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.

Talking Afrofuturism with Elon Musk



At Elon Musk’s house last night.  Couple of weeks ago, I asked people what question they would ask one of the 100 richest and most influential men in the world.  Lots of interesting possibilities, but I was attracted to one comment: that all of his business ventures were vertically integrated around the goal of reaching Mars.  I had some private thoughts about that, but considered that a good line of inquiry.


Seeing that he was probably ( in a very specific sense) the most successful human being I’ve had the chance to dine with,  I thought I’d test some ideas I have about how PEOPLE become “vertically integrated”, their basic aspects aligned so that they don’t fight themselves.  We’ve all known people with intelligence, talent, energy, and opportunity who never accomplish anything.   The idea is that they are not “aligned” like human lasers.


Elon, no matter how smart he is, would HAVE to be aligned, or he simply couldn’t achieve what he had.

I was struck by how relaxed he was.  Lots of questions, no interest in dominating or controlling the conversation at all. From time to time he would snap his attention onto a subject (especially when it concerned Mars, or rockets) and then that depth and clarity one would expect flashed out.  Excellent.

I have other thoughts I’ll keep to myself.

The conversation ranged from A.I. ethics to global warming (Dr. Gregory Benford, who did some of the original research which was later lied about by a certain bestselling novelist, was at the table) to Mars (of course), to missile shields, comparative Soviet and American technology, intellectual property protect as a spur to innovation,  to the need for humanity to be aligned (vertical integration again!) to move into our future…

Wow. Smart talk.

The subject of the NASA Hieroglyph project, science fiction writers discussing Near-Earth space exploration in story form, and my own story MOZART ON THE KALAHARI came up.  Elon believes we are spending “enough” money in this arena (and an absurd excess on defense) but not spending it as effectively as we could.   Vertical integration again?


MOZART ON THE KALAHARI was specifically designed to address a question often asked by people concerned with earthly social issues: why should we spend money on space when there are so many problems right here on Earth to deal with?


My answer: because as important as answers are, we also need dreams.  We need a vision of possibility, of life beyond any current pain or problem.   Dreams keep us alive. They sustain us.  Remind us WHY we struggle and strive.  Survival is for insects. Human beings need to believe they can THRIVE and GROW.


Science fiction is this.

And Afrofuturism is the science fiction and fantasy boiling out of the African Diaspora. “Human beings have always projected their dreams and nightmares into story” I said.  “It helps us wrap our minds around them, gives perspective and mastery, engages our problem-solving apparatus.”

Amazing evening, really. And strengthened my belief that properly aligned (vertically?) a relatively small number of people can change the world.   So my goal…of 1 million awake, aware, adult human beings, is stronger than ever. As is my commitment to supporting one thousand awake, aware, adult storytellers.


Whether you want to be one of them, support one of them, or just learn to appreciate them at a deeper level, you’ll love the AFROFUTURISM: DREAMS TO BANISH NIGHTMARES class Tananarive and I are teaching. Ten weeks starting on March 25th, and we have a special “Early Bird” price for another five days.  Don’t miss this amazing experience!  WWW.AFROFUTURISMWEBINAR.COM



Write with Passion!


Thoughts on “Get Out” (2017)

Good Lord.

GEt out.jpgJordan Peele’s “Get Out” is at 100% on RT. All the time T and I were shopping “My Soul To Keep” or “The Good House” we were told again and again there was no really successful black horror. “Can we change the race of the leads?” was the most common question. “Can we remove the social subtext?” was woven into every conversation, every development process.

I gritted my teeth.

When I was 30, I knew that the world wasn’t quite ready for me. That I might have to wait another thirty years or more before America moved far enough beyond past social realities (the legacy of slavery and segregation) and demographics such that I could speak my truth to a large enough audience to make a case to Hollywood that a major film would succeed–and trust me, the only language Corporations speak is money.


Well, if “Get Out” succeeds, it is another amazing step. Like “Black Panther” and “Django Unchained” it literally fills in image systems that have been gaps in the cinematic/cultural lexicon, pointing out a path of success.

The conversation will change: “oh! It’s like `Get Out’, only with X.” Yeah, that’s it. I knew that if I could keep my heart alive, treated this as a marathon rather than a sprint, I could outlast the fear and the monsters sufficiently to find a Tribe willing to hear my songs. The only question was: would I be too tired, too beaten down to see the opportunities?  Scar tissue is inflexible.  Emotional scar tissue is perceptual tunnel vision.

Would I be able to see the opportunities,  be so wounded by failures, defeats, betrayals and accidental slights that I wouldn’t be able to see allies, mentors, and potentials all around me?   Bitterness is a poison to the soul.


So I decided to love life.   To be strong enough to be soft.  Embraced yoga, martial arts, meditation, and the company of people of all races and political persuasions, if they were wiling to see my humanity.  Took my three years in Georgia as a chance to see that yes, the South is both wounded and anchored to its history, and eager to move beyond it, almost desperate to be forgiven and accepted as human…and to see that that “Southern Hospitality” really is a beautiful and genuine thing.


To forgive my country for not living up to its promises. To love human beings for being imperfect, and therefore be able to forgive myself for being afraid. To give myself permission to fail. To find the faith to get up again, and again, and yet again…


Knowing that this day would come.   People think it absurd to be so excited about watching a black guy in a cat suit sprint through traffic.  They have never stood in my shoes, never understood what it was to watch “When Worlds Collide” and see only white people saved from extinction, and know the filmmakers didn’t give a damn what it felt like to be a black kid watching that.   To be able to predict that Paul Winfield would be eaten by cockroaches in “Damnation Alley” because the audience wouldn’t want to see him compete for the last woman in the world.


Countless times I’ve been told to shut up, stop talking about these things.  People have tried to gaslight me. Tell me to be ashamed of being a Social Justice Warrior or even have the temerity to try to define the term to denigrate it.

Screw them.

I will define myself.   I know who I am, better than you possibly could.  And if you try to define me, I know I know myself better than you know YOURSELF.   Had you any real self-knowledge, you’d lack the stupendous ego to think you can define others.  Or the fear to need to.

I am not my scars.  Not my disappointments, not my pain, not my fear, not my anger.  As a forest is the space between the trees, I am the space in which these emotions and events have occurred.  So long as I keep my ego small, I don’t crash into the obstacles, can navigate in the clear space.


I am love, not fear.  Love for my own soul, my dreams, my family and friends, my community, my country, my world.  THIS is why a gentle boy spent forty years learning how to kill people.  To be able to offer peace to anyone who would extend a hand to me.


“Get Out” is “The Stepford Negroes”, a meditation on the fear of assimilation, fear that hatred lurks behind the smiles.  Built on real concerns, it would seem (I’ve yet to see it) to do what great horror, fantasy and science fiction does: externalize our dreams and nightmares so that we can wrap our minds around them.  To water the poison until it makes you dizzy rather than sick.


Jordan Peele survived, and has questions about how and why and what next.   I am so proud of him.  And of myself.

I survived too, dammit.  I’m still here.  And seeing a world that some part of me doubted I’d ever see.  I managed to tamp those voices down, but they were always there. Oh yes, they were.

I survived.




The Hope and the Dream of the Slave

In many ways, the best and strongest man I’ve ever known is Steve Muhammad, my beloved karate instructor.  Not only a man of devastating physical skills, an innovative genius, fierce competitor, inspiring teacher and devoted family man, but a creature of deep spirit and vast compassion.   With more street experience than any four other people I know, he is also gentle and humble, a combination that still boggles my mind.


From the first moment I saw him at a Martial Arts Expo in about 1974, performing a mass attack skit where four students came at him and he responded with an explosion of speed, power and precision that blew my mind, I knew I wanted to sit at his feet and learn.  What I didn’t realize was that THE DEMO WAS UNREHEARSED.    Years later I got to participate in one, and he simply said: “come at me” to all of us.  And he took us out with absolute control, his punches, kicks, palm strikes and elbows coming within a breath of our skin, kissing our uniforms in machine-gun rhythm…without hurting us.

I’d wondered for decades: HOW COULD HE BE SO STRONG?   And one day, about seven years ago, I found out.

As a child, Steve had been raised in Mississippi by his grandparents, who had been slaves.  Suddenly, it hit me. Dear God. THAT experience had burned away all that was false.  All the lies. All the “First World Problems.” There are two reactions to such stress, really.  It breaks you, husks you, cripples you for generations…or the heat and pressure transforms you into a diamond. The majority are broken. But some few…


Suddenly, I grasped that under stress, the few who manage to stand up, to shine, to maintain their humanity, have a knowledge of self, a clarity of their values, that can be shaken by no lesser power.   The 99% will be crushed, diminished, driven to lower their eyes and dull their dreams, crippled by fear and hatred…


But those who maintain their humanity are amazing, with near-divine gifts to offer those who will listen: how did I survive? What is true? Who am I?  How can you protect your soul in the midst of chaos?

Oppressed populations reliably under-perform. But they also produce some of the finest music, art, athletics, and spirituality on the planet.   THEY DO WHAT THEY CAN. THEY THRIVE WHERE THEY CAN.  They love each other desperately,  nurture their children and grandchildren, believing in “milk and honey on the other side,” encoding their wrath in fables, channeling their suicidal/homicidal urges into their dance and prayer, finding small joys to warm their hearts as they somehow survive from generation to generation…slaves becoming sharecroppers, who become servants, who become merchants and teachers…who become doctors and lawyers…who become scientists, politicians…and storytellers.


They take the fantasies and mythologies, blend them with a burgeoning understanding of the universe around them, and the technology that explores it, and add their own rhythms, creating what the outer world called Science Fiction and Fantasy…and they themselves began to call AFROFUTURISM.


And just as Science Fiction has always both expressed human dreams and driven our inquiry, the version of this phenomenon that grew from the depths of black pain, keeping alive the spark until the laws and cultures changed and allowed us to speak our truth more openly, contains lessons that could not be spoken openly until after the fall of Jim Crow, the end of Segregation, the passing of the Voting Rights act, the birth of a generation unafraid of lynchings and oppression.


When I was ten years old, my mother, who had grown up in the segregated south, whose childhood had been darkened by the shadows of dangling black men, told me: “Steven, if you show white people how smart you are, they will kill you.”


The terror of that statement haunted me. Drove me into the martial arts, where I found a man strong enough to lend that strength to me, so that I could have the courage to create my own dreams, and lend them to a younger generation so that they could stand on my shoulders, see further and imagine a world where children could play together and work together and build together, judging one another not by the color of their skin, or even the content of their character, but on their capacity to create a bridge to a future brighter than any of them had ever known.


The wisdom passed to me is beyond my understanding, but a part of my bones.  How to deal with fear, and pain. How to stop hatred and resentment from poisoning you.  HOW TO LIVE WITH LOVE, AND HOPE, NO MATTER WHAT CHAOS AND DANGER SURROUNDS YOU.


Lessons for our time.  Available to all with eyes to see and ears to hear.


The AFROFUTURISM: DREAMS TO BANISH NIGHTMARES class is a distillation of everything my dear, brave, brilliant wife  and I have learned about art, creativity, extrapolation, fantasy, and personal evolution. It will twine art and science together into a braid that cannot be broken.  You may have a story to write.  A screenplay to finish.  Want to understand what drove an Octavia Butler or Chip Delany or God help me…a Steven Barnes or Tananarive Due.  We will watch movies, study art and poetry, spend ten weeks walking in the footsteps of masters and ask YOU to find the dreams that sustain you, ask you to refine them, teach you to express them, share them with the world at a time we need them most.


I’ve been working toward this for twenty years, and its here.  Join us.  Be a part of a movement to be an awake, aware, adult human being by grounding your feet in reality while simultaneously reaching for the stars.

The future is ours, yours, our childrens…if you can keep your dreams alive, understand that we all aspire to the same things…and never stop fighting to create magic in your life


We have a special discount price for just the remainder of Black History Month.  If you are in total financial emergency, reach out to us and tell us what you can afford and we’ll do all we can to help you.  If you can afford to donate a scholarship for a needy student, please do so.

You can make a difference.  WE can make a difference.  Every one of you, black and white and yellow and brown…if you are a brother or sister in this struggle…YOU are the hope and the dream of the slave.






Afrofuturism: Dreams to Banish Nightmares

(Steve here!  I was going to be talking to you about this new class, but T’s essay on the subject just knocked me out.  So I thought I’d let her speak!)Afrofutures .png

I often introduce myself by saying “I teach Afrofuturism at UCLA” but some of you are wondering: what does that mean?  Afrofuturism, or black speculative arts, bends reality—either in time or space, magic, or technology, often blending the past, present and future to present ANOTHER WAY OF BEING. Whether it’s the books of Octavia E. Butler or the music of George Clinton or Janelle Monae or films like Julie Dash’s “Daughters of the Dust” or Black Panther—Afrofuturism shows us a portal to another world, a different reality—one that is often empowering, or sometimes frightening.

            Afrofuturism isn’t just escape—although reading, music and film are a great way to escape our new political realities, to RENEW and REFRESH and find INSPIRATION. But more than that, Afrofuturism and black speculative arts help us map our way through challenges that are both new and as old as time.

            In the short story “The Space Traders” by the late Derrick Bell (there’s a film adaptation by the Hudlin Brothers currently up on YouTube “Cosmic Slop: The Space Traders”), aliens come to Earth and offer the United States riches and technology IF…they will agree to trade away all black Americans. As a lawyer and one of the pioneers of critical race theory, Derrick Bell could use precedents from the past to create a credible story in which American voters using a 900 line would actually vote to send black citizens away.

            I was teaching that story at UCLA during the election—and as Steve and I were just discussing with Reggie Hudlin, the fall election reminded me a lot of “The Space Traders”—populations traded away in exchange for hopes of prosperity.

            The late, great Octavia Butler’s name is on our lips more as we remember the lessons she tried to teach us in her novels Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents. (I’ve blogged about the lessons from Octavia that can be applied to protest movements.)

            I often tweet out the books, films and music we’re studying in my UCLA class, and people say: “Can I have your syllabus?” and I’ve really been shy about that—it always feels like a work in progress, and there are so many artists who COULD be included but aren’t.

            But now I’m ready to team up with my husband, black science fiction pioneer Steven Barnes, to present a 10-week webinar course: “Afrofuturism: Dreams to Banish Nightmares.”

            This won’t just be a course where we watch movies and read literature and listen to music, though we will do all of those things—it’s mostly about the LIVING relationship between world-building in Afrofuturism and world-building in real life. In other words, how do we best dream a better world? What makes these great works so powerful? How can I create powerfully as an artist in my own right? And if I’m not an artist, but I’m more of an activist, what lessons can I learn from artists like Octavia Butler to help fuel Movement?

            The course will include excerpts from an interview Steve and I did with Octavia where she talked about what she wanted to accomplish in her work, and how theme can help create a social justice message. We’re also lining up a FANTASTIC group of artists: Cheo Hodari Coker, the showrunner and creator of Netflix’s LUKE CAGE series that BROKE THE INTERNET as so many people flocked to see a bulletproof black man in a hoodie. And Oscar winning producer Reggie Hudlin, who wrote The Black Panther animated series on BET and co-produced Django Unchained. Jamie Broadnax of Black Girls Nerds, who’s helping to teach Hollywood the importance of black geeks and nerds, helping us flex our buying power. AND SO MANY MORE great artists, many of whom are our friends, to really unpack the WORLD-CHANGING POWER OF AFROFUTURISM RIGHT NOW, in the present.

            I’ve never taught this course outside of UCLA, but it’s time. The class will have its own syllabus with suggested reading, films, music and art—but FAR MORE GUESTS.

Our live webinars will be IDEA-BASED and interactive as Steve as I, as both artists and teachers, join forces with you to DREAM A BETTER WORLD and CREATE A COMMUNITY IN THIS ONE.

And it couldn’t be easier to take part: the webinars will be live on Saturdays starting March 25th, but if you can’t make the live sessions, you get the full video of every lecture to watch on your own time. If you miss a lecture, no problem—catch up when you can.

As we’ve done in past webinars, we have an INTRODUCTORY PRICE for just a few days: So there’s a special price until March 1, then it goes up to the full price.

Check out our website at www.afrofuturismwebinar.com – I couldn’t believe that was still free, but it was. www.afrofuturismwebinar.com Check it out today.

You’ll find more information and your link to HOLD YOUR SPOT at the early-bird price. 

“What if I write novels?”

“Hi Steve, I just watched your video on getting that first sale. It was a good video, except your advice on writing 100 stories and sending them out and you will get your first sale – well, I’m not sure it would apply in my case, because I write novels, not short stories. It will take me a lifetime to write 100 novels, to be honest. I have written 4 novels, self published three of them.”

I have heard countless variations on this theme, and my answer is always the same: if you haven’t published AND BEEN PAID FOR ten short stories, you are missing a critical developmental step, one that can cripple your career.   It is like saying: “I want to be able run a marathon. I’ve never run. How can I run 23 miles?”

Ummm…by first running around the track.  Tomorrow, run twice.  Add one lap every day that you can, and get back to me when you are at five miles.

It is one of the most basic errors new writers make. Self-publication has made it possible to skip this step, and some people do this with success. They need a different coach. I’ve seen too many fail this way, and in too many cases they took this path because of fear of rejection, or wanting to take a short cut.

My path is slow, and steady, and works.   So far as I know, every time.   If you want to write novels, great!   Novels are where you get paid. Short stories are where you learn your craft.  EVERYTHING you need to know how to write a novel is in the seed form of short stories, including all the tactical and strategic elements of marketing.  If necessary, write stories set in the universe of your novel, with characters from the novel.  THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS AN IDEA WITH AN INTRINSIC LENGTH.  ONLY THE TREATMENT OR EXPRESSION OF AN IDEA HAS AN INTRINSIC LENGTH.

I have never heard a single solid reason not to start with stories, but know a dozen solid reasons not to.  And I’ve heard hundreds of excuses.   I will never accept even one of them.

What if you write screenplays?  WRITE SHORT FILMS. The advantage?  You can actually MAKE a short film by writing a one-act play set in a single indoor location, and getting actors from the local community college to perform for you.  Film it on a damned Iphone, or a video camera rented for a single day for $35 bucks.

You will learn HUGELY more by writing 100k of short stories than you ever would by writing a 100k novel.   Seriously–I’ve watched this for over forty years.   I suspect I’ll continue to have this opinion until the day I die.

Write with passion!


(fear really is a career killer.  If you want a copy of the lecture T and I recorded on fear and writing, drop me a line at stevebarnescoach.gmail.com with “No Fear” in the subject line!)






Winning the Inner War

A reader made a very reasonable  statement dealing with negative emotions: that even after you find the answers, you have to keep fighting every day.


I’d say yes…and no.   That the SPECIFIC issues you deal with can, once you’ve found the right approach, be subsumed under a larger category of “emotions” that you are guiding into a healthy balance. The specifics don’t need to come up again and again and again.


The trick is that you need a Daily Ritual.   It could be meditation, prayer, affirmation, action of some kind, visualizations…there are many approaches. You know that mine is a combination of MOVEMENT, EMOTION, AND FOCUS, designed to check in on ALL your emotions and be sure that they are lining up to support your short and long term outcomes: body, mind, and spirit all moving in the same direction.


So long as you are getting the result you want: living your life on your terms, in your way, in such a manner to be happy, healthy and evolving toward your destiny, contributing to the world in a way that heals and expands your heart.


I DON’T CARE WHAT IT IS.  I just want you to have the life you want.  But you need to grasp: the work is never complete.  In John Steinbeck’s wonderful memoir “Once There Was A War” he described the expression on the face of a naval cook, as if he is just realizing that there is “no way to feed a man once and for all.”




And that’s how you need to be. Every day. EVERY SINGLE DAY, you need to do the things that will protect, heal, and advance your body, mind, and spirit.   That ritual, whatever it is, is designed to keep you on the road of integration and progress.  The only measure of success is non-dogmatic: DOES IT WORK?  Are you able to take another step on the road, with joy and satisfaction?   Is fear in its proper place in your life: motivating you to action?  Or does it stand between you and your dreams?  If so, dig deeper.   Talk to people who have succeeded in turning their demons into allies. THEY EXIST.    “Put your fear behind you, your love in front of you, and run like hell” is a perfect expression of this.


It’s your life.   Own it.  Every day that you eat you should exercise, play, and perform a ritual of emotion, action and focus that aligns your emotions so that you are a spiritual being with a logical mind driven by emotions on an animal chassis.   Nothing, no reward, is worth selling out your own dreams. There is no safety if you won’t stand up for yourself.  Love yourself, protect yourself, like a Mommy Tiger protecting her cub. There is no one else to do it.


Be the hero in the adventure of your lifetime!





(if you would like a copy of the terrific conversation T and I had about fear and writing, drop me an email at: stevebarnescoach@gmail.com.  Put NO FEAR in the subject line, and I’ll tell you how you can get it TODAY!)

F.E.A.R. and Writing

images.jpgRecently, Tananarive and I asked the Lifewriting community what you really wanted from us, to help you reach your dreams. And overwhelmingly, you said “help dealing with fear.”

And I get it. Fear, which manifests as depression, aversion/avoidance, writer’s block, despair, discouragement, self-loathing, and any number of other secondary emotions or states, has killed more careers than lack of ability ever could.

The first step is to admit that the problem is real. To be able to say: “I am afraid, and it’s hurting me.” Then you can seek the tools, techniques, and perspectives to deal with it.  You can start to cope, and seeks ways to let go of the guilt and confusion.

In my own life, I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to have my career. My mother burned my stories.  Everyone I knew (with a couple of wonderful exceptions, thank God!) told me I couldn’t do it.  I’d never met a professional writer in my life.  And if I hadn’t admitted that I was afraid, hadn’t confessed and sought the way through it, I’d have given up my dreams, would never have published thirty novels or written for OUTER LIMITS or won an NAACP Image award.  Never in a thousand years.  Fear is the dream-killer.

So T and I had a very serious conversation on this topic, how it has affected us, and what is really going on, and how we’ve helped our students with this.  And…we recorded that conversation.  For the first time, we’re really diving into this tricky, painful issue.   T and I have created something honest and powerful to help you deal with it.

We’ve been writing a combined total of OVER A CENTURY (gulp!) and every critical thing we know about that emotion is in this little course.  If you’re interested, just send me an email at stevebarnescoach@gmail.com.  Put “Fear” in the subject line, so I’ll know we’re on the same page.

‘Cause believe me: I’ve been where you are.

Write with Passion!


These two traits will kill your dreams

There are two things I’ve noticed which, in combination, doom dreams.   Together, they are a predictor of failure at a level of certainty that is scary.  Here are the two things:

  1. Dishonesty
  2. Inability to keep your word.


Now, the two are obviously connected. “Dishonesty” means not only lying to others, but lying to yourself.   THESE are connected as well.  We lie to others because we tell ourselves: “it is better to be dishonest about X.   I will experience less pain and more pleasure if I do.”  There are circumstances where this is true, of course.   If a mugger asks you if you have any more money, and you have a thousand dollars in a money belt, you have zero responsibility to respond honestly.  But in general circumstances, the habit of lying is based on self-deception, and that means a distortion of your reality map: you literally do not understand the world around you, aren’t learning from your mistakes, and can become lost in what my old friend Lee Taylor’s mom used to call a “crazy maze of lies.”




Not being able to keep your word to other people is connected to not being able to keep it to yourself. The power to DECIDE.  To say “I will Y” and then be able to RELY on your capacity to do this, is critical as well.  If you have a weakness here, one of the following may be true:

  1. You misjudge the situation or your capacities, making promises you cannot keep rather than being honest and saying “I cannot or will not accept that responsibility.”
  2. You are unclear on the negative consequences of past promise-breaking, such that you minimalize the pain, and hallucinate that it doesn’t mean anything.
  3. You are unclear on your own motivations and intentions, such that it is easy for you to lie to yourself and say it doesn’t matter, that NOT losing weight, changing a bad habit, writing, finishing and marketing 100 stories is a minor matter, and won’t impact your life.  That avoidance of the temporary discomfort is more important than the accomplishment.


In combination, these two will destroy your dreams.  We tell our children these things, but accept it when they creep into our adult lives.  THIS IS THE DEATH OF DREAMS.


We make excuses for our failures

We hallucinate that we “tried everything” when we really tried two or three approaches, then quit.

We blame the environment: the “industry”, the “economy”, the “statistics” about this or that…without looking at the people who succeeded despite these things.  Consider them anomalous, rather than looking at the fact that we have stumbled off the path.


How to correct these two core errors?  The first is that we must DESTROY the illusion that it doesn’t matter. That there is more pleasure than pain in allowing them to erode our lives.


  1. Connect with your ultimate outcome.   Writing that book, getting that movie made, publishing a story, supporting yourself as a writer…whatever it is.  WRITE IT DOWN.
  2. Connect to the EMOTIONS that power the outcome.  WHY do you want it?  All of the joy you will experience if you do, all the pain and disappointment you will experience if you don’t.  FEEL BOTH OF THEM.
  3. Study the lives of people who have accomplished your intention.   NO path, NO system of action guarantees success.   Great martial artists lose street fights.  Parachutes fail to open.  Expert mathematicians make mistakes. But it is foolishness to say that studying self-defense, using a parachute, or studying math are not paths to increased probability of success. That’s all we can do.  Prepare, but also understand that there is no certainty.
  4. Choose a joyful path.  One which has rewards in and of itself.  ENJOY THE JOURNEY. The brotherhood of others on the path. The joy of discovery. The satisfaction of a healthful discipline.  The knowledge that you are leading by example, that you are BEING the change you wish to see in the world, providing congruent leadership for your children and community.


And…love yourself.   Believe in yourself.   Know that the “dark night” will come, inevitably. This is why “the machine” concentrates on the individual steps, and suggests that you write, finish, and submit 100 stories before you question your process.  That you write 1-4 per month, so that by the time one is rejected, you are on to the next, and you can feel BOTH the pain of rejection AND the satisfaction of knowing you are one of the few with the focus to keep going.


That by studying the lives of other writers you know that rejection is just a part of the process.   That the greatest ball players in history miss the pitch 2/3 of the time.   That’s just the way it is.  If you know this ahead of time, BEFORE you begin, you get to ask yourself:

  1. Am I willing to handle this pain and rejection?
  2. Can I trust myself to keep going, to keep my promise to myself to write 1-4 stories a month UNTIL I’VE FINISHED 100 STORIES?


If you can speak the truth, and keep your promise to yourself…if you can see the path clearly, and prepare for the pain BEFORE it gets here…


You will be one of those the newbies look up to with wonder, with shining eyes, and say: “how did you do it?” roiling in their own fear and uncertainty, concealing their doubt with lies and false ego.  And you will be able to tell them that yes, it is worth the pain.  It is worth the discipline. That there is NOTHING in life as important as becoming who you are.  Nothing.


And there never will be.




What can I do for YOU?

One thing creators rarely consider is what the audience/customers want. Our attitude is often: “I’ll TELL you what you want.” That’s fine for the artist part of our personalities. But the BUSINESS part has to ask the opposite question: “what do YOU want?” and then provide it. When these circles overlap, you have both personal and professional success. If you find the right audience, what they want, and what YOU want to provide, fit each other very nicely. The sweet spot. I want to ask you guys right now: I’m ready to create a little mini-course on some aspect of writing.  The “Machine” is the overall structure of a writing career, and ANY problem you have will be on one stage or another. If you follow it, you will simply succeed:


  1. Write at least one sentence every day
  2. Write 1-4 stories a month
  3. Finish what you write
  4. Submit them, continue to submit until you sell.
  5. Don’t re-write except to editorial request
  6. Read 10X what you write
  7. Continue for 100 stories.


The theory: ANY problem in your career is a failure to take one of these steps.   And once you understand the strategy? Most of the reasons are EMOTIONAL.


Let’s apply “Lifewriting” and look at this “Machine” from the perspective of the Hero’s Journey.

  1. Have you accepted the REALITY of this map to success?  What do you argue with, and why?
  2. Have you dealt with the FEAR related to any step to step?  Which step triggers the greatest discomfort and why?
  3. Have you accepted the RESPONSIBILITY to navigate this map?   Which steps have you rejected, and why?
  4. Do you have a DAILY/WEEKLY/MONTHLY program of work that will take you to your goal?  If not, why not?  If you break down, where does it happen?
  5. Do you MODEL work and strategy  of better writers?  Do you have a circle of MENTORS, ADVISORS, AND PEERS to support and evaluate your work?
  6. Are you prepared for the INEVITABLE FAILURES AND DISAPPOINTMENTS you will encounter along the way?
  7. When you hit the “Dark night of the soul” depression and confusion, what do you do to snap out of it?  What WILL you do next time?
  8. What do you need to have greater faith, gratitude for, to move through the negative emotions?  Yourself?  Your teachers, mentors, and peers?  A higher purpose in life?
  9. When you take action and WIN, how do you celebrate?
  10. How do you choose your next challenge, or the next step in your process, the “higher level”.


Note: ANY interruption in ANY  step of “the Machine” should be considered WRITER’S BLOCK.

Not writing

Not finishing

Not submitting

Not constantly improving

Not continuing the cycle until you succeed.


Anything that CREATES the interruption must be questioned, healed, rooted out…or it will destroy your dreams.  So I ask you…right here in the comments: please TELL ME where in this process your breakdown is, what you want me to address in my next mini-course, and I’ll get right on it.  I want YOU to succeed!


HERE is a link to a one-minute survey you can take if you prefer to tell me anonymously:


Write with Passion!


If you can’t trust people, who can you trust?

(modified, from 2008)


We can’t predict the future behavior of others, but I remember something one of my teachers said: “Do not trust people. Instead rely upon them. Rely upon them to do whatever it is they consider to be in their own self-interest.” The only way to do that is to be able to determine what that self-interest is. And in my mind, the only way you can possibly do that is to know yourself. To look fearlessly at your own flaws and fuck-ups and take responsibility for them, to get real about the way you’ve lied and sold yourself out… or stood up for yourself and been courageously honest in the face of pain and disappointment.



If you take responsibility for all three aspects of your life, you have a good chance to see right through other people’s B.S., because you’ll know all the rationalizations. Over and over again, I’ve had people with weight problems straight-up lie about being “unable” to lose weight because of physical issues, when eventually it turned out the problems were really emotional. A student recently emailed me, confessing that when she loses weight her sex drive increases, and her husband’s lack of sexual interest frustrates her more deeply, risking their marriage. In other words, she slows herself down to remain hobbled to a man with low energy.

I’ve run into versions of that many, many times. But here’s the trick: I’d bet ANYTHING that there are parallels in the domain of money and relationships: people who blame external circumstances for lack of financial success, but actually cripple themselves out of resentment, fear, or programming. It isn’t the economy: in the worst economies, the top 20% are still doing fine. The real question is: why aren’t YOU in the top 20% of your field?

Or ladies who say that there are more women than men, and that’s why they’re not in a relationship. Really? All that does is explain why X percentage of your group is unmarried, NOT why YOU are one of them. Stats don’t have that much to do with the individual.

(You know the joke: “I don’t have to outrun the bear.  I just have to outrun YOU.”)

But I suspect it is miles easier to blame genetics, or the economy, or gender statistics, or racial statistics or whatever than it is to examine your own motivations, beliefs, values, and actions. So easy. For one thing, when you stop behaving like a typical member of your group, you lose your protective coloration. You stand out and become a target.

You take the chance of being alone. The trouble is that we are all “alone” and the “protective coloration” is just an illusion. I am male, American, of mixed ethnicity, a writer, etc…. but all of these are just interesting labels. If I hide behind any of them, I inherit not just their strengths but limitations. It is simple: in terms of playing the game of life, either you take responsibility or you do not. Life doesn’t care. You can be happy, healthy, and successful, but the doorway to adult rewards comes from adult responsibilities. And the instant you blame society, your family, or your genetic circumstances for anything that can be modified by action, you are being a child. Adults realize that they are all that stands between the next generations and chaos, and that they are going to die… and vow that their death, and therefore their life, will have meaning. That that meaning will be found in their actions.

If you can’t admit the ways in which you sell yourself short, lie to yourself, are asleep, you cannot rise to your greatest level, and walk the world awake and alert. Complaining about injustices is one thing. Suggesting that those injustices control how you feel about life is quite another. Every day, you have to polish your perceptual lens, and take responsibility for living fully and honestly. Either you make that commitment, or you allow the external world to control your internal experience. And that is one of the great existential fallacies.

Who you are to yourself influences the way you are with others. The lies you tell yourself will blind you to the lies others tell to you. The more honest you are with yourself, the harder it is to be conned.

-Steve Barnes,