Does the Lifewriting Ten-Week serve an advanced student?

Steven Barnes and wife Tananarive Due on beach.

I just got a terrific note from an advanced writer who is going through the LIFEWRITING TEN WEEK program.  Basically, she has written multiple stories, published a well-received novel, and wanted to use our course to facilitate a current project.  As the “10-Week” is structured around short story writing as the basic building block, she wanted to know how to apply the ideas to her work, and wondered if the course was right for her at her level of development, and with her specific intents and needs.

First of all–there is nothing that is more of an honor than for a student to come to our work with serious accomplishment already in place. It is the difference between a white belt who needs basic concepts and a black belt who needs to “clean up” their biomechanics and align motion with mind and mind with spirit.  Very different…and yet the same, because the reality is that there are no “advance” techniques or secrets. There is only deeper and deeper grasp of basics.

Here is my answer to the writer we will call “Karen.”


Greetings, Karen!

Some thoughts:
1) You could, of course, apply the ideas in the Lifewriting 10 Week program to a specific project you are working on.  Everyone makes adjustments to any course they take–no two people do anything precisely the same way.
2) How to do that?  Go to the root of what we’re doing: aligning your personal philosophy with a more specific strategic approach, and even more specific tactics.  Tactics are the surface (and most of what is taught in writing courses, or in all honesty, most courses of any kind).  “Do A, then B, then C.”  Strategy is “if you do A, THIS is what will happen.  And it fits into our overall plan in THAT way.”  Philosophy would be: “what is the meaning of life?  What is a human being?”  Your strategy has to accomplish something in alignment with your sense of meaning. Tactics will be specific steps you make to implement your strategy.   Right?
So the Lifewriting system says: what are human beings?  What is the world?  Who are YOU?  Everything you write flows from this idea, supporting it, exploring it, communicating what you find in those explorations.  The connection then, is between who YOU are, and the things that concern you, and who your CHARACTER is, and what concerns them, and who your AUDIENCE is, and what drives them.
There is an overlap, a way that you can express yourself, tell a great story, and serve or communicate to your reader to create an emotional change.   Written this way, “discipline” is a non-issue: you don’t have to discipline yourself to eat cake!
Tactics are plentiful in the course: time management, emotional control, use of imagery and so forth.    But we believe that within you, within everyone with an artistic/creative impulse, is not only a “perfect” story (or dance,or painting, or song) but also a “perfect” artistic life, one in alignment with your deepest dreams and hopes and needs and intents.
And this is a creative flow that runs through you like a river, falls from above like a storm.  “Tactics” or techniques then are what other people see from the outside (or what you might have to separate out in order to instruct a student).  But in a traditional apprenticeship relationship, the student of the sword-maker sleeping in the shop, what they want are techniques, but what they really get (and NEED) is the things that cannot be expressed in words.   They take actions and live the life until they absorb, through some magic, the core of mastery that the master cannot put into words. The words keep the apprentice’s conscious mind busy while the soul absorbs and learns to vibrate in tune.
All of that is to express that you are experienced enough to make an adaptation.  Instead of short stories, look at each chapter of your work as its own mini-story, a fractal mini-version of the overall pattern.  (Chris Soth’s “Mini-Movie” method comes to mind).   After all, the entire story is one giant Action-Reaction unit: the world does X, the character responds with Y.  But every conversation between two people is the same, with every dialogue couplet: I say X, you respond Y, and we either progress or fall into the void as a consequence.
So Action-Reaction, whether on the smallest or largest level, speaks to “what are human beings?” and “what is true about the world?”    Look at your chapters and ask what the meaning of the events is, as the patterns repeat from the smallest to the largest level.   What is true about these events? These people?   How does this express your own sense of what is right or true?
Because…when you are working from your heart as well as your head, and driving it with your energy, the work just…flows. And is “right” and needs minimal re-writing, because you were speaking the truth.
In other words, when your work flows from the deepest wells, you create your own strategies and tactics and techniques as you go.  YOU are in the flow. Others, looking from outside, say “ah!  She used THIS or THAT technique!  What an expert.”  But you?  You were just running madly, blindly through the fields of your passion, gushing out the work the way a horse given her head runs madly for the sheer joy of feeling her body working the way it was intended.  THIS is art, and craft, and passion, and technique, all working together in the expression of your soul.
THAT is Lifewriting.   Techniques?  Sure.  Got a million of ’em.  Could generate a dozen an hour every day for the rest of my life without blinking or breathing hard. Its fun. But I’d rather teach your mind and heart and body to work together, so that you are just flowing as naturally as a baby plays.
Does that make sense?  I hope so.  If it does, then watch the movies, come to your own conclusions about how the structure aligns with the “Hero’s Journey” and then ask yourself how that applies to the chapter on your computer screen. The lives of your characters. And when you do that, they will pull you into the story, THEY will write for you.  And it will be the best, most effortless writing of your life.
It will be the story you, and only you, were born to write.

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