The Value of the Quest

In mythology, a quest is an easy and common story hook to get audiences interested in a character. It's such a good hook that it's replicated over and over again in countless stories. Joseph Campbell wrote some books about this, most famously The Hero With A Thousand Faces which famously inspired George Lucas into writing the original Star Wars movie. After discovering this, nerds and geeks around the world started studying the Campbellian Monomyth in an effort to be able to make their own myth stories. I am one of those nerds.

I am not particularly interested in discussing the Campbellian Monomyth. Well, that's a lie; I could talk about it for hours over drinks if you're interested. More specifically, I am not here to talk to you about using the Campbellian Monomyth in your project. It's cool if you want to (pretty much everybody else does), but even better is making your own quest.

That's right, you should be the hero of your own life, and the easiest way to do that is to give yourself a quest. A quest is some sort of specific, difficult but attainable goal that you can describe while you're in the middle of it. A famous example of this is the Julie & Julia project, where one young woman decided to cook every recipe in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, despite the fact that she had full-time work, she lived in a tiny New York City apartment, and that she wasn't particularly good at cooking. I, myself, have done a quest project called A Year From Scratch, where Ben Snitkoff and I each made 52 dishes over the course of a year. These dishes were something that people normally thought of as store-bought, but we did completely from scratch. Hence the clever name. Fellow Awesomeographer, Melissa Ward, makes cupcakes almost every Friday as part of Cupcake Friday Project, and in 2012 had the quest of creating 52 different cupcakes flavors in 52 weeks (she managed to create 65 in the end).

A quest does a few things for you. First, and perhaps best, it is an instant source of inspiration. You don't have to look hard for something to do, because your quest limits your focus and gives you options. If you're cooking every recipe in a cookbook, you just have to go to the next recipe. If you're making cupcakes every Friday, you don't have to decide what kind of food to make, just which kind of cupcake.

The second thing a quest does for you is that it makes your story interesting. If you struggle with some aspect of the quest, but you write about your struggles, that makes you more heroic when you make it through. Do well, and you're amazing; do poorly but continue on, and you are courageous and determined. The interest is one of the big reasons people are drawn to quests. After all, you've probably heard of Julie & Julia, the movie and book based on the Julia & Julia Project, because it was really interesting. Very few cooking blogs get turned into major motion pictures. Major motion pictures with Meryl Streep and Amy Adams.

The third thing is that a quest gives you motivation. The story is interesting no matter what if you continue; the only thing you can do to really fail is to stop trying. If you give up, you will disappoint yourself and others, so you have a really good reason to keep going.

Picking a quest is a little tricky, just because you're going to be stuck with it for a certain amount of time, so you're going to want to make sure it's something that you don't absolutely hate. I mean, you'll hate it sometimes when it fights back, but as long as the entire concept of it isn't repugnant, you'll be fine.

If you're not sure what you want to do, there are some ready-made quests: NaNoWriMo - the granddaddy of all quests, National Novel Writing Month encourages you to write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days. It's November of every year, and you'll have lots of company if you decide to do it. 24 Hour Comics - Write, pencil, ink, and if you're crazy, color an 24-page comic over the course of 24 hours. Adrenaline Film Project - 72 hours to write, cast, film, edit, and screen a short film. Masters of Song Fu - song writing / recording competition. Each round consists of specific themes, and you are given a week to write, record, edit, and publish a song with that theme. You get votes, and the two artists with the highest votes will face off.

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