Why Lifewriting?

Every morning for the last few years, we’ve been working with Jason to help him in school.  The problem is that we weren’t aware that there was an issue with his reading until he’d fallen behind, and  started feeling fear in association with his schoolwork. Fear that he can’t keep up. Fear that his cousins are smarter than he is.  Fear that I’ll be disappointed in him.


FEAR stops us more than anything else. When we love something, we will spend endless time focused on it, and THAT is what produces skill: focus over time, combined with proper coaching.


One day we were just sitting and watching a movie, and he was digging it.  I started thinking about all the things I want for him, wondering how I can help him.  And I thought “Lifewriting.”


Started talking to him about stories, and how all the movies he loved had similar patterns under the surface.


  1. A character wants something.
  2. Usually they are a little nervous about going after it.
  3. They finally decide…or are forced…to go for it.
  4. They try lots of different stuff, or go lots of different places, looking for answers.
  5. They learn new things and meet new people, some of whom have answers for them
  6. They hit a wall: everything they have tried until now stops working.
  7. They feel REALLY scared.  Looks like everything is falling apart!
  8. They tap into faith in something bigger than them: they gotta do it for their Mom, or village, or coach, or sometimes God.  SOMETHING.  Maybe they just start really believing in themselves.
  9. They try again, and win.
  10. They end up teaching other people what they learned.



Once he saw the pattern, I asked him how he learned to be a great Scooter Kid, doing tricks at the park.  Walked him through the same pattern.  He saw it, and it was really funny once he saw that his own life went through the same pattern.


And at another time, I pointed out the moment when he quit Judo–he lost FAITH in himself after being beaten publicly by a couple of really tough girls.   I empathize seriously. That stings.    The nascent male ego is a fragile thing.


And where other people he knows, or has seen in movies, backed off from their mission in life.  We got to talk about that, and I still point out these steps when he travels them in life, and sometimes when he sees them in a movie.   He’s kinda sick of hearing about it…but is starting to think that way himself.


The advantage?  BEFORE HE STARTS ANY SERIOUS NEW TASK, HE KNOWS THAT HE WILL HIT A POINT WHERE ALL SEEMS LOST.   That he will feel despair, depression, fear. And that the way through is Faith.   He will have to believe in SOMETHING bigger than the negative voices in his head.   Maybe he’ll trust me, or his Mom.  Or believe that if he can learn a complicated scooter trick, he can sure as hell learn to multiply two negative numbers.


That was what Steve Muhammad used to do with us in karate: “If you can learn this, you can learn anything: math, science, history.”  We’d sit there after a back-breaking workout, the windows fogged with our sweat, steam rising off our bodies, and he would talk to us as no one ever had, leading us on with his energy, inspiring us with his trust.  He BELIEVED in us.  And that became more important than the voices of doubt.


He was, and remains, one of the greatest allies in my life.  As I want to be for Jason.


The greatest gift I can give him is the understanding of how, as Jerry Pournelle once taught me, “if you master anything, you know how to master anything else.”  Why?  Because once you see the PATTERN you can apply it to anything.




It really is one of the secrets to life, and is PERFECT for writers, because writers have to learn SOME kind of plot/structure. There are many…but when you learn to apply this one, you have a way of leveraging all your writing skills to the rest of your life. And everything you do in the rest of your life deepens your writing. Perfect.



Write with Passion, live with purpose!

Steven Barnes



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