Everything begins somewhere

Back in the late 70’s I was writing my butt off, but not publishing anything much.   This was discouraging to me, because I believed in goal setting, had set my goals and burned my bridges behind me by dropping out of college, wrote and wrote and submitted and submitted…

Maybe this “goal setting” stuff didn’t work!

And then one day I got a terrible joke: my goal had been to be a writer. And I WAS one. I just wasn’t a PUBLISHED writer.

Damn specificity!

So I changed my goal: “I am a published writer…”

And almost as soon as I change it, I did get published. And…paid in contributor’s copies.

Not good enough.  Back to the drawing board: “I am published and paid for my writing…”

And…got paid .2 cents per word.  Arrrgh!

All right.  Changed my goal again.  “I support myself with my writing…”

And did.  Just barely.  I mean starvation wages, but I did it…

This was absurd. I could stair-step my way up.  Or I could create larger goals, and the problem there was that long periods would pass where it seemed that nothing was happening.  The urge to dig up the seeds and see if they were sprouting was overwhelming.  But if you do that, often you kill the sprouts.

The problem was that I was thrashing, milling, didn’t know where or what to do because I knew no one who had ever actually sold any writing, no one who actually made their living at it.

I had the desire. The faith, the “auto-suggestion”.  I didn’t have the Specialized Knowledge.

That was when I went looking for a writer who was on the “other side of that line.”    I remember asking my friend Otis Allred at Pepperdine University where “real” writers might be found, and he mentioned that Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle attended Thursday meetings at the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society.   

Larry Niven…hmmm…I knew that name.

I went home and looked in my book collection, and found some Niven, specifically a short story collection called “All the Myriad Ways.”  The titular story was a multiple time-track story that was simply brilliant.  And that was what I needed: the ability to look at someone and HONESTLY tell them I admire them. It is best to think and behave and speak as if people can read your mind.

So armed with that, I sallied out to Burbank and searched out Larry.  I’d met him once before and had a brief conversation with him in an art show, but knew he’d never remember me. When he arrived, I said: “Hello, Mr. Niven.  My name is Steven Barnes, and I’m a writer.”

He took a puff on his pipe (he smoked at that time) and said: “O.K.  Tell me a story.”

I was gobsmacked, but luckily I’d just mailed off a story about a compulsive gambler who hocks his pacemaker, and fumbled the details out.  He was sufficiently impressed to continue the conversation.  I later learned that from the way I’d come on to him, I had about ten seconds to prove I wasn’t an asshole.

We talked more, and I asked him if he would be kind enough to read one of my stories. He agreed, and I gave him an envelope that had three stories in it…

And that was the beginning.


If you’ve been following my musings on Think And Grow Rich, or the “M.A.G.I.C. Formula” you will recognize a number of principles in what I did, and why it worked.

But the most important ones are that I knew what I wanted, acted, measured my results and knew I wasn’t getting what I wanted, and didn’t lose faith.   Found someone on the other side of the issue and offered him genuine value (honest praise and appreciation for his story once we were engaged in conversation) and then made a polite request.  I had done my homework, and was already good enough to offer him some work that would not embarrass me.  And then I was in enough control of my emotions, had enough confidence to carry this all off without vomiting with fear.

Was I scared?  Hell yes.   But anyone who knew me at the time knows that I was a cocky little bastard.  Had to be: everything in the world told me I couldn’t have, be, or do what I so desperately desired. Only ego sustained me.

In time, I outgrew that ego shell, and it became a strait-jacket I had to shred to grow.  And let me tell you, if you don’t break your ego shells, either life will break them…or they will crush your dreams.

But that’s another story.

This story was about the beginning of my career, the moment at which I did something right, something honest, something in alignment with my dreams and hopes and goals.   

Most of the successful people I’ve known can speak of a teacher, a mentor, a lecture, a book, some specific person who or event which opened the door to a different level of functioning and happiness.   If YOU are stuck, you may need nothing more than clarifying your goals, and finding someone who has clarity on an arena in which you are confused.   Sit them down for an hour: offer them dinner, or honest respect, or in some cases even pay them (what in the heck do you think Life Coaches are doing?) for their time, and you can learn in minutes what might otherwise have taken you years of fumbling.

And then once you’ve learned and accomplished…leave a trail of bread crumbs for others.   Build the bridge for others to cross. That’s how it gets done.




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