Whisler Edits Blog

How to Be the Hero of Your Own Story

How to Be the Hero of Your Own Story

September 20, 202312 min read

Discover in this post …

  • how to identify and pursue the character traits that matter most to you.

  • three areas to focus on if you want to succeed as a writer.

  • practical ways to act on the decisions you make today.

Chase the Traits You Want to Elevate

Who’s your all-time favorite book, movie, or TV character? Is there someone you admire or relate to more than anyone else? If you can’t pick just one, try for the sake of this exercise!

I’ll give you a minute ….

Okay, time’s up! Now that you have your character in mind, can you pinpoint the quality that stands out to you most about that character? What personality trait makes you flip those pages no matter the time of night?

Personally, I admire Kvothe from The Name of the Wind. I’m aware some call him a Gary Stu character (someone who’s “too perfect”), but here’s what I love about him:

  • His quick thinking

  • His proactivity—he creates his own story!

  • His ability to keep moving forward despite his life circumstances

Then I ask myself: does that describe me? Am I able to think on my feet? Do I take constant actions, every single day, that carry me closer to my goals? Closer to the person I want to be? Do I let life circumstances deter me? Or do I keep going no matter what?

Ask yourself if you’re similar to the heroes you admire … or if you’re completely opposite from them and that’s why you admire them!

Writing relates strongly to wish fulfillment. We look at the qualities we most admire. We see how our heroes attack life with fervor! We reach the end and feel like we’ve lost something, like we’re no longer part of that story.

But why can’t we be?

Why can’t we pursue those qualities we admire just as we go after our daily goals in life? Often, we’re great at meeting our goals on a surface level (word counts, deadlines, etc.). Why not take it to the next level and prioritize our character traits as well?

Do you want to be more confident? Why not take steps to increase your confidence? More adventurous? Why not sign yourself up for some adventures?

Is it because you believe your confidence level or appreciation for adventure is fixed? I haven’t found that to be true. Simply pinpoint the qualities you want to heighten and take active steps to improve those areas.

So let’s get into it! Here are three items I recommend you focus on to succeed as a writer. If you work on these, everything else will follow.

1 - Making Empowered Decisions & Following Through

Nicole Whisler Writing Coach

There are endless decisions to make as a writer:

  • Should I choose a single point of view or multiple?

  • What should I focus on when creating my magic system?

  • Should I show anyone my work while I’m writing, or wait?

  • Should I self-publish or try for traditional?

  • Should I spend the most money on editing, cover design, or marketing?

How many of you doubt yourself when making decisions? Do you have a process for making decisions? A pro/con list? I’d love for you to tell me in the comments.

Also, do you consider yourself a quick or slow decision maker? I always used to see myself as a slow decision maker, but a few years ago, I noticed something: when I’m forced into making a quick decision, I’m able to do it.

Take a yellow light, for example. When you’re driving and the light turns yellow, do you agonize over whether to go faster or to slow down? Do you spend any longer than a millisecond deciding?

Of course not. I’ve never seen a driver speed up, then slow down, then stop in the middle of an intersection because they just can’t decide what to do!

Nope. When we’re forced into making quick decisions, we’re able to do it. The problem occurs when we have too much time on our hands and we spend hours debating and reexamining the issue from every side.

More often than not, pro/con lists get torn up and people make decisions from their emotions in the end—from one of two emotions in particular:

  1. Fear

  2. Love and abundance

How do you know whether you’re acting out of fear vs. love and abundance? When we make decisions from fear, we tend to ask ourselves questions like …

  • What if an appliance breaks down? What if my car is totaled? What if XYZ happens?

  • What if I make this decision and then it’s not right for me?

  • What if I make a decision that takes me too far from my comfort zone?

  • What if I change my mind?

Writers, is this the person you want to be? Does this sound more like a protagonist at the beginning of their character arc or at the end? Which one are you going for?

When you make decisions from a place of love and abundance, on the other hand, you tend to ask yourself questions like …

  • What if there is no wrong decision for me?

  • What if I’m on a journey of discovery either way?

  • If I could be assured of both financial and emotional well-being on the other side, ten years from now, what decision would I make in this moment?

Does this sound more like the person you want to be? Do you recognize that you’re on a journey in your life just like your protagonist?

We don’t typically admire indecisive characters. In fact, if we come across them in a novel or story, we assume it’s part of their character arc.

So are you hanging around stuck in indecision, or are you constantly in motion, taking massive action toward your goals every day?

Don’t underestimate the power of momentum! When you start to make quick, empowered decisions, when you don’t let yourself linger in self-doubt and overanalysis, you build trust in yourself. You’ll know you’re a person who can and will follow through. And you’ll take daily action from that place of trust.

2 - Increasing Your Tolerance for Discomfort

Nicole Whisler Writing Coach

If I had to guess, I’d say the title of this section probably doesn’t make you want to stand up and yell, “Yes! Just what I was hoping you’d say!”

But have you ever done this? Have you purposely thought of things that make you uncomfortable and actively tried to work on getting past them?

Take phobias, for example. A phobia is an irrational fear that’s disrupting your life in a significant way. Most people with phobias avoid their object of fear because the brain loves safety. It embraces pleasure and avoids pain, which works well when a bear is charging at you in the woods and your adrenaline kicks in.

But it’s not so great when your brain stops you from reaching the next stage in your writing and as a person.

There’s a fix for phobias, but few people pursue it. In exposure therapy, you face your fear directly. You might be asked to stare at a spider for thirty minutes at a time (early stages) or hold a live snake in your hands (ending stages). And if you follow through and trust your therapist, your irrational fear of the object or animal lessens over time. Exposure therapy is highly effective, but as I said, not many people submit themselves to it because they’re afraid of being uncomfortable. And unfortunately, avoidance has been known to heighten the problem rather than lessen it.

Let’s relate this to writing. Join me in a quick activity. Which of the following situations would make you the most uncomfortable?

  1. Becoming an active participant in a writing critique group—sharing your work with others and listening to their feedback in front of everyone

  2. Promoting your book by yourself at a local bookstore

  3. Pitching your book to an editor or agent at a writing conference when they ask what it’s about

  4. Marketing your book—telling others about it once it’s out in the world

  5. Hosting a formal author talk—speaking in front of strangers about yourself and your book

Which scares you the most? If you haven’t already pursued that activity or action, what’s holding you back? Consider making a commitment to yourself to pursue one of the above items (or a similar one of your choice) today.

Think about discomfort as it relates to your main character. You know those protagonists you typically want to avoid in a novel? The ones who act as observers instead of doers, maybe because they’re too uncomfortable to take action and maybe because they’re not interesting enough? It’s a common issue in a book for everyone else to be more compelling than the protagonist. Common, but fixable.

So tell me: are you acting as the protagonist or a side character in your own life? Is everyone else more interesting, more successful, than you? If so, what steps are you taking to correct that?

Which characters do we admire most in books and on TV? The ones who act from fear, never moving forward? Or those who remain in massive action, thus changing the direction of their lives?

By the way, I wouldn’t be saying all this if I didn’t follow this principle myself. Back in high school, I was ridiculously shy. I wanted to be left alone so I could write my book.

A high school friend once told me (when I was considering going into teaching as a career), “I can’t picture you as a teacher.” And I responded internally with John Locke’s Lost catchphrase: Don’t tell me what I can’t do.

I didn’t hold myself back based on what my friend thought. She was free to think what she liked, but it held no power over me. I accepted her “challenge” and went on to teach English and creative writing full-time for six years. Then I made the leap into developmental editing, and then book coaching. I invested thousands of dollars into myself (hiring business mentors, learning the skill of coaching, etc.) so that I could pursue the path that was right for me.

My husband is doing something similar. After teaching upper level science classes for twelve years, he decided to change careers to become a genetic counselor. We moved across the country from Missouri to Pennsylvania in summer 2022, then to Arkansas in summer 2023 so he could attend grad school. We had no family or connections in northeast Pennsylvania, but neither of us regret our time there because it strengthened us, molded us further into the people we’re working on becoming. We’ll spend two years here in Arkansas and will then have freedom to live wherever we like. In this way, I’ve trained myself to embrace adventure. I’m not afraid of the future. I’m excited about it!

Can you relate to this? Does that align with the way you view life?

If not, and if you want this, you can have it. Increase your tolerance for discomfort, much as athletes do to strengthen their muscles. They take on heavier and heavier weights as their bodies grow accustomed to the burden. If you do this, you’ll start to get used to it, and you’ll open up more opportunity as a result.

Instead of asking yourself “Why me?” (a negative way to process your environment and circumstances), why not focus on the question, “Why not me?” and charge ahead toward opportunity and success? It’s waiting for you, but you have to take the first step.

2 - Increasing Your Tolerance for Discomfort

Nicole Whisler Writing Coach

There are two types of people in this world. But because I don’t love labels, I’d argue you can jump into either group anytime you want.

  1. People who believe they’re stuck with what they’ve got in life (personality flaws, writing level, etc.)

  2. People who believe they can improve until they die

Ask yourself, What am I doing to enhance my writing RIGHT NOW?

There’s always the next level. You don’t reach the summit of the writing mountain and say, “Whew! I’m as good as I’m ever gonna get! Let’s celebrate!”

That’s what’s so exciting about being a writer. You can always improve, and you can celebrate each improvement. If that sounds exhausting rather than exciting, you might want to check your motives for being a writer.

Here are some ways you can elevate your writing:

  1. Have someone besides yourself read and critique your work. It doesn’t matter how brilliant you are. You’re not objective, and your view of your story will differ from someone else’s.

  • This could be a critique partner, a writing group member, an editor, etc.—ideally someone who’s a bit beyond your writing level.

  • In my book coaching program, Fantasy Footsteps, for example, I host a live workshop every week where I critique my clients’ scenes and provide specific feedback, which cuts out uncertainty and keeps writers from feeling overwhelmed. The workshop promotes confidence and introduces something specific for my fantasy writers to work on.

  1. Take a class on writing.

  2. Read books on the craft of writing.

  3. Beta read for others. You’ll start to recognize common patterns and confusions and be able to better identify them in your own draft.

  4. If you’re ready for the fast track, invest in yourself as a writer. Invest your time and money in areas where you’ll get the results you’re looking for.

Writing is a journey, but your ability to grow as a writer never stops, so take advantage of the opportunity! Look for ways to improve, even if (especially if!) they push you outside your comfort zone.

Which of the three items to focus on did you connect with most? Here they are again:

  1. Making empowered decisions and following through

  2. Increasing your tolerance for discomfort

  3. Participating in constant self-improvement

I’d love to read your answer in the comments! Then go forth and take massive action in your journey as a writer today. Your future self will thank you for it.

Do you want to learn how to write a story that makes your target readers stand up and cheer? If you’d like support from A to Z (from brainstorming to drafting to revising to publication), book a Discovery Call with me to see if you’re a good fit to join my book coaching program, Fantasy Footsteps: Road to Publication. And if you haven’t done so already, grab your Free Guide on how to hook readers from your story’s start!

Nicole Whisler Edits

Nicole Whisler is a developmental editor and book coach who specializes in working with writers of fantasy novels. Prior to editing, she taught English and creative writing full-time for six years. She is a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association, a member of the Professional Editors Network, and a leading book coach for the Coach Foundation. She lives with her husband and three daughters in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where she leads an in-person writing critique group at her local library.

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