Be the Hero of Your Writing Process with Kendra Levin

by Leah Heilman Schanke

Kendra Levin, Executive Editor at Viking Children’s Books, author of The Hero Is You, and the September speaker in the SCBWI-Metro NY Professional lecture series, shared how writers can use the hero’s journey model to create a “holistic, healthy, creative writing process.” Many writers struggle with process and experience dark moments where they wonder, “Why am I writing this?” Levin said. “Writers need to find ways to work organically and be their best selves.”

The Hero’s Journey is a model for storytelling that has been distilled from thousands of years’ worth of myths and tales. The hero goes on an adventure and encounters obstacles and an ultimate challenge that changes the hero. Levin asked, “What do you want to embody? Who are your favorite heroes in fiction? What are the qualities you like about them? Our heroes likely mirror ourselves.”

Levin recommends, “See yourself as the hero of your own story.” “Hero” has a Greek root that means “to protect and serve” and includes sacrifice. Heroes serve a cause greater than themselves, a characteristic that is “innate to children’s book writers.” Heroes feel a duty to protect (a person they love, a way of life) – for the writer, “protect your writing by setting aside time to write and protecting your ideas.”

Heroes also sacrifice. For writers, that may mean pushing things aside to make space for writing, like giving up watching television shows and saying no to invitations.

The first steps to being a hero of one’s own writing are to make goals and write a mission statement. “What makes you write? What do you hope your work will accomplish in the world?” asked Levin. Next, she challenges writers to:

  1. Pick an area of craft to learn more about and keep working on it until they feel mastery over it.
  2. Be a scientist and study their own process, trying different things and noticing what works for them. Be mindful of cycles in their creative process. “It’s a myth that writers have to write every day.”
  3. Make a new friend who can be an ally in the hero’s journey of their writing process.

Heroes also acknowledge their strengths and weaknesses. “Don’t avoid your weaknesses; lean into it and learn more about those areas so you are better equipped to address them,” said Levin. “Most successful writers keep learning.”

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Leah Heilman Schanke was a winner in the 2017 KidLit College Picture Book Contest. She was a finalist two consecutive years in 2014 and 2013 in the PNWA Literary Contest in the children’s book category. By day, Leah is an Assistant Vice President of Human Resources for a New York State agency. Leah lives on Long Island with her husband and children.

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