These are stories from the life of Steven Barnes, science fiction writer, martial arts expert, hypnotherapist, teacher, public speaker, father, and lover of life.


I was asked how to express characterization in writing.   This is a great opportunity to show you exactly how LIFEWRITING works.

The idea is that the tools we use within a story can also be used in the PROCESS of writing a story, and in the process of living your life.  Read closely here: if you understand what I’m saying, you will change your entire life in a moment.



The “Aubry Knight” novels STREETLETHAL, GORGON CHILD and FIREDANCE all dealt with a supremely skilled martial artist who lived in a state of mental confusion, unable to effectively access his intellect and control his self-loathing.


As I began working on the first novel, STREETLETHAL, (my first solo novel!) I inevitably reached a point where it felt that nothing was working.    All my enthusiasm disappeared, and I was left with the realization that I was 80 thousand words into a novel, and that it felt like a total lie. I didn’t know these characters. I didn’t believe this situation.  And I’d written myself into a corner.


And then suddenly, just as I was considering chucking the whole thing into the wall, I realized that that was EXACTLY how my lead character, Aubry, felt.  Strange.  And then asked myself the next question:  was I like Aubry?


Well, he was an ultimate martial arts badass…certainly not me.   But what if I looked at that as a mirror image?  Well, I’m not an ultimate intellectual badass…but that is certainly my idealized self-image.   Something clicked.  What if this novel was some funhouse version of my own life, seen in a looking glass, my own problems with martial arts (limited by emotional wounds) reflected in Aubry’s lack of appreciation of  and access to his mental skills?


I sat back and asked myself: if I was such a Bizarro world version of myself, what would I be like, in a universe that was “two and a half dimensional”–where complex personal interactions and social issues could be resolved by physical force?  What had I done to my own life.


I started looking into the scrambled wiring in my head. The compulsions and behaviors, the petty cruelties and lies I told myself, my inabilities to commit, the fears that manifested as anger, or a pretense in disinterest in a path that would have forced me to confront my own weakness.


And the deeper down the rabbit hole I went, the clearer Aubry became.  All I did was read through the entire book and look at every exchange, every action, every thought…until I found one, just ONE that matched what I had experienced in my life.  With Aubry, it was a sense of savage satisfaction in hurting someone physically. With me, it was a similar sense of having humiliated someone in a debate.


Both connected with the same sick place in the human heart, the need to bolster a weak self image by tearing down another human being.


How did that feel?  Had I described it properly?  What had I thought? How had this influenced my future actions?  I knew the answers to all these questions, and in being honest about these things, I knew what Aubry had to do.


All I did then was follow that single thread of truth.   Backwards and forwards. What had to happen BEFORE that point for that action to be real, and inevitable? Followed those threads through the entire book, seeking to connect everything to that sense of “This is true” I had had during my epiphany.


And then…ANOTHER moment popped out. This one even realer, more honest, than the previous one.   And I did the same with that moment, following the thread of feeling. And then…another. And…another.


It was amazing.  It was like adding a pinch of yeast to bread dough.  Given warmth and moisture and food, yeast grows.  Given a commitment to genuine self-inquiry, truth grows.



This process, of seeking the truth in your characters, has ZERO to do with talent.  “You can run out of clever, but you can never run out of the truth.”  It doesn’t over-expose you:  You don’t even have to be the lead character.


Peter O’Donnell, the creator of one of the world’s longest-running adventure comic strips MODESTY BLAISE had been tasked with creating “a female James Bond” in the 1960s.  The usual approach would have been to patch together a bunch of external characteristics that would lead to a bunch of great action scenes.   Peter told me his approach was the opposite. Instead, he wondered “what kind of childhood would create a woman who needed the skills to be able to do these things?”  With a man, all you had to do was say: “He was an ex-Royal Marine.” But in the 1960’s?  A woman?  Really?


Then he remembered when he was an army journalist post WW2, traveling a refugee trail in Greece (I believe).   He and some other journalists were eating dinner, and a little dark-haired girl sat just at the edge of their campfire, watching them.   He realized she was hungry, but she wouldn’t come closer.   Finally, he opened a tin of beef, took it half-way to her, and then went back to her seat.  She watched and waited, crept forward, took the beef and wolfed it town.


Then…she washed the tin and brought it back to them, nodded with a brief smile, and disappeared. He had always wondered what happened to that child, apparently alone in a cold and cruel world…but still possessing a spark of humor, and sharp intelligence. A survivor.


And suddenly, he knew he’d found his Modesty Blaise. She was a refugee, alone, who had learned to survive by herself, who learned hard lessons and savage skills, became a criminal with a conscience, controlled a gang of hard men by being harder than any of them…but fair.  Always alone, but then finally meeting another loner, a man with even greater survival skills named Willie Garvin, who she freed from jail and became her right-hand man and eventually her platonic soul-mate. Who, together, amassed a fortune and retired from crime but retained a taste for danger which would be exploited by the British secret service…


Yes.  THAT’S how you do it. Go from the inside.   Do this, and you will know their hopes and dreams and values and beliefs. You will FEEL when you get it right, and by working from the outside (“what kind of character do I need here?”) to the inside (“who would they have to be to do these things?’) to the personal (“what have I been, what have I seen that could be a seed for this?”)  you are connecting the inner and outer worlds of the novel, the artist, in a way that can transform your work…and your life.


Write a sentence a day.

Write 1-4 stories a month

Finish and polish, seeking TRUTH, not “cleverness”

Submit, and keep submitting until they sell.

Once finished, don’t rewrite except to editorial request.

Read 10X what you write

Repeat for 100 stories.



That’s the path. And it will take you all the way home.





The Unconscious Mind

Had a chance to speak to an old friend of mine who, just a couple of years ago, didn’t believe that the subconscious mind really existed. It was all conscious to her. Now she believes it exists, but that the conscious is still the part that must be enlisted in order to make change. Not surprisingly, this friend (Call her Maddy) is a hundred pounds overweight, and has fluctuated wildly–from very skinny to very fat, with only the briefest stops in between. She has a long-term relationship which seems loving and supportive–although they don’t exactly live together. Fine. And she is knowledgeable and canny about career things. Again, Fine. But that weight thing… it is clear that she is dealing with major emotional issues there, issues that try to defend themselves by sending her down the wrong track. She can’t meditate–will fall asleep if she tries. This is a person with an extreme internal conflict, a set of unconscious values and beliefs that demand that she never find her physical balance–she can go to one extreme or the other, but that’s it.

The sad thing is that she’s so smart, but doesn’t grasp that we are all just exactly smart enough to screw ourselves over.

My view is that the best thing the conscious mind can do is put us where the subconscious can be properly accessed: meditation, yoga, therapy, hypnosis, etc.–and then get the hell out of the way. The truth is that change happens all the time without conscious awareness, in both a positive and a negative sense. We can have the best CONSCIOUS intentions in the world to stop smoking, cheating, to do our bills, to exercise, to diet, etc. Notice how often our conscious intentions fall flat? It is only when the “boys in the basement” are along for the ride that things start happening. Then, one day we wake up and notice we’ve lost weight, or are in a relationship, or are making money, or have finished that book. And sometimes we don’t notice it until someone else tells us “Wow! You’ve lost weight! You’re sparring much better! This story is much more honest!” Sometimes we don’t hear that for years. Sometimes we never do.

The conscious mind thinks it’s us. It is not. It is small, and relatively weak, and desperately wants to be in control. When we try to put it in control, it veers all over the road like a 5-year old trying to drive a truck. This lady is always trying to help others, including helping them in arenas where she herself is stuck! That, my friends, is the blind leading the blind. You can only help people get where you yourself have been, no matter how smart you are, or how positive your intentions. If you’re stuck, you’ll always give them the advice that you yourself are ready to hear. And you’ll stay stuck together.

-Steve Barnes

Yin and Yang of action


There are two basic approaches to life, and I think the healthiest is a combination of them.   One is “The world must change for me to get what I want.” the other is “I must act personally  to accomplish what I want.”   I think they can be broadly referred to as “Yin” and “Yang” approaches.


With dominated communities  the split might be:

  1. Build alliances with fair-minded people to change the laws and make the world fair.
  2. Work twice as hard to get half as far. Be so excellent no one can ignore you.  Kick ass, take names.


With issues like personal safety you get:

  1. Organize to make the streets safer, educate people to help, encourage people to stop behaving in a criminal manner.
  2. Be alert, aware, learn self-defense, carry weapons.


Can you see this split coming down on issues like health care?

  1. We will organize society to create a health care safety net.
  2. I will handle my own health care needs individually.

How about relationships?

  1. Statistics say that there aren’t enough potential partners in my category. The average member of my category doesn’t marry.
  2. If there are two potential partners left in the world, I’m gettin’ one of them.


It is interesting to see how different groups and different people come down on one side of this or the other.

  1. The most successful MOVEMENTS have of course all been about group action. (“We can do it, together!)
  2. The most successful INDIVIDUALS have of course all been about (“If its to be, it’s up to ME.”)


There are some obvious comments that could be made about who chooses which approach.  There DO seem to be differences based upon gender or political orientation, and perhaps the relative strength or direct power of the people involved.  Neither approach is superior, although there are people attached to one approach or the other who bristle if you suggest there is another way.

Like I said, a healthy approach, to me, is a balanced approach.   I can want greater economic opportunity for my group, but if I want my FAMILY to be safe, I’d better not believe I can do nothing unless the whole world changes.  The sane approach is BOTH to work for social change AND to seek to be so damned good at whatever factors influence income that I perform at the top X% of my group.  My belief: The average person  can get into the top 10% of their category just by modeling the behaviors and attitudes of members of their group who are in the top 1%.


That doesn’t mean that things are “fair.” No, it isn’t fair.  But if you focus on “fair”, rather than “what can I do to maximize my performance and rewards?” you are waiting for spring to come, rather than chopping wood for the fireplace.  What’s that you say?  There IS no wood?   Are you as warm as the top 20% of people in your community?   I can promise that they were chopping wood earlier in the year than you started.  In fact, you may have laughed at them when they did.  That whole “grasshopper and the ant” thing.


Is NO ONE in your community warm?  Then you MUST act together.  Acting together to dig coal or plant more trees or move someplace there is more wood, or travel in bands further to find it, or trade with the “wood people” over the hill or storm the castle to get the vast storehouse of coal the evil baron is hiding makes sense to me.   Perfectly normal, healthy human behavior.


But if someone is warm because they did different things, and those things are not immoral or beyond your capacity?  If you aren’t in the top 20% of your group, defined broadly?   YOUR EFFORTS AND TACTICS, your BELIEFS and PERSPECTIVES will make a huge difference.


It will take both. The world CAN be made more fair. And should be.  And we can all act with greater efficiency and effectiveness and forethought.  And should.


If you can hold BOTH realities in your mind simultaneously, you are ahead of the game.





Humans are funny critters

A recent conversation triggered a memory…


I remember being at a southern SF convention twenty years ago. Someplace in Mississippi, maybe? Or Texas? MAYBE Midwest?  Anyway, after a panel dealing with diversity in the field, a young white man approached me, shyly, sadly, felt me out a bit until he sensed that I was open to hearing what he really had to say. And after a few preliminaries, he said in a sad soft voice: “it feels like a white man doesn’t have a chance any more. Everything is for black people.”


I wondered if he had any concept how deeply racist his attitude was (racism is the assumption of differential worth or capacity on the basis of genetics).    The statistics are clear concerning infant mortality, incarceration, inherited wealth and more.  If you believe blacks have a social advantage, but STILL underperform?  You have to have total contempt for us, even if you’re polite about it.  Even with all the advantages we can’t make it.  Wow.  That attitude, so deep that he didn’t  even question it.  It’s just…taken for granted.  The ground on which he walked, the water in which he swam.     How thick did his filters have to be to walk up to me and say that?


But…there was so much pain in his voice that I couldn’t be angry, or even laugh at him. Absurdly, I found myself opening my wallet, and showing him a few bills: “see?  Every image: white people”  Pointed out that every lead of every dramatic show on television–white.  All presidents–white.   All of the Senate–white.   Every head of a fortune 500 company–white.  And on, and on, watching his mood slowly, slowly improve as he began to agree that all was not lost.

Finally, his spirits lifted, he shook my hand and thanked me and went on his way.  I sat there, wondering what the hell had just happened, and hoping that he got down on his knees every night and thanked God he’d been born white, because if he’d been black, life would have crushed him like a bug.


I’m a very strange human being some time.   I really do love people, but it often feels like I love ’em from an alien and far-off perspective.





Stress and Women in STEM

I’m cooking up something, but its on the back-burner.  Research phase. I don’t even know what I don’t know in this arena.  The overarching project is Stress and Performance for Women in STEM leadership roles.


The first thing I want to do is create a survey and ask STEM women in my circle (and connected thereto) to answer it.  But to do that, I need to ask questions about what questions I should ask.  I need to be careful to listen, with the assumption that I am wrong and ignorant of things I may have presumed I know.


So…ladies, what questions should I be careful to ask, so that I can begin to cluster answers?

Step #3: Accepting the Challenge

(I know, I know. I go over and over and over these basic patterns. But repetition is the mother of skill!)

The Third Step of the Hero’s Journey is acceptance of the challenge.   And here, the challenge is to be either an awake, aware, adult human being…or an awake, aware, adult ARTIST-type human being. One who communicates this state through stories.   And since everything we say is a story, these are just people who do it consciously.


Everything you say or think is a story.  Think about that.


Being awake, aware, and adult means not being a sleeping child.  What does this mean?  It means that you cannot blame your life circumstances on how your parents treated you as a child.   Your childhood, negative or positive, was a real thing.  And so what?  If you are to live a happy life, you have to take control.


You cannot blame your circumstances on luck.  “Luck” is one of the most unuseful concepts in the world.   Except for people briefly thinking “I was lucky to meet X” or “I was unlucky to have Y happen…” luck is just part of the flow of life. Good things happen. Bad things happen.   But the majority of the people you have ever admired, heard of, created anything you find useful or amazing, had HABITS very different from the average person.  They spend the maximum amount of time actually engaged in the DOING of the thing they love.   If they pop up at the peak of human success, the golden 1% of the 1% of the 1%, did they have “luck”?  Sure.  But absent some specific and grotesquely ugly BAD luck, you can get yourself into the top 20% of almost any field by obsessive work.   Are you in the top 20%?  Then the question of “luck” is IRRELEVANT to you.    “Luck” is an excuse, a belief that masks the fact that you are too afraid to focus and commit.   If you did, you could get into the top 20%.  If you’re there, and you love what you’re doing, you’re too busy to spend much time worrying about who hit the lottery.


It means you take responsibility for your emotions.  If you have a clinical issue, you get to the doctor.  Otherwise, you know that what you focus on, what you say, and the actions you take control how you feel.


And please hear this: you know that you are responsible for your dreams, your safety, your welfare.   It isn’t fair, but it is real. There is no one else to do it.  Children can scream for their parents to come and rescue them.   ADULTS HAVE TO TAKE CARE OF THEMSELVES.


Now, part of this can and should be building partnerships with others, value-for-value transactions: mentorships, masterminds, social fabrics, teams.  That’s all great.


But you are the bottom line. There is no one else. If you get whiplashed by the existential loneliness of that, then have a good cry, then get to work.


You cannot let yourself be hypnotized by the social Matrix of lies and mythologies about race, gender, religion, nationality. Human beings are human beings. The differences between us as groups are slight.


You don’t let yourself get dragged into pity parties.  You accept the universality of humanity EVEN IF YOU SOMETIMES CANNOT UNDERSTAND how some inequalities, cruelties, or abuses happen.  You know that you and yours would do the same things given the same pre-conditions, in approximately the same proportions.    The only reason to fail to see this is lack of understanding of yourself, your own emotions, the way your actions create your results, your emotions create your actions, your perceptions create your emotions.


How do you know if you are off target?  Look at your body, your relationship history, your career.   Animals are in balance with their hunting-gathering, they mate, they either avoid or combat predators or die.


If you are not the thinking version of animal drives, SOMETHING IS WRONG. The only reason not to see this is fear of what it might mean, fear that there is something corrupt or evil about you.


This is why we have to start with love.  Loving yourself so deeply that you can see that any problem is a distortion in the system, an illusion, and commit to awaken.   All that really exists is love.


What is the STORY you tell yourself about your career?  Do you think that you have something of value to give the world, but that money, sales, or marketing is less than a positive service?  How precisely does that work?  That “luck” keeps you out of the top 20% of your field?  Then you’re saying everyone in the top 20% is just “lucky”?  Really?  How exactly does that work, unless you’re doing the exact same things but getting very different results?


What is the STORY you tell yourself about your body?   Do you tell yourself that it requires money, exorbitant amounts of time, impossible effort to discipline and align yourself with your own values?  World-class genetics, or that genetics have somehow shifted massively in the computer age?   Come on…you know damned well the kind of men or women who catch your eye. Make you say “yum.”   Are your actions in alignment with that level of health and energy?  The entire ZNT (“Zero Net Time”) system I laid out was about shattering the comforting myth that you have no time or money to change.


What is the STORY you tell yourself about your relationship history?   If you are like 99.9% of humanity, you have the same urge to love and be loved, hold and be held, as the entire genetic line of beings who created you, back to our ancestors on the veldt.  If you don’t have that urge, I suggest that it is the result of specific damage, negative experience, pain and fear and horrible role models.   If you know no healthy models of happy couples, gay or straight, you are self-selecting for pain.  We’re out there, legions of us and you have deleted us.  We may not be perfect, but we honestly love each other and stand together in life.


If you don’t believe in success, if you don’t believe in health, if you don’t believe in love…you have to either take RESPONSIBILITY  for happiness in these arenas, commit to CHANGING those emotions and perceptions, or life will run you over.  You may not know HOW you will reach these goals, but you may have to look at the cycle of storytelling to step #8: FAITH.  Faith in yourself.  Faith that people like me aren’t lying to you about the chance to be happy, and the path to joy, if only you can love yourself enough to forgive yourself, commit to protect your heart, and make a vow to be an ADULT in your own life, to nurture and protect your “child” and childhood dreams.  To be your own mother, your own father.  Faith that you are not so out of alignment with your animal nature that you are being outperformed by the average chipmunk.

I mean…come ON, people.


Those are the basic things.  Look at any story you’ve ever loved.  One way or another, all of them involve someone seeking to move away from pain (survival) or toward pleasure (success) in the arenas of career, physical health, or love.  Write your own story.   Your challenge is to ACCEPT the challenge.


If you are a storyteller, you’ll have an additional challenge: to COMMUNICATE what you find once you set down this road.   If you choose to accept it, I promise you’ll find allies.   Promse that I won’t let go of your hand while I have a breath of life in my body.


But YOU must decide to take responsibility.  No one else can.






Meditation and Art

A reader asked:
“Question for you. This has been on my mind for a while, and you’re a person who meditates and you’re a writer, so you’ve probably worked through this. My understanding of the purpose of meditation is to try to be in the present moment, to experience what IS, not what was, or what will be. So part of meditation is recognizing monkey mind and bringing yourself back to the breath. But meditation is also the way I put myself in the right mental space to write or do anything creative. And when I meditate, much of the time my my mind is dwelling on my fiction, not only random stuff or my past or whatever. So… how to reconcile this? Is meditation different when you are an artist, or are a person who delves into what Jung called the collective unconscious in order to bring back that essential stuff as art? or am I thinking about it incorrectly?”

My answer:

I would say you’re thinking about it incorrectly. Meditation (IMO) is the practice of creating a still, focused mind, unattached to emotions, sensations, results, or anything else. It is cleaning the black board. Then, once you have it cleaned, THEN you can focus on your writing or anything else. “Wipe clean” first, THEN bring “life” in. Everyone is an artist, a healer, a warrior, whatever. We tap into all archetypes. But then we also specialize. My personal favorite form of meditation is simply listening to my heartbeat for 15-20 minutes, BTW. Hope that helps!

The Inner and Outer Games

One of the secrets to a happy life is the ability to perform, instinctively, as you would if you sat and thought about it for a month. The only way you can do this is to have the inner and outer worlds in harmony–that you can present yourself honestly and openly as you are at all times. This takes remarkable courage, and is something that only a few can do with consistency, and no one I’ve ever met can do 100% of the time.

Nonetheless, it is another core concept of the entire Lifewriting system: the idea that the plot and character are two versions of the same thing. A character is only revealed through his actions. The plot mechanics demand proper choice of protagonist. A mis-match will kill your book. This may seem a little complicated, but in truth it is quite simple. Once you begin to see the connection between the character and the plot–or your inner and outer worlds–it becomes possible to start with the most basic idea, and design a basic character to complement it. A story, after all, must “empty out” our character, reveal everything important about him. If you start with a character, then step back and ask what situation would best reveal the truth of this person’s existence.

And how does this fit in to our own lives? Very well, I think. If you view your outer life and circumstances as an externalization of your inner world, it may be uncomfortable, but it also opens the door to massive self-discovery… as well as giving you leverage handles on your soul. Because if you change your external circumstances, you change the internal world. Associating with more spiritual people will begin the process of personal evolution. Associating with more physical people will get you started on the path of fitness: you’ll absorb their attitudes like butter soaks up smells in a refrigerator. Associate with wealthy people, and you will start to understand the differences between the way the wealthy think about money, and the way poor people think about it. Having been around both groups, I PROMISE you that there are huge differences. Furthermore, (in most cases) if you transplanted a poor man’s money attitudes into a rich man, the rich man would immediately begin to fail in life. Transplant a (self-made) rich man’s attitudes into a poor man, and that poor man would stop looking for work–he would begin to search for ways to create wealth, to start a business, to provide services, to protect his money by spending it on items that appreciate rather than depreciate… and on and on. This is the way (self made) rich people think. And those who inherited wealth? Well, the ones I know were taught from the cradle the way to KEEP their money. How the heck do you think that money lasted to be passed from one generation to the next?

Matching the plot to the character, and making the connection between the inner and outer worlds in your own life, combined, is the single most important building block in the Lifewriting system.

-Steve Barnes,

HJ #2: The Hero Rejects The Challenge

“Somebody should tell us…right at the start of our lives…that we are dying. Then we might live to the limit, every minute of every day. Do it! I say. Whatever you want to do, do it now! There are only so many tomorrows.” ~Michael Landon


Lifewriting is about being the hero in our own stories.  To do this, we must understand not only storytelling, but what heroes really are. They are not people without fear.  They are people who act despite fear.


It is FEAR in one form or another that manifests in step #2 of The Hero’s Journey: The Hero Rejects The Challenge




An example of this is the “Mountaintop” speech Martin Luther King gave the day before his assassination.  He knew.  He KNEW that he probably wouldn’t survive his mission.  And I don’t doubt at all that he prayed, and cried, and asked God to lift the burden from his shoulders.   He tried to reject the challenge.   And hinted at that in his speech, given to provide strength to his followers.


He probably saw what was coming, and this is what he said to explain why he didn’t walk away:


“It really doesn’t matter what happens now,” King told the church.   “I left Atlanta this morning, and as we got started on the plane, there were six of us, the pilot said over the public address system, ‘We are sorry for the delay, but we have Dr. Martin Luther King on the plane. And to be sure that all of the bags were checked, and to be sure that nothing would be wrong with the plane, we had to check out everything carefully. And we’ve had the plane protected and guarded all night,’ ”


Do you have to wonder why they needed to guard that plane?  HE KNEW. Everyone knew.


“And then I got to Memphis,  and some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?  Well, I don’t know what will happen now,” he continued. “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now,” he said. “I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land.

“I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.“


And then he went out to die.



He knew. As we all know.  When we are confronted with a challenge, whether world-changing or life-changing, we risk a death, whether large or small. Every time.  If large, it is obvious why we might shy away.


But what if the challenge is to change a job?  Stop lying?  Gain physical power?  Open our hearts to love?  Set goals we care about and admit we care?


The fear of admitting that WE HAVE AGENCY. That our actions influence our results, can cripple us. And it can hide as depression, anger, emotional disconnnect.  Belief that “it’s all luck”, that “it takes money to make money”, that “My body doesn’t work right” or “people are petty for judging me.”


That “relationships don’t work” or “there are no jobs” or “my life can’t be better until the whole world changes.” That “they are against me” or “I’m too old/young/black/white/gay/smart/uneducated to succeed.”  Whatever.


There is too much risk. We might hurt.  We don’t know what to do.


It is not up to us to know, in advance, what will happen. It is up to us to create lives of meaning and joy.  MLK’s joy was ecstatic: serving his God by serving his people, a joy so huge it was larger than his own life, and therefore larger than his terror of oblivion.  His attention was on SERVICE, on CHANGING THE WORLD in a direction he felt in alignment with divine purpose.


In all likelihood, your challenge, your purpose, is far smaller, won’t require anything close to what King needed to take another step.  But he felt what you feel. And by taking his attention off himself and ON the dream, he was able to change the world.


You can change your inner world, by acknowledging your negative emotions, not hiding from them. And finding a goal, a purpose so huge that overcoming the negative emotions is a heroic act.


  1. You need to remember the greatest moments of your life, moments when you were BEYOND YOUR BEST, when you were so proud of yourself you could hardly believe it was you.  You were a HERO. We all have those moments.  It is then, at those moments, that the people around you want to follow your example.
  2. You need to have a CLEAR OUTCOME. Something transformative.  Change yourself. Change the world.
  3. You need to see that every moment is a NEW OPPORTUNITY.   All you have to do is leave the past behind.  Not make incremental changes on what you’ve done before, but leave your fears behind. Be willing to do WHATEVER IT TAKES to bring your vision into existence.


There is something inside you that huge, that important. Something worth dying for, and therefore worth living for.  THAT is what makes a hero.


What is your story?  Lifewriting asks you to go directly to that question, to stop pretending that anything less will give your life, your love, your work, your destiny, the power and passion they deserve.


What are you committed to?  What is big enough to move you past your fear?  Find that, and you have won the fight before you step in the ring.






Throwing your hat over the fence

(From 2005, during the Maui Writer’s Workshop)

Tananarive just finished giving the keynote address for the second half of the conference. She was, (of course) beautiful and brilliant and inspiring, but one of the things she stressed is the need to throw your intentions in front of you: “throwing your hat over the fence.” What does this mean? The ability to commit on the basis of faith alone, which is an ability that is rare and precious, although we are all forced to do it from time to time. Marriage is like that. Traveling to a strange place is like that. Taking a new job is like that. And beginning a career in the arts is very very much like that.

How can you do this? How is it possible to take such risk? You must start with the ability to trust yourself, to believe that within you is the ability, the seed of the capacity to bring your dreams into existence. YOU MUST BELIEVE IN YOURSELF. Even if you don’t know what your future will look like, or feel like, if you can imagine the first step in your process, you’ll be way ahead of the game. The world belongs to those who can take positive steps, and if you let fear freeze you, you just can’t do it. Every great person you have ever known of had this capacity, and the cultivation of it can be a major step along the road.
1) Visualize the end step of the goal process. What would success look and feel like? How would you stand? How would your voice sound? What would the expression on your face be?
2) Think back over your life, remembering all of the things you have learned up until this moment. In many cases, that learning was surrounded by failures. Remember that you did not let those failures stop you… and ask yourself what resources you used to move through the fear.
3) Study the lives of successful people, seeking the moments when failure threatened to cripple them. How did they make it through? What was the price they paid for their success?

There is a way to your dreams. True, the path is littered with the bones of the fallen, but there is no reason why you can’t be one of the success stories. Just make the declaration that you are going to become the person you were meant to be, in body, mind and spirit. Ignore the negative voices in your mind. Just throw your hat over the fence.

– Steve Barnes,