THE WRITER ARCHETYPE
By Anna Kaye-Rogers
The rings on her fingers are clunky but tasteful, something only she could have pulled off. Her hair is swept up in a messy bun held secure by a hair tie and mutual understanding with gravity. She is the portrait of an artist as colorful eccentric, shuffling tarot cards and fangirling over authors whom she reverences with soft, hushed tones.
Across from her is the writer as an academic; safe and secure in the halls of college buildings where freshmen will part like the sea at the sight of her red hair and black-framed glasses. She speaks of contouring and characters, of heavy and heady ideas that include many and speak of them respectfully. There are crossed out red lines in her past and pills she must take, but her burdens strengthen her writing in their resolve.
And then there is me, not quite sure or steady in my writer archetype. I have not the calming presence or the friendly smile to indeed be academic, for my critiques can be bitchy and barbed. And I cannot wear rings nor pull off the unshakeable self-confidence of ascribing futures to my friends and approaching authors for signatures, sometimes bearing gifts. I am simply me.
There is a fourth member in the huddled ring, loosely assembled inside an apartment filled with drawings and references and toaster strudels. She is blonde and young where we are old and colorful. Too young, we might argue. Her characters have yet to become people; her worlds remain empty and unformed. When she presents her idea at our sacred writing circle, that she came up with ‘just last night’, it is the same origin story as the tale told last week that the teller had spent months working on. Our colorful artiste had pointed with her Barbie pink nails at all the places on the map her story would visit. Tonight, a new map is brought in with the same symbols and the same geography. The plagiarism is unintentional but unmistakable.
The academic and I exchange glances. My tone is harsher than intended when I point out that her only formed plot point was better articulated by someone else last week. She laughs, awkward and embarrassed. She tries out writing the way she tries out our hobbies. She is desperate to fit in and keep up, yet unsure of how she is shaped like a person. A distance settles between the four of us.
There is debate as to how we handle this. The writing group was formed to hold novelists accountable. To churn out chapters at an acceptable rate. To query, unceasingly. To comfort, when the feedback returns. A place for sharing the secrets of plot twists and characters introduced in chapters we never have enough time to critique fully in class. It was meant to be friendly, and inclusionary. Now, there is a debate. Is it is nicer to keep her with us and held back at arms’ length, willing to accept a critique but unable to trust, or if honesty and causing hurt is better? Pain is not the objective, but she will feel it if we point out that we aren’t comfortable hearing our stories and characters coming out of her mouth. Many writers take from people they admire or surround themselves with by-and-by people, we mean books, for we treat them as if they had souls, but these are published with copyrights and lawyerly protections. We have no such luxuries in our small corner of the world, made significant by magic and fantasy and friendships.
It has been said there are only seven stories, by wise writers who know more than me. And it is a story that has occurred many times in my own life. The forming of a new social group brought together by a common interest or feeling of comradery between participants. I have been in her position before; desperate to fit in, ready and willing to try anything, even trying on other people’s personalities. The problem was, I didn’t discover who I was until I stopped trying to fit in, and instead tried to figure out how I fit as a person.
There are many archetypes in literature. Our young friend seems to fit into one; the damsel in distress in an old fairytale. Her personality is as sketched in as the clothing she wears and the decisions she makes, with not much we can discover beyond it. Our artistic friend is an enchantress, mysterious and magical but unsympathetic to the plight of the poor girl locked in a tower, surrounded by dragons. The academic would be a good fairy or wizard, I suppose, someone far kinder and wiser than I. But this story has no Prince, nor should it need one. A pen is mightier than a sword, and if our younger friend slews some dragons and escaped her ivory tower, she would be better for it. She would see that she can write pieces about herself and her interests and hobbies, passions and problems, hopes and dreams and wishes and everything that makes writing unique and gives it depth, and makes it more than an archetype. Then she wouldn’t need princes or plot points from other people.
As for myself, I have settled that I am not pure enough, nor good enough, nor wise or smart enough to be an archetype. I am a mess of scuttled plans and rough ideas. My arc has very few straight lines or familiar patterns. There are no act breaks that I can see, but I do know that the breaks with friends who weren’t friends and versions of myself that weren’t really me are what have made me the person and writer I am today. My hero’s journey has been from one corner of a bookshelf to another. I don’t quite fit in anywhere, but I have found my place from doing so. I am the writer of a tale of damsels and dragons, writers and readers and learners and people and girls, all making difficult choices in their lives and their literature.
Anna’s favorite pieces have been published in HCE Review, Cosmonauts Avenue, and The Eastern Iowa Review. When she’s not writing she spends her time in the Illinois Valley surviving asthma attacks and parenting an assortment of puppies, kitties, and Bellerinas all with the help of her person. She can be found on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo by ©Gessy Alvarez