero receives a call to adventure, ventures forth to face challenges and temptations, and ultimately sacrifices something in order to receive the gift of insight, which they bring home to benefit the world.
The hero can of-course be male or female, and the model is flexible rather than prescriptive – but the beauty of the monomyth is that it provides a pattern for the process of growth in any area.
Consider a few of these stages in relation to whatever you’re currently wrestling with:
|The Hero’s Journey||Your Journey||Try This|
|The call to adventure.||Can you remember what motivated you to begin? Why does this quest matter?
Without emotion, we lose our motivation and our ability to make decisions.
|To rediscover what drives us, freewrite for five minutes (quickly, in full sentences, without pausing or editing) on what you really love about this subject.|
|The hero meets helpers and tricksters on the path.||How did you get here? What has helped or hindered you?||Draw a timeline going as far back as you like, and mark moments that were turning points in your journey (people you met, books, experiences, etc.) You may find events branching off as vertical mind-maps. Looking back, what sort of things worked best for you? What would you like to do more of, in future?|
|The hero faces the monster in the cave.||
Your biggest obstacle or challenge.
|Write down your problem, or question. Now rephrase it in ten different ways. Reframing it can reveal nuances you may not have considered. Are you even asking the right question?
Interrogate a problem by asking, Why? repeatedly, to try and get to the bottom of it. In business, this is known as root cause analysis and is used to identify underlying issues. Five ‘why’s’ are usually required.
|Death and rebirth.||What’s holding you back? Do you have a mistaken belief or are you clinging onto something you need to let go of in order to proceed down a new route?||Freewrite for 5 minutes on what the solution is not.
Freewrite for 5 minutes on what you would like the solution to be.
Does this reveal any biases? Any blocks? Might there be another way?
|Return; the hero brings new knowledge back to the world.
|What’s the impact of your discovery? How will it change things?
|How will you really know when you have achieved your goal or resolved a situation? Sit quietly for a few minutes, and visualize how things will be.
Reflect on the contribution your research is making and ask yourself, Why now? Who is it for? How will it help? What next?
The Story of Your Research
Sketching a rough narrative around your research project can help you get perspective. On the Hero’s Journey story wheel below, complete as many of the sentences as you can. This can be helpful in crafting an abstract – or even provide a structure for an entire thesis. Sentences like, ‘Until now…’ might describe your literature review in a nutshell. ‘So, what I did …’ sums up your methodology. ‘What I realize now…’ would be your contribution, your point of growth.
The Story of Your Research
Heather Dyer is a consultant with the Royal Literary Fund. Her doctorate explores the psychology of creativity, and she facilitates workshops in creative thinking and academic writing. She is also a writing tutor with the University of the Creative Arts and a former RLF writing fellow of Cardiff Metropolitan University, Worcester University and Aberystwyth University.