Does “Lifewriting” apply to poetry and non-fiction?

Steven Barnes and wife Tananarive Due on beach.

The question often comes up: “I write poetry/non-fiction…does the Lifewriting approach work for me?”

Absolutely.  Remember that the original intent of the system was to apply the structures of Campbell’s Hero’s Journey to life itself. Only after a decade did I specifically “tune” it for writers.

So with fiction, it applies in three levels:

  1. Structuring the story (plotting)
  2. Structuring/executing the work (project management)
  3. Gaining perspective on your life itself (goals and resource management, stress control)
  1. For instance, if you KNOW that your character will enter the Dark Night of the Soul at some point (probably in the last 20% of the story).  It is a “pinch point” where all their abilities have been exhausted, and they either expand or die.  Be sure that all of your actions in your novel reinforce this moment.
  2. You KNOW that at some point in the project, it will feel as if the entire thing is totally turning to puree of bat guano.  Might happen during the writing, might happen during the marketing/sales phase.  But it happens, and you have to ask yourself, prior to that point, what you will do to help yourself through it.
  3. You KNOW that you have experienced this “dark night” in every other arena of your life.   Looking back over your life and asking “how many times have I reached despair prior to learning a skill/getting a date/getting a job/surviving a loss?”  Really look at this, until you see the pattern. How did you get through it?  What was your particular “recipe” for misery? (what did you say to yourself, what did you focus on, how did you move your body?)  How did you get back out of it? (time passage, friends interceding, attention caught by another task, going to the gym, etc.)  And the most important question: how will you get out of it next time?  How can you help your friends/children/mate/co-workers/employees through their OWN “Dark Nights” more rapidly, help THEM gain perspective?

Once you connect the inner and outer worlds, the writer and the writing, life lived as a work of creation, the “Lifewriting” approach comes into its own.

With poetry: there is the pattern of creating the work itself, of course.  If the poem is narrative, the same rules apply. If impressionistic, you might ask whose emotions or perspective you are expressing, and where they are in their life at this moment.  

With non-fiction, there is the pattern of creating the work (always).  But narrative is critically important here as well, if you wish the reader to have an emotional response to the raw facts.  Even math textbooks can feature stories about people who learned or applied or created the skills, or “word problems” that help to take abstract concepts concrete.

The human heart seeks to make story out of chaos.  There are endless examples of how this works…hope that this has been useful!

Write with passion!

Steve

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