Writing

Steven Barnes is a New York Times bestselling, award-winning novelist and screenwriter who is the creator of the Lifewriting™ writing course, which he has taught nationwide. He recently won an NAACP Image Award as co-author of the Tennyson Hardwick mystery series with actor Blair Underwood and his wife, Tananarive Due. Nominated for Hugo, Nebula, and Cable Ace awards, writer of the Emmy-winning “A Stitch In Time” episode of The Outer Limits, winner of the Endeavor and the NAACP Image Awards, NY Times Bestselling author, Steven has written comic books, animation, newspaper copy, magazine articles, television scripts and three million words of published fiction published in seven languages, making him one of the world’s most honored, diverse and popular writers.

Becoming a Superhero

“Right now everything looks so strange to me, as if I don’t belong here. It’s me that’s out of place. And the worst thing is that I feel there’s somewhere I do belong, but I just can’t find it.”–seen this morning on a thread.

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My all-time favorite movie serial is “Captain Marvel”, with those wonderful practical-effect flying scenes that still look astoundingly good, and Billy Batson saying “Shazam!” and turning into (basically) Superman.  Great stuff.  The villain is “The Scorpion”, and the “who is it?” is a fun mystery as the original members of an expedition are killed one at a time, until only the bad guy remains in the last episode.   All the chaos revolves around seeking a statue with six movable arms, in the shape of (wait for it…) a scorpion.  Each arm holds a lens. If they are all lined up properly, when sunlight flows through them various mayhem results, including explosions and melting solid rock.   It is a super-weapon, but also a great metaphor: line up the elements of your life perfectly, and you release an energy unknown.

 

Most people are at best “focused”.  Focus can burn a hole in paper.   But when you align all the aspects of your Self, you are more like a laser. And lasers can burn holes in diamond.

 

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I returned home last night, after flying to North Carolina, driving 500 miles roundtrip to South Carolina to spend a couple of hours with the wonderful kids at Mama G’s community center (and having a chance to play with her.  Hey, instead of zero to countless, my score was a ferocious one to six!  Vast improvement on my part…), get back to Chapel Hill to talk Afrofuturism to a roomful of brilliant students with high-level bullshit detectors, and getting to the airport for my trip home.

 

Home.  Where Tananarive and Jason and Django and Ginger live.   Home.  Where I wake up and go to sleep, where I recharge for another day of work and play.

 

It is where my heart lives.  I take it with me wherever I go, so that any time I want I can line up the energetic “lenses” of my humanity: survival, sexuality, power, emotion, communication, intellect, and spiritual commitment.   Boom.  Any time I do that, I’m totally awake, totally present.  My survival energy rises through all the ways it manifests in the world, and I’m a live wire.

 

The trick is to get the first four together.  Survival, sex, power, and emotion.  Do that, and the rest take care of themselves. The mistake is to try to “think” your way through your life. That ends in a ball of confusion. The Instructions on how to get out of the box are written on the outside of the box.

 

To get out, you either just bang your head bloody and hope a wall fractures.  You can  wait to outgrow it, and hope you don’t strangle in your own waste products before the box pops…and deposits you in a shiny new (but larger) box.  Or you can find an ally, someone who has already grown beyond a similar box, and ask them to lend you the keys.

 

There are two basic ways out.   One is to start with the physical.   Develop the skills to care for your body and survive in a career contributing honestly to your community.  Learn to satisfy your sexual desires with integrity, creating a “nest” that could provide for a mate and children (even if you have no intent to HAVE kids, it is wise to learn to have the adult resources to potentially provide for them.   Something the “Incels” often fail to understand).  And open your heart, so that that (potential) mate has a safe place to open THEIR heart. So that children would be safe and nurtured with you.

 

That’s the core survival wiring, and that path just flat works.  People who feel lost, depressed, scattered…can re-connect in one of a couple of ways.

 

  1. Move their bodies.   We evolved to move.  When we move enough to trigger growth responses in our bodies (by pushing through aerobic limits, mobility limits, current strength limits) we trigger a kind of focus that takes us out of “first world” problems and into the animal.  Their problem was that they weren’t in their bodies.  When you aren’t…it is easy to get lost.  They don’t know “what is true.”
  2. Connect with their hearts.   They don’t have the answer to the most basic and important question for thinking feeling beings: “who am I?” the partner to  “what is true?”  Here, meditation techniques of various kinds are wonderful.  My favorite is Heartbeat Meditation.  Second favorite is The Ancient Child, which I perform every day, centering and bringing my life back into focus.

 

Both of them can and should be incorporated into a daily Morning Ritual.  Just…what you do first thing in the morning.  You learn to line up all your “lenses” so that every action, every breath has meaning. THERE IS NO WASTED TIME. NO WASTED EFFORT, WHEN YOU KNOW THE MEANING AND PURPOSE BEHIND EVERY ACTION.

 

I am SO happy that more of you are trying this.  Blending movement with thought and feeling.   It may feel awkward at first, but you can change your entire life if you stick with it.

 

“Right now everything looks so strange to me, as if I don’t belong here. It’s me that’s out of place. And the worst thing is that I feel there’s somewhere I do belong, but I just can’t find it.”

 

We lose touch with ourselves, our hearts, our place in the world.   Love yourself.  Belong to yourself.  Own your life.   There IS somewhere you belong.  Everywhere.  But most essentially, within your own heart.  Have that, learn to focus and align it, and you can make the most out of whatever energy you have, at whatever stage of life you may be.

 

Billy Batson just wanted to survive, but found himself in the midst of a great adventure, everyone around him plotting and planning to master the power that controls destiny.   Killing and cheating and stealing and lying and pretending to be things they were not.

 

But an old wise man taught him that if he just chanted an affirmation he would have the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury.  He would have what all the others sought, and the power was right within him, to be unleashed by courage and commitment and the urge to help those he loved.

 

That power is yours. But first…love yourself. That’s where it starts.

 

Shazam!

Steven Barnes

 

(The Morning M.A.G.I.C. for Writers program is finally available.   For more information just go to www.morningwriters.com!)

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On “Breaking Bad” and how easy it is to deceive ourselves.

Skyler White: Walt, please, let’s both of us stop trying to justify this whole thing and admit you’re in danger!

Walter White: Who are you talking to right now? Who is it you think you see? Do you know how much I make a year? I mean, even if I told you, you wouldn’t believe it. Do you know what would happen if I suddenly decided to stop going into work? A business big enough that it could be listed on the NASDAQ goes belly up. Disappears! It ceases to exist without me. No, you clearly don’t know who you’re talking to, so let me clue you in. I am not in danger, Skyler. I AM the danger. A guy opens his door and gets shot and you think that of me? No. I am the one who knocks!

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Let’s say you wonder why people who voted a particular way have trouble realizing they made a mistake.

 

I remember how aghast I was that the end of “Breaking Bad” was in sight, and people still insisted that Walter White was a victim of circumstances, that he was only doing what he had to do.  I can only think that they are telling you that, in those circumstances, they would do what he did. Or…that they would be willing to accept a murderous bastard as long as he put bread on the table.  Or…I don’t know. But what was glaringly obvious to me: he was a bad man who had the misfortune to discover it (much like my view of Michael Corleone).

 

We are what we are. That ultimate being-ness may be ineffable and beyond ultimate purchase, but the best indicator is WHAT WE DO.

 

The next best is WHAT WE SAY ABOUT WHAT WE DO.  That tells people what you think about yourself…or what you want them to think about you.

 

Start by assuming that the best way to be a human being is the WORST way to write: text and subtext are the same thing.  Walter White is in a life and death struggle with his alter ego, “Heisenberg”, a ruthless gangster.  At the same time he wants to think of himself as a good family man. He continues this self-deception on and off until the very end, when he manages to create utterly ruthless actions that somehow reinforce the notion that, at the core of him, he is “good.”

 

This is one reason why the “Sentence a day” technique works so well.  There is simply no rational reason why someone cannot write ten words in a 24 hour period. If you say you want to write…write.  It really is that simple.  If your focus is on best-selling or prize-winning writing, there are certainly things you can do to optimize your chances…but in most cases what we want is to be the best writers we can be, by our own definitions.

 

What do writers do?  They write. If they don’t write, they are not writers, in the sense of “to do”.  They may well be authors, in the sense of “have done writing in the past”, but you have to decide: which are you more interested in?   Money, fame, awards are for authors. So…you must have written.  But if you love it, do it. There is nothing more miserable than writers who lose their way

  1. Writing for money
  2. Writing for awards
  3. Writing for reviews
  4. Writing to please your fans

 

All of these things are fine IF AND ONLY IF YOU ARE ALSO WRITING TO PLEASE YOURSELF. Otherwise, you are at risk of becoming a hack.  And if you ever had the dream of being a writer for love’s sake, this is a road to hell, and some of the least happy people I’ve ever known traveled that road.

 

The trick to doing both is to look at two circles:

  1. Things you’d want to write
  2. Things you think the market will accept.

 

Where those two circles over lap…there you write.  Heck, when I wrote my first episode of BAYWATCH my question was: what is real about this?  What expresses ME?  Otherwise I get nothing but money.  And ultimately, the “kid” part of me that comes up with the ideas doesn’t give a shit about money.  Little Stevie only cares about cool ideas.  If HE is not happy…I’m in trouble.

 

I have to keep my path to “Little Stevie” open, and I do that by writing EVERY DAY, by clarifying my values and long-term outcomes, writing out my thoughts, and making daily progress on a primary writing project.

 

Today? Exchanging an email with a source of psychological expertise in the arena of serial killers for my new novel “Traveler”.

 

And…working on the proposal for my graphic novel with Charles Johnson. Basically, taking a successful proposal and re-writing it to fit my project.

 

But the trick is to remember that our behaviors lead to our outcomes. Our mental and emotional states drive our behaviors.  And the smallest building blocks, laid one at a time, create the largest and most beautiful edifices which will ultimately be a testimony to the lives we have lived.

 

If you can own every step, be proud of all you have done, make your peace with the reality that not every brick will be laid straight or on a perfect time-table…but continue to lay at least one every day…

 

In time, your palace will be built.  Once upon a time a friend told me that I not only build dream palaces, but I move into them.

 

This is how you do it.

 

 

Namaste

Steve

www.fiveminutelifehacks.com

“Panic Room” (2002): Jodie Foster, Action Hero

I was asked yesterday to do a book on productivity and keeping a positive mood.    Well, the next course I’m producing, the “Morning M.A.G.I.C. for Writers” is precisely that.   But if you want to know, heck, just watch “PANIC ROOM” the movie that turns Jodie Foster into an action hero.
 

In it, Foster is a recently divorced woman moving into a lavish Soho townhouse equipted with the eponymous hidey-hole. She and her daughter are asleep when a trio of burglars, including an excellent Forest Whittaker, break in in search of hidden money.  She manages to get herself and daughter into the armored room with a split-second to spare, and the next ninety minutes is a cat-and-mouse game of Foster trying to get help, and Whittaker trying to break into a room he designed to be unbreakable.

 

There are of course complications: an emotionally unstable accomplice, a diabetic daughter, unfinished telephone lines, unsecured ventilation ducts.

 

Watching this game is fascinating, and considering how confined the story is, every inch of that townhouse is explored, and endless  variation of possibilities exhausted.

 

What motivates Whittaker?  Money. Lots of it. Which he needs because of a desperate family situation.

 

What motivates Foster?  Her own life, and the life of her daughter.

 

The INSTANT a family is threatened, you no longer have to explain to the audience WHY a character is fighting, working, struggling.   Your life, your mate’s life.    In the natural world, threaten either, and you dial the crazy meter up to ten.  Threaten a child…and it goes up to eleven.

 

I LOVE stories of such struggle, and devour them endlessly, probably feeding something inside me.

 

If you know the WHAT (STAY SAFE/ESCAPE.  Or: GET THE MONEY), and the WHY (personal survival, genetic survival, protecting what we love) then the “HOW” is just the details.

 

When people ask me how I accomplish so much, it is because I have a very specific syntax: I know the ultimate lifetime “What” I am committed to (contribution, growth, family, joy), which leads to understanding the long-term (yearly), medium term (monthly and weekly) and short term (daily) goals, WITH ALL OF THEM LIKE CONCENTRIC RINGS.

 

I know just how this moment leads to a good day, how the day leads to a good week…to a month…to the year…to my lifetime.   EVERY MOMENT.

 

And by asking what the MOST IMPORTANT thing(s) I can accomplish today, using the Pareto principle (20% of your actions leads to 80% of your results) if I just accomplish that (those) most important things, I win.  I’ll refine and refine (the 20% of the 20% of the 20%…) until the critical major piece can be done in less than two hours, it gets easier.

 

But if I refine until that critical piece can be done in less than an hour…better.

 

I have the most important things refined to FIVE MINUTES.

 

Writing: a sentence a day.

Martial Arts: Tai Chi (done quickly)

Mental Focus: Morning Ritual

Emotional focus: Morning Ritual

Family: Five Minutes with Jason

Physical: Three reps of Five Tibetans

Financial: Check “Mint”, transfer 5% of my checking to investment every Friday

 

Other things are in “ZNT” (Zero Net Time) territory:

 

Mental input: listening to a “Teaching Company” MP3 while driving or doing chores.

 

Some is “Five Minute Miracle” territory:

 

60 seconds of Kali drills, five times a day, working the “Be Breathed”

Connecting with the Ancient Child.

 

 

MINIMUMS that get the most done.  If I only have five minutes, I can still kick ass. And you know what happens when you do that?  You lose fear. You know just where you are on the map of your life, and you KNOW that every day you are making progress toward joy.  And when you stop being driven by fear, and start being motivated more by attraction  to joy than repulsion from pain?

 

Life gets magical.

 

That’s it. It really is.  And I can’t wait to share it with you.  Hopefully next week!

 

 

Namaste,

Steve

www.fiveminutelifehacks.com

 

“The Hunger Games”: Clarity of Purpose

Watching THE HUNGER GAMES yesterday as the result of a little game: we’d seen Donald Sutherland in DISCLOSURE playing a slimy billionaire, and thought we’d follow that thread to another film, where he plays a slimy president.  He does slimy GREAT.

 

At any rate, I remembered enjoying these movies well enough in the theater, although I would have felt just a little silly seeing them without Nicki.  The thing about movies like this is that at the core of them, there is a vast amount of action, explosions, screaming, plotting, and so forth, but at the core is the “young person grows up” notion. The “at the end of this series Katniss Everdeen becomes the hero of her people” notion, with everything else being steps along the way.

 

CONFRONTED WITH CHALLENGE: To embrace her power as a hero.

REJECT THE CHALLENGE: She just wants to be left alone, to hunt and lead a meager life in a dominated township.

ACCEPTS THE CHALLENGE: When her little sister is chosen to compete in a lethal winner-take-all event, Katniss takes her first step along the Hero Path, volunteering to take her place.

 

 

O.K.–that’s the “inciting event”.  After that, Katniss only has to remember her sister, or access her own survival drive, or remember the sacrifices of her friends, or her anger at Southerland’s evil president, or her love of Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of dewy-eyed Actors) or whatever, and she has the motivation to survive, and excel, and triumph.

 

The WHAT is “become the hero”.  The WHY arguably covers EVERY chakra: survival, sex, power, love, communication, learning, spiritual commitment.

 

The “HOW” is four movies that made a combined total of 1.45 BILLION dollars.  Every twist, turn, action, sacrifice, solution, and reward, every setback and loss or victory is a step along the road to becoming her true self, a hero of her people.

 

Katniss woke up every day knowing that if she didn’t move, run, fight, hunt, accomplish and problem-solve…she would DIE.

 

The illusion we have is that we have all the time in the world to accomplish the things we desire.  Heroes are simply people forced by internal or external motivations to ACT.   We watch her, and thrill to her clarity of purpose, thinking on some level “I wonder if I  could rise to that level, if the circumstances demanded.”

 

I choose to believe that I could. That YOU could.   But you would have to have clarity of purpose, have to develop skills IN ADVANCE of the emergency, and grow the emotional sinew capable of getting up again, and again, and again…

 

Not because there are armed enemies coming to kill us, but because we know that without that focus, we lose our way in life, and are forced to “settle” for a fraction of the love, joy, health, success, contribution and growth we could have had.

 

WHAT do you want?

WHY do you want it?

Only then…HOW will you do it?

 

That’s the syntax. And you need to hammer that in every day, at least partially by looking at the lives of people who DON’T know why they are getting out of bed in the morning (other than avoiding the pain of starvation), or even worse…don’t have any specific goals, just drift from action to action, motivated by that fear, or controlled by those who DO have clear goals.

I get emails, PMs and see posts EVERY DAY by people struggling with their lives.  Not ONE of them has the tools I’m discussing. What. Why.  How. The energy to push through barriers. A way to control their emotions.  A way to make THIS DAY a perfect step along the larger, longer life path.

 

This is what the MORNING RITUAL is about: every day, becoming “the hero in the adventure of your lifetime.”

 

You deserve nothing less.   If you have ever thrilled to these stories…it is because there is a part of you that sees itself in those actions.    Make that part happy, and you access a totally new and powerful chamber of your heart, and life will never be the same again.

 

Namaste

Steve

www.fiveminutelifehacks.com

What is the most important thing I can do TODAY?

Morning Ritual starts when you wake up.   People who comment on my personal energy are sometimes amazed that I don’t “wake up” with it every day.  No, I have to work that Chinese Puzzle Ball, find the thing I am most committed to in life, think of the most important thing I have to do TODAY to bring it into existence, and how accomplishing it with style and joy will benefit every aspect of my life.

 

ULTIMATE GOAL: JOY

ULTIMATE OUTCOMES: SUPERB FITNESS, RELATIONSHIPS, FINANCES,   CONTRIBUTION AND GROWTH.

IMMEDIATE OUTCOME TODAY: Major progress on marketing plan, major progress on primary writing project, “Traveler.”

 

What can I do today to  move the marketing of the “Morning Ritual for Writers” program?   I can stay focused on who I was at the age of thirty: unsuccessful writer, unsuccessful martial artist, no relationship.  And…what “message in a bottle” can I send back to him to get him on track in just five minutes a day, and what would I have to say in an ad to attract his attention?

 

What can I do today to move “Traveler” forward?   I need to align the thematics from the different major chunks of the book. A major theme will have to be relationships.  If you handle survival, sex, power, and emotion with grace and balance the rest grows naturally.

 

What is the primary relationship I can look at today?    That would be Gus, the ex-cop hero of the story, a good man who has ruined his life and marriage…and has one last chance at redemption.  And his wife Athena, UCLA lecturer in Abnormal Sociology, a woman who was the light to his darkness, and finally left him to save herself.  Gus’ redemption arc is external (catch the time traveler) and internal (become a better man who can deserve a woman like Athena). Along the way he will have to learn, grow, win, lose, survive despair, heal, and become the hero she always saw in him.  Athena will have her own journey, and her insights into the human mind and the psychology of mass destruction will be central to the story.

 

“Love is not two people looking at each other. It is two people looking in the same direction.”  If true…then I’m saying that they love each other, but were heading in opposite directions. To “save” the marriage one or both of them must change. Gus needs the most change: it is his story, his arc.  Athena will have her own journey, but let’s drill down here.

 

 

Any writing expresses what you think about human beings (“who am I?”) and the ethical structure of the universe (what is true?”).  Where can I find a speck of truth about relationships, people, the world that I can insert into this book?  Use as a reference point in their relationship?  How about the scene where Athena tells him goodbye? That she’s had enough?

 

To get to that moment, I have to ask how we fall in love.   Some combination of hormones, visual anchors, matching of values beliefs and outcomes, smell, touch, and taste. At some point something goes “BANG” and you realize something is happening.

 

With Tananarive I thought she was cute and perky, then I thought she was very intelligent and talented.  The emotions triggered were protectiveness, not romantic interest or lust.   Acknowledgement of her attractiveness was certainly there: when I watched her dance, she moved like a healthy animal, and her body was fit, sinewy and quite…lively.  Ahem.

 

But I really, really didn’t “trigger”.  My only thought was: “here is a young lady with a future.  She has a destiny.  I think I could share what I know with her, and be a mensch.   She could use a big brother.”   The first night at the conference, we watched SEINFELD in her room, sitting on different beds. I was VERY careful with my body language: I wanted her to feel totally comfortable.

 

It wasn’t until the last day of the conference that something “clicked”.  It happened when she described how she got Stephen King to give her a cover blurb. I saw ambition, tactical and strategic thinking, the ability to think laterally, high-level skills in an apparently disassociated arena applied to a new purpose (using musical skills to get into King’s rock band) and more.

 

It hit me like a ton of bricks. I saw someone who had about every human quality I hold most dear, who was moving in my direction, revving up to take the world by the throat, unafraid of risk or rejection, with the self-love and emotional permission to care for her physical body in a way that made me feel “my tribe.”

 

NOTE: Remove any one of those major pieces and that devastating reaction doesn’t happen.  Now…which of those things are necessary for the CONTINUATION and elevation of those emotions?  Well, the things that relate to the basic nature of the person. In other words, if T got hit by a car, even though she can’t take care of her body the same way, she is still the same person. If she changed her values and stopped wanting to write…as long as she had that same intensity about, say, teaching, she is also the same person.

 

But what if you extracted those qualities and began to reverse them, like re-setting dip switches? How many of them could shift without deeply affecting my feeling of connection?

 

Everyone has limits.  Sweetness into meanness? Ambition into “laziness”? Activity into sloth? Discipline into excess?

 

How many?  When I look around at relationships that have gone sour, I’ve seen the following causes:

  1. Infidelity.  Especially serial infidelity.  Different intensities and meanings at different times in the relationship, and interpreted differently by males and females.
  2. Financial instability.  Huge.  More devastating than cheating.
  3. Lack of sexual compatibility
  4. Lying and manipulating
  5. Abuse
  6. Lack of emotional compatibility and empathy
  7. The sexual power polarities can change, creating tension…or boredom.  Seen this happen in “House Husband” relationships, and it wasn’t pretty.

 

The relationship can run out of gas, can become too explosive, or too painful.   I don’t think I want boredom to be a factor in this case.  More likely too much excitement and “drammer.”      Better to have Athena feel that Gus is becoming something dangerous to her psyche and sense of well being.

 

But what?  I have a very good sense of the cluster of negative behaviors and attitudes that Gus could have, that mirror real-world break-ups in a “useful” way. Why useful?  Because they have to be capable of being resolved with a story arc.

 

Ah…in what way?   Well…the perfect character is a window into a situation.  It is through their attitudes, perceptions, and actions that the situation becomes known. Why did I choose THIS character to deal with THIS situation?

 

Ideally…because the arc of external action (resolution of the plot) mirrors the arc of internal change (how they must grow or heal to move to the next level of their lives.)

 

“Die Hard” is about a group of terrorists taking over a building…but it is also about a cop who is losing his wife, and how he comes to realize how much he adores her. And a woman seeking professional self-expression, and how she comes to value the very things that drove her crazy about her husband.

 

Two people who were about to be torn apart by their egos, who come together when the shit gets real.  Defeating the terrorists is healing their marriage!   THAT is a terrific story, one often imitated but never excelled in the genre.   “Traveler” is in that vein, but different in that Gus is more at fault than John McClaine ever was, and he needs to “come correct” in a variety of ways that will require ego death.

 

HIS SELF IMAGE IS SIMPLY…WRONG.    And as  long as he clings to it, his marriage, his career, his life is in peril.  So the story has to be set up so that his inner and outer journeys reflect and amplify each other.

 

So…the scene where Athena tells him she’s leaving has to encapsulate the themes of the entire book, such that on one level the readers will think: “you think you can live without this man?  Just wait. You think you can live without this woman?  Just wait!”  but on another level, they will thrill to wonder just what will happen before that hopeful reunion.  They want the experience of closing the book thinking “Wow!  What a story!  I never saw THAT coming!” but also a sense that, on second reading, all the pieces of the puzzle were there…and that it all makes perfect, human sense.

 

So…what is the most important thing I can do today?  I can look at the structure of the three parts.   Think of the external journey.  And make major progress to make the inner and outer connect.

 

How long will that take?   Well…here’s a secret: REALIZING I NEEDED TO DO THAT WAS THE MAJOR PROGRESS I NEEDED.

 

I’ve already won, don’t you understand? Today is already a success. All I need do is write ONE SENTENCE in the script, a line of dialogue or description or summation that states what is needed.

 

Get it out of my head.  Onto paper.  No, writing it here on my blog, or on Facebook, isn’t enough…unless I drag and drop a relevant sentence into the actual Traveler document (currently at 245 pages on WRITERDUET).   Do that…and I win the game today.

 

Most important thing with Jason?  Just tell him I love him and am proud of his very good week. He did GREAT with his Algebra yesterday, and was rewarded with a theater party with friends to see “Jurassic World.” Blue is so damned cute!

 

Most important thing with T? Pick her up at the airport tonight.  Fetch sushi.

 

Most important thing with my finances?   Check my Mint account.

 

Most important thing with my body?  Yoga and Tai Chi/Morning ritual.

 

Bim, Bam, Boom.  I know what, and why, and the “Morning Ritual” is “how.”

 

Time to get to work!

 

Namaste

Steve

www.fiveminutelifehacks.com

RIP Harlan Ellison

Harlan was a giant squeezed into a 5’5″ frame, and what you felt around him was a sense of that energy compressed.  He was the first human being I’d met at his level of energy and integration. And…I was fascinated.

SteveandHarlan_preview.jpg

I’d read his articles in the Free Press in the late 60’s, heard him on the radio, seen him on television, and read his stories in Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, as well as a collection of shorts I’d picked up in a used book store. And wow, that episode of THE OUTER LIMITS, “Demon With A Glass Hand” in 1964 was just amazing television.  I was twelve years old.  Mind blown.

 

One person did all of this? One person was such an astute observer of society, such a blazingly original fiction voice, such an unapologetic and combative defender of Truth, however he saw it?

 

Of course I didn’t agree with him on everything–especially not everything that was his “act” as opposed to his private presence.  He performed The Harlan Show with diabolical precision and presence.   But I wasn’t fooled by that…I knew there was more, and wanted to find out what it was.

 

I stalked him.   Not at his home.   Every time there was a public event, a speech or roundtable or interview, ANYTHING, I attended. Sat in the first row.   Asked polite questions. I knew that, given time, he’d start to wonder who I was.  And…it worked.   Over time, we began to exchange words, and then polite conversation.  Yes, there was a day I decided to try the Fast Gun, and at another time I’ll tell you how effortlessly he took me down.  I’ll say only that it didn’t sting: I’d learned something I needed to know.

 

What was it? That Harlan’s verbal reaction speed was uncanny.  The reaction went from brain to mouth with no pause at common sense.   Pure survival flash, and I recognized it.    Martial artists who have either trained like Shaolin Monks, been in combat, boxed at competition level, been in countless street fights…or were abused as children and re-integrated successfully react with that speed.   Dangerous as hell.  When combined with real technique?  Lethal.

 

Harlan’s mind was Shaolin-level conceptual/verbal kung fu, there is no doubt.    But there was something else…he was the first person I’d had a chance to study who revealed what I call the “Chinese Puzzle Ball” effect.

shopping.jpg

Know those carved wooden puzzle balls, concentric skeletal shells you can rotate to stick a pencil through?  Real fun.  Well…most people’s creativity, or sexuality, or combative spark or “genius” is like that.  They have to have the lights, and music, and talk, and environment JUST RIGHT and you can access what Harlan called “the burning core.”

 

And…some people are like those annoying prodigies who can solve Rubik’s cubes while juggling them.  Ugh.  Harlan could go into “flow” harder  than anyone I’d ever seen. That’s what the “write a story in a store window” thing was, to me.  Like meditating in a room full of hungry cats.  That was a hell of a mind. I’m not surprised that he trained for a time with Bruce Lee, and man, do I wish I’d been a fly on the wall during one of THOSE sessions.  And yes, we talked about that. Another time.

 

##

 

I wanted to tell you about the most meaningful interaction I had with Harlan.   He knew damned well how much I admired him, and it seemed to me that when people were sincere, and not fawning but genuinely respectful, he rewarded  that frank and honest emotion by dropping the “HARLAN!” act. Then he, like other masters I’ve known, was just a man walking a road one day at a time.   Bradbury, Inosanto,  Butler, Niven, Muhammad, Stewart, Spielberg, Bill Nolan…I’ve encountered this before, a combination of humbleness and supreme confidence.   And appreciation of anyone who finds the same road of fascinating interest.

 

Remember the definition of Mastery?   Once you have the basics, and have committed to your path for a lifetime, you are as much a “Master” as anyone else on the road…even if they are horizons beyond you.   They have a real sense of that path between the Child and the Elder.   Harlan’s “child” was an adorable six-year old, and anyone who tried to fuck with him ran into the most terrifying Tiger Daddy imaginable.

 

But what he really wanted was playmates.    I knew that we liked each other, but I wasn’t remotely at the same level as a writer. Horizons distant, he was.

 

I published my first solo novel, STREETLETHAL, in 1983.  It was a shaky time in my relationship with Nicki’s mom Toni, and I was living by myself in the San Fernando Valley on a street called Hayvenhurst.    I was hanging on to my sense of possibility by a fingernail–terrified about that first solo effort (DREAM PARK had been an enormous success.  THE DESCENT OF ANANSI had been a painful, humiliating experience I barely survived.)

 

So when Jim Baen outbid Susan Allison for my freshman solo, it felt like all the world was opening itself to me…but also my every nerve felt exposed and vulnerable.  I made sure that Beth Meacham, my wonderful editor, sent Harlan a  galley (other readers included Norman Spinrad and Gordon Dickson), and I remember the day I got a call from Harlan saying that he’d received a copy and liked the first page…it reminded him of his own work.

 

Cue optimistic music.  About three days later, it was raining out.  About eight o’clock on a very dark, cold, drizzly evening and I was alone at home. The phone rang and it was Harlan. His voice sounded pained, like a family doctor about to read a regrettable diagnosis.  “Steve..?” he said.   “Is it too late to stop publication..?

 

I sat on the floor in my living room, listening to my hero tell me all the reasons why the book…just wasn’t good.  I could hear the deep regret in his voice. There was NO cruelty there, just advice for a kid stumbling behind, far far behind, on the road.

 

When I hung up the phone, I broke down and sobbed.  Yeah, it was too late to stop publication, even if I’d wanted to.  It wasn’t that I believed everything he said.  It was that I didn’t have the strength to totally discount it either, and his opinions allied themselves with my own demons.

###

Some years later, because my Hollywood agent Marvin Moss packaged “The Twilight Zone” reboot for CBS with uber-producer Phil DeGuirre, an (unproduced)  script I’d done for The Disney Channel passed the story editor’s desk. They liked it, and we met in a room at the Beverly Garland Hotel.   DeGuirre, Jim Crocker, Dorothy Fontana, and…Harlan Ellison.

 

“How did you get here, Steve?” he asked with genuine curiosity.   He listened, smiled as he munched a Danish, and said, “well, kid…don’t look behind you.  Just keep running.”

 

I did.  I ran as fast as I could, trying to keep up with the big dogs.  Couldn’t quite do it, and when I wrote my second episode, an adaptation of Rober Silverberg’s TO SEE THE INVISIBLE MAN, Harlan read my first draft and as kindly as possible, expressed disappointment, walking me through the process of creating a series of visual images that express the plot and themes of the work. THAT was my job as a screenwriter.  And…I hadn’t done it.   I was better than I’d been, but still not good enough.

 

##

 

I survived that experience, and soldiered on.  Years passed, and we got to know each other better, and I was always careful to be as genuine, honest, friendly, helpful and “fun” as I could be.  Not always easy…but this isn’t the time for those thoughts.  I’ll just say that my times with him were a beautiful thing.  I’d never thought to be actual friends with this Celestial Being I’d worshipped from afar as a kid. And that house on the hill!  Good Lord.   Harlan’s house was like his head, turned inside out. Chock A Block with souvenirs and posters and rooms designed by Will Eisner, and others hidden away from sight…with histories I won’t discuss now, but let’s just say that although he was never into drugs or alcohol the 60’s were very, very good to Uncle Harlan.

At his front door is a plaque that says: ELLISON WONDERLAND.  DIG…OR SPLIT.

I dug.

 

##

 

When THE OUTER LIMITS was rebooted in 1995, I was stoked–it had been one of my all time favorite shows, and I pitched an idea called “Recidivist” about a time-traveling serial killer.  They loved it, retitled it “A Stitch In Time” and I wrote my ass off.

 

There is a simple truth I hold as gospel:  If you get up to bat enough times, eventually you’ll get a hit. Keep hitting…and one day you’ll hit a home run, and you’ll know when the vibration hits your hands.

 

I was so proud of that episode.   And…called Harlan.  Asked him if he’d seen it.

 

Understand this: much as with Octavia Butler (who Harlan discovered and sponsored to Clarion) Harlan liked ME better than he liked my writing.   I appreciated that, and knew that he was honest with me–it was a compliment, I felt.  He knew that I really wanted to BE good. I didn’t want to just “think” I was good.

 

So…I swallowed and listened for his answer.  Nope, he hadn’t seen it. Could I send him a copy?

 

I did.  VHS.   And about a week later I got another call from him.

 

“Barnes,” he asked.  “Was that your script?”

 

Yep.

 

“They didn’t rewrite all over it?”

 

Nope. Some small changes.  My words, characters, images, plot.  All of it.

 

Well…you did it.   This shit smokes. It is original, and important.    You pulled the plow, kid.”

 

And…it felt as if a raven flew out of my chest.   I’d done it. After all this time.  I had fallen in love with Harlan Ellison with an Outer Limits episode. And he had finally seen me educe from within my own burning core the quality I’d always dreamed of…in an Outer Limits episode.  I’d solved the Puzzle Ball, at last. Just once, maybe.  But even if you are consumed, it is worth it to touch the sun.  Even just once.

 

Life has a lovely symmetry sometimes, does it not?

 

##

 

I loved that man.  I saw in him the same human potential so many of us have, and so few ever explore.    There was NOTHING there discontinuous with the rest of us, and I think that was part of what drove him nuts, made him so volatile. A sense that life was so short, love so precious, art so important. God DAMN it!

His every word seemed to scream WAKE UP!!!

 

Will you not be kind to each other?  Why aren’t you sprinting toward your dreams with everything you have?  What the FUCK is wrong with you? Don’t you know the night is coming?  You think life is a dress rehearsal?

 

Harlan burned his candle at both ends, with a blowtorch in the middle.   Flawed and screwed up, he was. Because he was a real human being, trying to live in the eye of a creative storm called THE HARLAN ELLISON SHOW that he put on for the public…and if he occasionally forgot it was a role?  Well…I can forgive him for that.

 

He was the most “himself” human being I may have ever met, the simple result of having the courage to say what is really in your mind…and the brilliance of having something to say worth hearing…combined with the work ethic of a titan on amphetamines.

 

Here’s to you, my friend.   Whatever doubts and regrets you may have had, know that to me you will always be what you aspired to be: that crazy combination of  Zorro and Jiminy Cricket.

 

You pulled the plow, kid.

 

 

Namaste and Farewell…

Steve

www.afrofuturismwebinar.com

Along Came A Spider (2001)

Along Came A Spider (2001) is nobody’s classic mystery, but it is entertaining in a non-demanding way, and contains a favorite trope.

 

Here’s the situation: Megan Rose, a little girl attending a high-end Washington D.C. school, is kidnapped by Gary Soneji, a teacher at the school.  Detective Alex Cross and Secret Service Agent Jezzie Flanigan must unwind a twisty maze of unlikely plot threads to solve the case.

 

But in the midst of all of their searching, planning, profiling and tap-dancing around the romantic subplot excised from the novel, Megan herself is presented as a girl trapped in a horrible situation…but constantly using every tool she has to survive.

 

She is smart, and courageous, and perceptive. She calculates odds, takes initiative, and is constantly problem-solving on multiple levels.  By the time the climax arrives, she has taken large, important steps to solve her own problem, and if she is running out of options, it isn’t her fault.

 

BECAUSE she took those options, she escapes death narrowly, and sets up the final scenes, which are nicely tense.

 

Had she just waited to be rescued, she’d be dead.   But if you look at her story from the Hero’s Journey framework, her Dark Night of the Soul (she can’t quite get away) is healed through a Leap of Faith (keep trying, no matter what) which is ultimately justified by the cleverness and courage of her allies.

 

I think we all sense that there are aspects of life out of our control. The truth is that, just like Megan Rose, we don’t know when or if help will arrive. But unless we take action, we die.  Our dreams die. Maybe there will be help…maybe we’ll have to work it out ourselves.  And maybe in a different world, just a SLIGHTLY different film, Megan Rose would have rescued herself.  Just as sometimes, we can do it all ourselves.

 

But any worthwhile goal demands that we grow. Growth demands that we empty ourselves out. That means reaching the end of our self-concept. At some point in any growth process, it will feel that all is lost.

 

How do you keep going then?  You keep fighting, like an animal determined to survive. One day at a time, you do everything you can do THAT day, using your fear to motivate you.  Even if you can’t see what you can do, you have faith that there is SOMETHING even if you cannot see it. You may need to take more steps.  Turn a few more corners.

 

I remember when I felt trapped living in Vancouver Washington, my marriage in tatters, income stream trashed, seeing no options except to take one day’s actions at a time.  I clearly remember praying: “Please God…I’m going to jump out on faith now.   I’m surrounded by fog, and can’t see a way out.   So if I jump…either catch me, or let me hit the rocks before I can see them.”

 

If you don’t see any solution, then remember that stress itself becomes strain, creates tunnel vision. There are COUNTLESS instances of people who didn’t see answers…but someone else saw them, or they themselves discovered an answer down the road. If they had quit, they never would have met allies or discovered the answer they sought.

 

So what if you see nothing but triggers for fear and despair?

 

  1. LOVE YOURSELF Remember that your goal is joy.   Being happy.  All else is a means to this end.
  2. LOVE ONE OTHER PERSON .   You want long-term joy, so forget about drugging yourself out. The misery experienced by druggies who finally see the damage they have done to themselves and everyone around them is horrific.
  3. UNDERSTAND HISTORY.  Remember that just because YOU don’t see an answer doesn’t mean there isn’t one.   Don’t let your ego destroy you.  Imagine yourself ON THE OTHER SIDE of the problem. Or Mankind on the other side of it, centuries from now.  Steps were taken.   Be part of the answer.
  4. PROTECT YOUR TRIBE.    Do this, and they will protect you.    Your task is to work backward from your goal: happiness.  To have this, you must avoid pain, define a path to success, gather allies and abilities, and keep moving.   For many of us, serving others is more motivating than taking care of ourselves. Use that. Exist for the good of humanity.  Or your country. Or community. Or family.  Or the child within you.   KEEP GOING.  But also remember that you must renew your energy and emotions.  What are you doing to renew, protect, refresh?   Connect with family and friends.  Exercise (about 95% of people who talk about fighting depression or despair will discuss passive actions to compensate. They forget the mighty effects of aerobic/anaerobic exercise to process fear, and that is tragic), focus on positive past actions and future hopes.
  5. WIN WITH INTEGRITY.   If for you to win, someone else has to lose, have compassion. The temptation will be to “do unto others as was done to you.”  That’s not the way to do it.   Trust me…whatever you are going through, the great saints, sages and philosophers witnessed and experienced worse. There are damned good reasons why we are encouraged not to use the tools of the Damned unless there are no other tools to use.  Start by remembering your task is to be happy–not to make others miserable.  IF they are miserable, that is their choice, not your purpose.   Be the change you want to see in the world.

 

 

 

We do these things by taking one step a day in the direction of your goals. So long as you are moving toward that goal, your fear turns into energy.  Depression in this sense is fear with no one to fight and no where to run.

 

The answer is to believe there are answers, and understand that unbalanced stress denies us access to faith and understanding.

 

The answer is to remember all the times in the past that we, and others, were like little Megan Rose: trapped, doomed, manipulated…and that the answer was to keep fighting, keep trusting, keep working. The forces of evil want desperately for us to give up.

 

Don’t. Not ever.  If your ancestors had, under greater stress than ANYONE reading this can imagine, you wouldn’t be here now.

 

Don’t let them down.

 

 

Namaste

Steve

www.fiveminutelifehacks.com

 

(WARNING!  SAMBO ALERT!)

Just two days ago, I got a PM from someone asking what I thought about a book they were working on where a black character dies heroically to protect and motivate a white character.   Sigh.  There are core tropes clustering around what I call “the breeding circle”: that black characters disproportionately are too young, too old, too gay, too fat, or too dead to be reproductive competition for the white leads.  So…no.  Not interested in the combination of “Sacrificial Negro” and “Spiritual Guide.”   Yuck.

One of the things I loved about the early Alex Cross novels was the sense that he was a full human being: an intellectual and physical animals with a powerful sex drive and open-hearted connections to his community.

 

So…when I heard they were making “Kiss The Girls”, the first Alex Cross movie, my very first thought was “I wonder how they’ll neuter the character?”   Because I knew they weren’t going to let the romance in the book play out.  First…just no. Second…it was interracial. Two strikes.  If the genders had been reversed, sure.

So in a movie like “Bad Boys”, when I wait to see how they will neuter Will Smith, they do it with a “clever” role reversal where the sexy witness mistakes married Martin Lawrence for playa Will Smith.   Low-Jinx ensue.  Hah hah hah!  Isn’t this hysterical?

Not if you saw it coming.

Morgan Freeman, bless his heart, has made an entire career out of avoiding being a sexual being onscreen.  I have heard that now, late in his cinematic dotage, he has finally had a love scene of some kind, but I can’t identify the movie, and I can  promise you it was with a post-Menopausal woman.  No reproductive competition, don’t you see.

But earlier in his career–not a single love scene, not even a passionate kiss (I believe there were a couple of platonic kisses along the way. Say…from Helen Mirren in “Reds” just before he sacrifices himself for the white folks…)

But I digress.   Yeah, that’s what they did to neuter Alex Cross. They cast Morgan Freeman.  Plausible deniability at its best. Why, it isn’t that we didn’t want to do a love scene.  It just doesn’t fit Freeman’s image. It was HIS choice…

Sure, and its BECAUSE that is his choice he got the opportunity in the first place.

So…”Kiss the Girls” and “Along Came A Spider” were tolerable, despite the insult.   And then years passed, and word came that they were making another “Cross” film…this one with Idris Elba!

Wow.  I was thrilled.   Certainly they couldn’t cast such a seething cauldron of testosterone and neuter him.  The uproar would be loud enough to embarrass, and it would take more than a casual excuse to cancel THAT apocalypse (to reference a movie in which, yes, as in “Reds” the only black character dies heroically, that others might mourn and be inspired.  Fuck them.  When that happens?  I start cheering for the Kaiju)

I was optimistic. Maybe…(and before you get going, no, it isn’t “Hollywood”.   This wouldn’t happen if the tribal genetics of this wasn’t appealing to the audience.   You can see echoes of this in political, economic, and law-enforcement arenas.  This is human psychology, not a cabal of evil filmmakers)

Of course you know what happened.   They cast Tyler Perry, a performer…um…let’s just say who is best known for transvestism.   Let’s just say that the amount of “spark” he generated with his leading lady wouldn’t have worried a mouse swimming in a pail of gasoline.

Plausible deniability.  Pardon me if I don’t buy that crap any more.  At all.

Jeeze, I hope I never meet Perry. I would have so much trouble trying to be polite. I really would.

 

 

 

 

 

Sick Little Games

I knew a guy whose wife struggled with her weight.   She’d been the sort of person who had ice cream on her waffles for breakfast…with a diet Coke.   Finally, she got serious.     And regardless of what she had said about hormones and slow metabolism and  so forth, the truth was that when she cut out the rich food and bore down on the exercise, the pounds came right off.    She looked great.

 

Then…she caught him making out with a girl at a party.  And…the weight went right back on.      I asked him one day: “what would you do if Kathy (not her name) was only pretending to try to lose weight?  If really, the game was to do just enough to get you off her back, but actually keep it on?”

He considered for a moment and then said:   “I would divorce her.”

 

Anyone feel like they don’t understand the sick game going on here?

 

##

 

Over the next year I found several different women who struggled with weight and never got it off, and if approached non-confrontationally, they said things like:

 

  1. If I lost weight, other men would be attracted to me, and I don’t want the temptation.
  2. If I lost weight, men would be attracted to me, and I would be at risk because I have bad judgement.
  3. Bad men would be attracted to me, and I would be at risk of assault…again.
  4. My husband doesn’t deserve my beauty.
  5. People wouldn’t notice I was in the room–the extra size is power.
  6. My business associates wouldn’t take me as seriously if I was little and sexy.
  7. I don’t have time to exercise. It takes hours a day.
  8. Food is my only reliable pleasure in life.

 

Guys had some similar ones.

  1. I wouldn’t take up as much space.  I would feel threatened.
  2. I’d be giving up the only real pleasure in my life.
  3. I would be competition to large male predators, and would have to butt heads with them.
  4. My body is nasty.  I don’t want anything to do with it.

 

What about in other arenas?  Money (and these were mostly  male answers):

 

  1. If I had more money, I’d just have to pay more taxes.
  2. If I had money, my relatives would just come and take it.
  3. Money is evil–only bad people have it.
  4. If I had money, I wouldn’t be sure people loved me for myself (note the similarity to the obesity reasoning for women)
  5. I don’t have enough money to save money.
  6. It takes money to make money
  7. I’m already working 60 hours a week.  I can’t work myself to death.

 

How about relationships?

 

  1. Sex is ugly and sinful, and only positive in a very  narrow range of behaviors and conditions.  And nothing non-reproductive: oral, anal, masturbation, homosexual…all evil.
  2. Men/Women are bastards/bitches
  3. People should love me for your “inner self”…but I will judge THEM by their “outer selves.”
  4. I don’t like myself unless someone else loves me.
  5. A bird in the hand is worth all the fish in the sea.
  6. I don’t have time to meditate. It takes hours a day.
  7. All the good ones are gone.
  8. A shared love of drugs/alcohol/bars is a great foundation for a relationship.
  9. Love is all it takes
  10. Sex is all it takes
  11. A relationship should always be effortless.

 

What about writing?

 

  1. It’s talent, not work.
  2. I don’t need to read other people’s writing.
  3. I can write the Great American Novel before I’ve published a short story.
  4. My first drafts should be as good as Steinbeck/Butler’s final drafts.
  5. I don’t have time to write.  It takes hours a day.
  6. A rejection slip means you can’t do it.

 

####

 

Ugh. I need mental floss just thinking about that toxic stew.

If you study people who have improved their life situations in one of these categories, you’ll see that their beliefs, behaviors and values are very different from those who never manage to change their circumstances for the better.

 

I’m willing to bet that ALL of you have shifted from negative to positive results in your lives, or observed people who have.

 

They didn’t just “get lucky”–some light bulb went on in their heads, and they began to act, feel, and focus differently.   Every day they did different things. And…their results began to shift.     Body (health and fitness), Relationships (with yourself, and your mate), Career (how you produce goods and services for your community), Finances (Saving and protecting the money you make).

 

Look at those four arenas.  Identify a mistake you used to make. What is it? Where did you get it?   When you improved, what new belief/perspective slid into place?

 

For instance:

 

WRITING:

Negative belief “You will fail and suffer if you try to become an artist” (from my Mom)

Positive belief:  “I would not be able to sustain the urge to be a writer if I didn’t have the potential.”

 

That new belief helped me counter my fear until I defined a path of action that would lead me to success.  There were similar negative and positive beliefs in the other arenas.

 

Can you name a negative belief you once had, where you got it, and what you changed it to, and the results you got?

 

  1. I wanted to be a writer
  2. My entire social context told me it was impossible
  3. I found role models who convinced me that it was work and focus, not luck or talent
  4. I worked my ass off for years, and succeeded.
  5. The grand irony: people telling me I was “lucky” or “talented”.

 

Oh, its fun.  And they do that to absolve themselves of the responsibility to focus their time and energy.   To that end, there really might be an innate talent: the ability to focus your attention over time.  Give them that, and they can acquire the ability to align their self-image, beliefs, and actions with their ultimate goals.

 

I will back that person against “talent” and “luck” for the creation of a happy, meaningful life any time.

 

 

Namaste

Steve

www.fiveminutelifehacks.com

The “Story Sifu” strikes again!

“I did it! I did it, sifu! Steven Barnes, I used your advice. I wrote a sentence one day. It was when I looked at it, a complete story. I found a market. It’s sold! Industry rates! I did it!”–Brian McNett

###

So wonderful to write, and read, and help other writers create.  Standing in the crossroads of the past and future of the field.

Thirty odd years ago, I realized that Campbell’s model of the Hero’s Journey could be applied to life. About twenty-five years ago, I saw that if you asked “how can I understand  the Hero?” and answered “use the Chakras” you could create a circle with an X and Y axis, the path of human development (climbing up the Chakras like Maslow’s Hierarchy) with the HJ as the journey.

 

 

Writers start out with a mind full of stories, and a desire to share them. The wall they run into is simply not knowing whose advice to take. There are thousands of books, lectures, courses, mentors who all say they have the Way to begin or improve a writing career.  To a degree, most of them are correct.  But ultimately you need to find just one or two of them to focus on, or you’ll be lost.

 

The most common complaint comes from people trying to write books without the organizational or emotional skills to finish the project. They can’t get past the “first draft” stage, the voices in their heads hammer at them.  They’ve got X amount of focus and creative energy, and their project is requiring X+Y resources.

 

The trick is to reduce the amount of daily work until it is below X.   Every month, you map out your path to AT LEAST one story.  Then, every day you write AT LEAST one sentence on that story.  If you find that at the end of the month you’ve only written two pages, then reduce the story size until it is just two pages.  Keep it up, at least a sentence a day.  FORCE YOURSELF to stick to just the one project until you learn to juggle.

 

Now…imagine that you are writing a story about a writer trying to write a story a month in a sentence a day.  Anything that happens to you, is happening to him.  Let’s say he has a problem.  Look at the Hero’s Journey and see where the difficulty lies.

 

  1. Confronted with Challenge.  The writer might not realize what they have to do to succeed.   They may not be clear on the fact that you have to stick with one project at a time, until sufficient discipline and facility is developed.
  2. Reject the Challenge. The writer might be afraid of failure (rejection), or success (change).  Isolating the reasons will suggest remedies.
  3. Accepting the Challenge. Writer commits to a sentence a day/story a month model.
  4. The Road of Trials.  Either they write a sentence a day, or they don’t. Either they shape it into a story a month, or they don’t.   FIND OUT PRECISELY WHAT IS STOPPING THEM.
  5. Allies and Powers.  Whatever is stopping them: fear, confusion, ADD, lack of organization, lack of role model, lack of focus,  lying to himself (NO ONE lacks the time to write a sentence a day!) or whatever…identify the problem.   Find people who have solved it. Study at least three, to find what they have in common. Do that.
  6. Confront Evil–Fail.   They will be unable ot begin, unable to finish, unable to research, unable to submit, unable to go on to the next project.  Get REJECTED.  Where is the breakdown? How does it devastated them?
  7. Dark Night of the Soul. How does it attack them emotionally?  What insecurities does the “failure” trigger?
  8. Leap of Faith. What is it that motivates the writer to keep going?   Clarity of values? Belief in self?  Meditation?  A writer’s circle? A mentor? The need to pay the bills?
  9. Confront Evil–succeed.  What is the definition of success?  IT MUST BE SOMETHING THE WRITER CAN CONTROL.   Becoming a writer of classics demands agreement of thousands of people.  Selling a story demands that ONE editor say “yes.” That…is just a numbers game.  THAT is a game you can win simply by focusing over time.
  10. Student Becomes the Teacher.  What is their next step? The higher level? Teaching? Working on a larger, more complex project?

 

Call ANYTHING that stops you from completing this cycle to be “writer’s block.”  And every time you see someone who has navigated it, see if you can determine how THEY traveled the ten steps. Every journey will be different, and every traveler sees different territory every time.

 

But you will find the pieces of the puzzle, explicitly or implicitly, EVERY TIME.  Ask questions.  Examine your own process.  Define a game you can win.

 

And then…win it.

 

 

Write with Passion!

Steve

(and…CONGRATULATIONS, Brian!)

www.lifewritingpremium.com

The Danger of “Woker Than Thou”

I had a friend. White guy.   Brilliant writer, Liberal activist.  Nominated for high awards in his field, but certain that he knew what was right.   In a discussion of black voters, he was certain that they were voting against their own intents in a particular sense.   When I suggested that he ask them what they wanted, he was so certain he knew what was right that the very suggestion seemed to agitate him.

This happened quite a bit. How dare I not accept he knew what was good for black people better than they did?  Or I did?   He just felt he knew, to the point that he denigrated black people who disagreed with him.   He actually stalked me around Facebook, arguing with me about everything I said, until one day I challenged his “wokeness” and reminded him that our first conversation had been about his decision to “whitewash” a character in a  literary work he wanted to adapt.   I’d understood his position, but it was hardly earning a certificate of Honorary Negritude.  He blocked me pretty fast, and that was the end of that friendship.

Oh, well.  Toxic is as toxic does.

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A couple of days ago I questioned a   meme about how Democrats don’t care about the safety of immigrant children, suggesting that the children themselves, and their parents, would be the best people to ask to determine what they want IF their welfare is the question.

 

Just today, in a conversation about arranged marriages in Islamic cultures, amid a bit of hand-wringing I suggested the same thing: talk to the women and see their opinions about it.

 

Oddly (to me) there was resistance to both notions.   I’m afraid that I don’t trust people who think they know what is good for you better than you do.  Sure, sometimes they are right, but some really ugly shit happens when people think they can torture you to death for the sake of your soul, enslave you to civilize you, rape you to teach you love, throw you in a re-education camp to make you a happier citizen.

 

Tell you that your culture is wrong.

 

Is “Stockholm Syndrome” a real thing?  Sure.  But slaves were taught they were subhuman, and they still ran away often enough that slave owners had to create “Draptomania” to explain why those pesky, unappreciative Negroes kept running away. Needed Night Riders and Fugitive Slave Laws and whipping runaways to death to stop it.  And former slaves joined the Union Army in droves to free their cousins and get payback.  And clearly documented the horrors they had suffered.

 

Talk to them.  Be sure you’re away from the thumb of the oppressor when you do it, and you might need to actually respect them, gain their trust and rapport.  But trust that people know what is good for them.

 

Otherwise, you risk playing the precise same game as someone who abuses you for your own good.  And that…is the road to monstrosity.

 

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People ask why I dialogue with snakes and monsters.  Can you really wonder when even my “allies” think they’re better than me?   Who the #$%% was I supposed to talk to, when I’ve always been  surrounded by this crap?

Also… I am committed to survival, and if tigers talked, it would be wise to speak to them.  Behind bars or with your rifle handy, of course.

 

Is there anything going on with immigration that hit me harder than, say, Trayvon Martin?  Nope.  Or a thousand other insults I heard about half the country excusing or even praising?  Nope.

 

So…I was supposed to spend my life in a sense of burning outrage?  Anyone want to guess what that would do to my blood pressure?  My sense of joy in life?   And unless I am applying those emotions directly to an action, would I be accomplishing anything other than killing myself young, as countless black men have for centuries?

 

Sorry, I won’t collaborate in my own destruction.   I’m sure that disappoints some of you, but that’s the biz.

 

If you are in a war…if the situation is real, life-threatening, not some bullshit game…

 

You stay calm. Gather information.  Know your opponents.  Train and nurture your troops.  Define victory. Built alliances.  Pick your battles.

 

And…love your family. Raise your children well.

 

Frankly, sometimes I watch people run around screaming, and wonder why they weren’t paying attention before. Precisely when was life great for everyone?   Where was this magical land and time?

 

If you are just waking up, congratulations and welcome to the real world.  But I woke up in first grade, when the white teachers sorted us into reading groups based on race.   A horrible thing for a child to realize, that young, that the people you are supposed to trust think you are sub-human because of your skin.  And these really were NICE people.  Just trying to help.   People have tried to get me to go back to sleep many many times. I won’t.   Now, I’m quite sure I’m oblivious about many topics.  I’d have to be.  But on this one…I’m pretty sure I’ve been paying attention.

But if you just woke up, please don’t assume I’m still dreaming.  I haven’t had that luxury since I was seven years old.

 

 

Namaste

Steve

www.realblackhorror.com