For various reasons, I’ve said that LION’S BLOOD might well be the best book I’ll ever write. I wasn’t sure I’d ever be willing to invest that much of myself in a project again. That’s the old “more pain than pleasure” associated with an activity–you cannot do it. But…over the last couple of years I’ve noticed myself consciously thinking and lazily “researching” a restructuring and retelling and re-imagining my Emmy winning Outer Limits episode “A Stitch In Time.” Wondering what I would do with it now. Wondering what I’d have done with it if I’d had a free hand at the time. Knowing that that particular story is owned by the production company, but that there are thematic aspects no one controls but my own heart. And…I’m getting close. I have an eleven-page treatment for a story called “Traveler” which isn’t totally worked out yet, but is one of those “story Steve Barnes was born to write and was born writing” feels about it. Not ready to start writing it yet.
But working. The “magic” happens when you are totally engaged in the work you CAN do. Don’t worry about how the world responds, or which ideas you don’t have yet. If there is a possibility that this idea would be wonderful, I have to orient myself to have the best possible chance to make that happen.
I have to work backwards from the idea: “what if this is the best book I’ve ever written?”
Scary thought. Hard to care that much. I don’t want to get hurt.
But…if I’m not willing to be hurt, I’ll never feel joy. You can’t get to “yes” if you are afraid to hear “no.”
So…let me apply the M.A.G.I.C. formula to this. Remember?
Magic = Action X Gratitude X Intention X Conviction.
I want magic.
Action would be the daily behaviors I would need to take to optimize my chance to create a great book. That means writing, dreaming, researching, testing, talking. Coming up with HUNDREDS of creative notions, and knowing when and how to throw them away if they don’t fit. Reading work that has the texture of the prose I believe would work best for a novel like this. I’m thinking a combination of Ray Bradbury with more grit, and Chip Delaney without the overwhelming intellectual force. That might do it.
Gratitude. To access my creativity, to get beyond any wounds, scars, fears, resentments, fatigue or doubt I have to focus on my “wins” career-wise. I’ve had a ton of them. It is sometimes hard to remember, because I focus on what is missing, what can be improved, and sometimes forget the positives. It is the downside of being an achiever. I can’t “turn off” the pretender voices, but I can ignore them if I keep my eyes on all the wonderful moments of my career. I have so much to be grateful for: wonderful reviews and sales and awards and moments with writers I adore who praised my work or told me they believed in me. So much. I have to absolutely wash myself in those emotions, allow the little boy inside me to luxuriate in that positive emotion. You done good, kid! And the universe has been kind. Because…if I can feel grateful for what has happened, it gets EASY to find faith in what is to come!
Intention. This is my desired outcome. And here…what I want is Legacy. I want to ask myself the question: if there was a book , a story I was born to write, what would it be? It would be exciting, sexy, thoughtful, intense, action-packed, twisty, contemporary, futuristic, historical. Would deal with big ideas and broad philosophical positions, with race and gender and identity, with concepts spiritual and mundane. I have no interest in writing a book unless it has the potential to be the best thing I’ve ever done. Why bother?
Conviction. Faith. I have to believe that I CAN and SHOULD set my sights so high. That there really is potential for such a book in me. That if I bring everything I have, leave NOTHING in the locker room, leave 100% of what I’ve got in the ring…then I can do this. An all-out, ego-shattering, heart-breaking, gasping, clawing, glorious, bone-cracking head-busting effort. All-out sprint with every drop of heart and head and body I have, as if it is the last thing I’ll ever write.
Can you see how those four things: Action, Gratitude, Intention, and Conviction TOGETHER open the door to the best performance I’m capable of? How “lucky” you become if you ask the universe for nothing but the opportunity to turn yourself inside-out giving everything you’ve got for a worthy goal? A goal that will destroy who you are, and open the door to what you might become?
THAT is a project worth investing in. Eleven pages I have right now. I am going over and over and over it, every day. One day I will look at it, read it, and every twist and turn, every character, every extrapolation, every notion and emotion will build one upon the other in a cascade, and when I finish reading it I will be shaken. DAMN, WHAT A RIDE!
Then I will recruit a very very select circle of readers. People who I trust with the little boy in my heart, and have them read that outline. They will be writers, experts in specific arenas, friends, family. Trusted and needed. I’m thinking possibly two different editors: one to work with me closely, another to take it to a publisher eventually.
And if it passes their smell tests….
I will write a script. That will allow me to test all structure and character and plot without worrying about the poetry of the interstitial linguistics. And if it works as a script (which takes much less time to write, word-count wise) then I’ll expand it to a novel.
And if it worked at the outline level, and the script level…it will work at the novel level. It will be grueling, and terrifying, and exhilarating, and when I’m done I’ll know I did everything I could to bring everything I’ve got.
And if I did it right? The reader will never realize how hard I sweated and bled. It will all seem to flow effortlessly. Art conceals craft. You see the Rabbit disappear, not the thousands of hours the magician spent practicing his craft. You see the perfectly timed and focused punch, not the tens of thousands of repetitions that got the master there.
And the ignorant and self-deceiving will say: “ah, talent!”
And the wise will know that I was up early and up late and shivered with fear that I wasn’t good enough have never been good enough, but somehow took another step, another step, another step, another sentence every day…until one day I emerged back into the light, and all was well.
Why? Because I had faith. How? By having so much gratitude for what the little boy inside me has accomplished that he was willing to get back out there and give it another shot. Just one more.
Because he knows Daddy loves him no matter what.
I remember when Jason was going to his first Judo tournament. So long ago. I think he was seven. “What if I lose?” he asked me.
I held him and said: “if you do your best. If you fight fair and hard, and keep your cool no matter what happens…then win or lose, buddy, we’re going for ice cream.”
And he went away, and came back a few minutes later with a fierce little smile. “I’ve decided,” he said, “that I’m gonna be very still, but when the moment comes I’m gonna strike like a scorpion!”
He did. He tore the mat up. Kids never knew what hit them.
He had taken action: countless hours of practice. He had Gratitude for his daddy’s support and for a recent promotion. He had intention: to act with decisive clarity when the moment came. And he had 100% Conviction that no matter what, his daddy loved him.
I’m gonna write TRAVELER.
I’m going to strike like a scorpion.
(I’m focusing on the SEVEN DAY MENTAL DIET and M.A.G.I.C. in these talks for a while. If I can communicate their power, I think I can help anyone. Please join me today at 6pm for another dive into the cauldren! 6pm Pacific, www.diamondhour.com