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.

The Power Is In The Process

A fine writer was recently complaining about a book he’d finished that was heavily criticized by an editor. Major revisions were requested, and he didn’t know whether to make them, or self-publish, or even give up his career.


There was real despair and discouragement there, and this is someone who has published over a dozen pieces of work, not a “Newbie.”   My suggestion was to remember that all writers, all experts in any field have failures, and also that a single editor’s opinion is NOT an absolute statement on the worth of a work…let alone the potential of a career.


So…stay on the path.  Keep writing.   There were specific issues that could be addressed, but the most important had nothing to do with the specific book. They had to do with the process followed to build a career.


There was no difference between this situation and a horrible sales cycle, or a bad print review. Both trigger discouragement and doubt.


Remember the Hero’s Journey? It says, CLEARLY, that if you are moving from one stage of your life to the next, you will fail, and enter the “Dark Night of the Soul”.  That the way through this is “The Leap of Faith”…faith in yourself, or a higher power, or your companions.  If you don’t take this leap, you fall back and repeat the cycle, only this time you might well have even less energy: your failure to go forward creates even more doubt, which syphons off the very energy you need to make the leap.


A descending spiral which leads many of us to abandon our dreams.

What is worse is that we have little demons that WANT us to fail.  Want to fail at the gym?  Constantly put more weight on the bar than you can lift.  Lift more often than you can recover from. You could have the potential to be the best in the world, and if you make this single mistake, you will screw yourself totally.


The answer?  Keep going.  Focus on your outcome. Model the behaviors of others who have made the journey (faith in your companions). Remember past accomplishments, and the fact that you felt doubt there as well (faith in yourself).  Notice your results without being attached to them, and maintain behavioral and conceptual flexibility.


Use “small cycle” thinking. Rather than spending years on a massive quarter-million word work that took years to complete, write short stories, where the investment of emotion, time, and energy is so small that if you fail you can laugh at it. This is exactly like a boxer who gets knocked out in the championship fight having a few “small fights” in the hinterlands to build confidence back up and try out new approaches.  Take the pressure off.


But the core of it is: keep your eyes on your outcome, tap into your most positive emotions, and work your butt off, doing TODAY what needs to be done TODAY and trusting (Faith) that one step at a time will take you up the mountain.


This is why a “Morning Ritual” of physical, mental, and emotional power is so essential. That triple braid creates a lifeline.  For just ten to twenty minutes a day you are totally connected.  And slowly, you will begin to notice how you have to move, think, speak, focus and behave to have the positive emotions that lead to the consistent actions along a defined path.

And…you’ll start getting different result. Better results.  And your faith will deepen. You’ll take more actions, leading to better results. An ascending spiral.


The failures, disappointments, betrayals and setbacks WILL happen.  There is ZERO question about this. Deal with that reality, or lose your dreams.


Better still…deal with it in advance.  Every morning. Every day.  Connect with your vision, your passion, your faith in your path.


Then…reap the results.



Write with Passion!




What are you offering the world?

I’ve mentioned that my friend Otis was homeless at one time, and living in an abandoned apartment behind my house.  He was lonely, and I remember one day he rather miserably said:

“I don’t understand why I can’t get a girlfriend.”

Such grief in his voice.  I said, “well, tell me what it is you feel you have to offer a woman.”

“I’m loyal, and honest, and warm. I listen, I’m supportive, and kind.”

I didn’t want to hurt him, but the words just tumbled out:  “she can get all of that from one of her girlfriends. What is the specifically MASCULINE quality that will motivate her to project her specifically FEMININE qualities? What is you demonstrable power?  Your ability to build a nest?”

He looked at me as if I was speaking Martian.

Otis knew something about everything, a wide-ranging, fine mind. But he had never, ever focused that mind and those emotions to produce any result a kid in high school couldn’t have done.  No power.

Nothing to trade for beauty.  And because he was physically unbeautiful himself, he had nothing to trade to find and hold a woman he would want, and it was painful to watch unfold, year after year, decade after decade, until in time his health collapsed, and he died.

Those are the only options: either trade power for beauty, or make an even-steven trade across the board.  What I very rarely see is HER power for HIS beauty. And what I’ve never ever seen is a total mis-match, where one has both and the other has neither.  Not even once, although people have told me of such unicorn relationships.


I use his name because I don’t want my friend to have died for nothing.  I see aspects of Otis’ story in so many otherwise intelligent and good people.   They never develop their power, and then wonder why they can’t get the results from life they crave.


Let me put this in the adult-child framework:   they never grew up. Never fully developed their adult selves.  Because if you do ANYTHING long enough, with emotion behind it, you will gain experience. And if you pay attention, you will travel. And if you ever had a specific outcome in mind, you’ll notice if you are getting closer or further away. If you learn to control your fear, you will overcome obstacle after obstacle, and eventually reach at least the short and medium-range versions of your goal. And then, all you have to do to earn a living is guide people along the path you’ve walked, so long as you have been heading somewhere someone wants to go.




If there is a single thing I’m trying to nail for Jason in our five-minute morning sessions, it is the concept of “Atomic” “Fractal” goal setting.  It is:


  1. Knowing your outcome clearly (“What”)
  2. Knowing your “Why”–the emotionalized reasons why you want this thing.
  3. Knowing the “How”, the specific steps to accomplish it, and what the most important thing you must do TODAY to accomplish it.


Today fits into your plan for this week, which fits into your plan for the month, which fits into the plan for the year, the decade, and your life.


If you can see the clear connection between the long-term overall life plan and the actions you take on a daily basis…you have it whipped.


Ultimate Outcome: Joy

Long Term Outcome: A life spent in blissful “Flow State” as much as possible


To do this, I must avoid pain as much as possible. That means fullfilling my obligations to family and society. This means I must make money doing something that brings me joy and puts me in flow state. Writing is a great example of this.


Long Term Outcome (clarified): To be a successful professional writer.

Ten year goal: Ten novels

Five year goal: Five novels

One year goal: One novel

Quarterly goal: First Draft of novel.


If I were unpublished, my one year goal might be:


One year goal: Selling a story.

Quarterly goal: 1-4 stories a month.  4-12 stories

Monthly goal: 1-4 stories finished and submitted

Weekly goal: 1 story.


The more important your goal is to you, the more critical it is to operate at the higher level of output and performance.  The question would be to clearly define the WHAT and the WHY.   Increase the WHY until you are burning with motivation. How?  By connecting your goal to every chakra. I can tell you why my writing relates to survival, sex, power, emotion, communication, intellect, and spirit.


If YOUR goals do this…nothing will stop you from kicking ass to get it done.




Get that? There is NO excuse not to do one sentence, every day, if it is something important. If you go to bed at night thinking about it, your dreaming mind will kick out at LEAST one sentence. Write it down.  You have just made the connection between the “atomic” level (smallest possible action) and the global lifetime ultimate intent (happiness, ultimate success)


WHAT: Write a sentence every day

WHY: The life you desire, on every level.

HOW: Think about your story last thing before you go to sleep.  First thing when you wake up.   Write or dictate and transcribe one sentence.



If you do that, then you will advance. Learn. Grow.  You will accomplish goals. The INSTANT you have sold a story, you have a skill you could turn around and sell. Hell, there are people teaching writing who have never published a thing.  You’ll be ahead of the curve.


Being the master means being the student. Others will call you the Master if you are far enough ahead that you are beyond a horizon. They cannot see where you are.


IF YOU CANNOT SEE WHAT YOU HAVE TO OFFER, you probably have an unrealistic expectation of yourself. Be where you are. The person you were last year could really, really, use your advice.  There’s your market.






The Power of the Enneagram

Some twenty-five years ago, studying Transcultural Shamanism with Mushtaq Ali Al Ansari, I was introduced to the mystic symbol called the “Enneagram”.   I was fascinated by its endless uses and the power to diagram complex and sometimes invisible processes, and puzzled that of all the myriad uses, no one outside our little study group seemed to understand anything about it other than its applications to personality.


For instance, when I diagrammed the Hero’s Journey on it, a fascinating thing happened: the EXTERNAL journey (plot) traveled around the outside edge, but if you looked at the internal connecting lines a completely different approach to story was revealed.


Just one example.    At position #1 (1:00)  is “the hero is confronted with the challenge.”  That’s pretty straight-forward: unless your lead character wants something he doesn’t currently possess (an external goal, relief from an external threat, an internal state of being, relief from a painful internal state) your character will take no actions.    Living systems crave homeostasis.


So…you have to design your character and ask what they want and need, deny them that thing, and force them to take actions to change or regain their status.  Simple, right?


But the Enneagram goes much further.  #1 connects with #4:  It also connects to #7.


Let’s focus in on just #4, the Road of Trials.   If we know that the next step after #1 is “Rejection of the challenge” then the question is: WHY does he reject it?   Why not take the action that will relieve pain or gain pleasure, once they see what must be done?


Because of the pain they must endure to get there.  Oh, yes. The greater the potential reward, the greater the obstacle or journey must be. Why? Because we are programmed to move away from pain and toward pleasure.


If it is a straight road, we are NEUROLOGICALLY programmed to move in that direction.  You can teach tapeworms to tap-dance if you get this Skinnerian aspect right.  But if you look into your own life, you might say “well, if this is true, why do I X? (smoke, overeat, procrastinate, etc).  Why? Simple.  You see more pain than pleasure associated with the actions.


  1. You might not have a clear idea of what must be done.
  2. You might see a path, but lack belief that you, personally, can and should do it.
  3. You might have a reference group (tribe) that tries to dissuade you from taking those positive actions (damaged sub-cultures often have this issue)
  4. You might have past experiences that create beliefs contrary to the actions you’d have to take.


It took me SEVENTEEN YEARS to earn my first black belt, because I was still carrying an image of myself as being small and weak from a bullied childhood.  I trashed my own college education for fear that I would absorb the negative habits of my writing instructors, and sabotaged my career because my mother had been terrified that I would be killed if I was too intelligent and aggressive.


My road of trials was one of finding clarity, courage, healing my self-image, and having the confidence to speak my truth and be who I was.  Finding a tribe that would support my dreams, developing flexible plans to go over, under, around and through my obstacles.


Anyone who knows me will see that the martial arts gave me confidence and strategy for my career and relationships, my relationship with my first wife Toni gave me the self-confidence and support to make my career moves, and my writing career gave me the connection with my child self that powered my “adult” through years of martial misery (protecting your child educes the maximal defensive/survival response). They were all intertwined. Which meant that progress in any of them fed into the others, in an ascending spiral.

People who are blocked by their own pain, fear and confusion, and have struggled with it, often say “well, I guess that’s just me.”  They then make the mistake of looking at others who are struggling, including entire social groups, and instead of seeing the knots they’ve been tied into, or the corrupted ground on which their seeds were sewn, just say “well, I guess that’s THEIR nature.”  You see it?  They can’t get out of THEIR box, so they define their box as “them” and then do the same to others. Worse is when they had advantage and privilege, don’t give thanks for it or even see it, and become one of those “born on third base and thought he hit a triple” types who look down their noses at “lesser” beings and “breeds.” If it weren’t so sad, it would be infuriating.  So much human damage has arisen from people who simply never understood themselves.  Who mistook confusion and damage for wisdom.  Ugh.


Whew.  That’s the power of the Enneagram.  The “Hero’s Journey” tells you what is coming…in advance. The Chakras tells you the path of balance and human maturation.  But the Enneagram is kinda like an internal map showing you how all these parts and processes RELATE to each other.  It is as if you have a secret way to pretend to be smarter and wiser than you really are.  Amazing, really, and with infinite uses once you understand it.


It’s been my secret weapon for decades. Why didn’t I share it?  I COULDN’T. I didn’t understand it well enough.   My mind just didn’t want to grasp its power, because if I did…I would integrate my life at higher and higher levels, smash my ego again and again, build sky-castles and move into them.


I so dearly wanted to understand it enough to share it.    But I needed Mushtaq to do that, and he wasn’t at all sure it could be done, outside the “small group” format.  It took me almost twenty years to convince him to give it a shot.


The result is the ULTIMATE ENNEAGRAM program, which is…well, it just rocks. There are hundreds of classes dealing with the “personality” stuff, which is like eating one bite from a banquet and hallucinating that you’ve had the entire meal.

Hell, that wasn’t even a balanced SNACK.

There is just so much more.


And what we’ve done is make this amazing secret available in a webinar format FOR THE VERY FIRST TIME. Much of this information has NEVER been revealed publicly.  From time to time  I’ll be plucking apples from the grove and sharing them with you. But…this is amazing. I’m so proud of it.  This is so powerful that the Fiverr lady who transcribed the sessions said her life had been changed JUST TRANSCRIBING THE SESSIONS.


That is power. That is THE ULTIMATE ENNEAGRAM.  We’re still building the class, taking feedback and adding features, which is why I’m happy to be offering such a  uniquely high value at such an absurdly low price.


More on this later. My head is still spinning. Can’t wait to share my secret weapon with you.






Sunday is weekly planning day!

So Sunday is the one day a week I don’t workout or really work. But I do joint mobility, and I plan, and I play.  Planning is the most important thing: to connect to my driving emotions, and connect those to my long-term outcomes and dreams. To see what I need do in the next week.


Most important things this week:

  1. Successful  Graphic Novel (“Eightfold Path” with Charles Johnson) intensive work in Seattle.
  2. Launch “Ultimate Enneagram” course with Mushtaq
  3. 35 pages on script.
  4. “Lifewriting Live” talk on Wednesday.
  5. Fly to Seattle, check into Air b’n’b.


I think that’s what’s needed. To do these things, I’ll need to take certain daily actions (break down current 8-Fold manuscript into Google Docs and/or Word Online.   Send emails to my lists, discuss on Facebook Live.  Five pages on script every day. Pack for Seattle.)  So that every day I know what I have to do:


  1. Wake up, meditate.
  2. Scan what needs to be done.
  3. Set daily RPM outcomes
  4. Morning MAGIC
  5. Five minutes with Jason
  6. Yoga or Workout (I have a new protocol I’m experimenting with.  I’ll tell you about it in six weeks)
  7. Mastery Plus business.
  8. Marketing study
  9. Five pages on Script
  10. Free work on other projects
  11. Evening OFF!  What movie do I watch..?



That’s the approximate day.  Using the Warrior Diet eating approach (food only between 4-8pm) to save time.  Looking forward to seeing friends and business folks up in Seattle!





Starting From Nothing


I really like simple tests, actions and standards.  That means I’m willing to put in hundreds of hours studying and testing to determine if there is a better, simpler way to do something.    It is NOT that they are absolute.  But they form a starting place.


For instance, I have students who are struggling for money, and while MAKING money with my art is something that I got very good at, and I even created a business from scratch coaching while in Atlanta, I didn’t have an answer if people said: “I’m broke.  What do I do?”


Saying “Save 10% of your income” is a fine, simple standard for creating security, a simple instruction that demands a pre-existing income stream.  Ouch.  Back to square one.



So I can clearly, CLEARLY remember when we moved to Atlanta on family emergency, ripping me away from Hollywood at a time when I was struggling with the changes in the New York publishing industry.   I had no friends, no family, no business connections in Atlanta, and frankly, I collapsed psychologically.  Just couldn’t see a way out.  Literally ended up curled in a fetal position on the floor, wondering what in the HELL I was going to do, now that my life map had been destroyed.


I realized that I had a new opportunity here: to apply my own technologies to myself, starting from zero.  ZERO.


So…if I was the hero of my own story…if I KNEW that at the end of the story I got my greatest dreams…what would I do now?


  1. I would change my emotional state. If I didn’t, I’d be paralyzed.  Needed something simple and basic that I could do every day.  If I did it, I’d be building the emotional clarity and power.  If I didn’t, I’d be trapped in a “stress tunnel”, unable to see answers even if they were dangling in front of me.  I crawled back out of that hole by starting a Morning M.A.G.I.C. ritual (www.morningwriters.com) and starting a coaching business, teaching people the steps I’d taken to build my career, and then after I was emotionally stable, helping them balance their bodies, minds, and relationships.
  2. I defined daily/weekly actions in each of my four major arenas: body, relationship, career, finances.   Then, all I needed to do was either DO IT or NOT.  Black and white. Did I?  If so, good.  If not, why not?   If there is a problem, either pump up the emotions, or make the “daily bite” a little smaller, until I CAN do it.  This approach to “minimums” is exemplified by the “Sentence a day to a book a year” approach at www.lifewrite.com
  3. I needed money.  How could I make it?  What resources could I leverage?  All I had to do was ask what I knew that a younger Steve would pay for.  That would be finishing and publishing my writing, earning my martial skills, finding love.  I had a wound in finances, so it would have been bullshit to try to coach people THERE.  But I could honestly present myself as an expert at the other things.  I leveraged social media, but if I hadn’t had that, I could have used the approach in the “earn 100k in 25 hours a week” free talk at www.diamondhour.com


And what happened?   One day at a time I climbed out of depression, and started filling my bank account. Success led to success in an ascending rather than descending spiral.  I started being happier in my life, and used the Morning MAGIC to connect with my blessings. And EVERYONE with the resources to read this message has resources.


Let’s take this back to “WHAT, WHY, HOW”.


WHAT I wanted was to be happy. Specifically, to get back to California with my family intact and healthy.


WHY was because my career, my friends, my life was in Cali.    My entire career skill set had been designed to balance between publishing and television/film.  This was security, self expression, sheer joy of creativity, and more.


WHAT was controlling my emotions, finding alternate means of making money to buttress my finances and provide healing room for my ego.  Morning MAGIC and coaching using a pattern like the “100k in 25 hours” program.


And…it worked. Back in Cali, working my butt off juggling six different writing projects, including the best movie idea I’ve ever had, Tananarive and I are fine, Jason is great, my martial arts are at a new level, and the finances are better than ever.  One step at a time.


I don’t do life coaching any more–don’t have the time, and I’d have to price myself out of reach to the people who most need my help. So…I’ve focused on creating low-cost and free tools that share this priceless information.




There you go. That’s what there is.   Dream.  Faith and Gratitude.   Follow an established path.  Chop Wood, Carry Water.


It is so  damned simple, really. So simple that people complicate it so that they have an excuse for failing. I don’t want excuses. I want to live the best life I can, and help my family and friends as much as I can, for as long as I can. To go where I want, when I want, with whom I want, whenever I want, and do what I want.


How about you?  What if you HAVE no skills?  If you genuinely look at your life and realize that you’ve somehow avoided becoming an adult, are a mediocre generalist with little to offer?

Then…offer your truth. Wake the @#$$ up. Realize that something happened to you early in your life that stopped you from maturing, refining, focusing.  AND COMMIT TO CHANGE.  Start a Morning MAGIC type program and commit to being an adult, perhaps for the first time in your  life.  JOURNAL YOUR RESULTS, ONE DAY AT A TIME, with blistering honesty. Then, know the WHAT and  WHY of this new life you are building.


Then…blog about it.  Podcast.  Get your truth out there.  Get conversations started on your Facebook page.  BE HONEST.  DON’T TRY TO BE THE “GURU”.  You will attract others with the same issues, looking for an honest path.   The MINUTE others say that your truth has inspired them…leverage that into the pattern in the “100k in 25 hours” talk.  Go out and talk about your struggles, being honest rather than “clever.”  Spend up to 25 hours a week doing this marketing, speaking multiple times a day to any group you can get in front of.   Then…design your own path out of hell, and work it.  Begin to share your path with others.  A second-grader can coach a first-grader, with integrity.

It doesn’t take “mastery”.  It takes honesty and a commitment to yourself.   If you have that…you can begin to heal.

Aren’t you worth it?




On Politics, Philosophy, and Lifewriting

I grew up feeling that society had laid traps for me everywhere, such that pursuing any life path was going to be like pogo-sticking through a mine field.   My answer: get the clearest, most accurate maps of the minefield (live, society, human nature) that I could, and plan accordingly.  “What is true?” was critical, and I made the mistake of thinking that everyone did this.


I still remember the day I realized I was wrong.  I was in a conversation with a very politicized gentleman  (call him “Fred”) who I greatly respected. Fred made a claim during an argument. I refuted the claim with a solid piece of data, a clear and irrefutable disproof of his position. He rolled with it, and began talking about why this instance was  an outlier, using specific information of his own


And I realized: “Huh.  He knew he was wrong when he said “X is never Y.”  Could have said “X is usually not Y” or “There are only a few exceptions to the rule that X is not Y.”  Instead, even though he KNEW that what he was saying was wrong…he made the statement.


I thought back over other conversations and suddenly realized something: this was a pattern.   A TACTIC.  In other words, he was betting that I didn’t have specific information to refute his assertion.


He was hoping I was ignorant.  Withholding information that invalidated his argument.


Remember the statement: “Philosophy is asking `what is true’.”  Politics is asking “how can I win.”


He wasn’t interested in truth.  He was interested in winning.  There’s a real difference, and it is essential to know it: “Am I dealing with a philosopher?  Or a politicized individual?”   Each has uses, there is no question.




Personally, I’m far more interested in the first question “what is true?” So I will actually offer opponents information they don’t currently have, if it helps their position.  Give people a chance to re-formulate a clumsy statement (there are few things more time-wasting than refuting a statement and then having someone claim: “well, I didn’t REALLY mean that. I meant THIS…”)  I’ve done that, often stating something informally, assuming that the person I’m talking with realizes that I’m speaking informally, and having them attack “people do X” with “not ALL people…”


It’s not unfair of them to do that. It’s just more formal.  I can play that game, and enjoy it, find it very valuable. But once you demand formal statements, you can’t then get lazy with your language, folks.  Sauce for the goose.




Politics is useful.  It is the art of compromise, but also swaying mass opinion to accomplish a goal.  Compromise is often “hold your nose and vote” for something because while it has things you don’t believe in, it also accomplishes something you care about.  Creating a “big tent” of people voting in the same direction, so that you can reach your goal.   The “Devil’s bargain” can often be necessary to do important things.


Swaying mass opinion often means manipulating emotions, simplifying concepts, deleting information, pushing “best case” or even “wishful thinking” scenarios.  People call this stuff “lying” and sometimes it is. But the line is fuzzy.


What was I supposed to do?  Consider Fred a liar?  He hadn’t lied, precisely.  Because in informal conversation “No X is Y” is understood to mean “X is rarely Y.”  He assumed I didn’t know…so in a sense he was taking advantage in order to win an argument, so he could move on to the next step in the logic chain: “And SINCE no X is Y, THIS is what we must do.”


This is toxic, because you’ve swallowed a poison pill, trusted that he is right, rather than examining “why is X rarely Y?” or even “is it TRUE that X is not Y?”  which might hare the conversation into a direction Fred didn’t want. Fred wanted to win.


When you see this: people changing the conversation, setting up Straw Men (changing your statement and then attacking their change), deleting information, broadening the conversation so that it includes data you’d have to have THEIR expertise to check, and so on…you can be pretty sure its time to ask: “are they interested in winning?  Or truth?”


I don’t get mad.  In fact, what I tend to do is silently thank them. They remind me that there is more than one way of looking at the world.


Note: being a philosopher who knows what is “true” but doesn’t know how to communicate it to affect change can be useless. But being politicized without having a means of sussing out what the truth is dangerous as hell.   How do you determine what is true?  Because another politicized person said so?   How do you know where you are on the reality map?  Or know when you are, at base, using a faith-based argument (untestable in the real world, so all you have is postulations or stacks of data, denying that you are weighting that data according to your world view, which is always ultimately emotionalized and faith-based, even if that faith is “my senses can be trusted. The integrity and wisdom of the people gathering and interpreting the data can be trusted” you are in trouble.


Different approaches, which when combined are precious.

This is rocky at times, because each sort of person can be convinced that theirs is the only approach, so I can piss off either side.  But when I REMEMBER this I save massive amounts of time. You recognize loaded questions and deliberate side-tracks.  Hell, if I had a CLIENT and I asked them a question, and they answered everything BUT that question?  Asked me questions that led in another direction?


Bingo. There is something powerful hidden under the original question, if only I’m smart and strong enough to keep focus.  Made me a better coach, and a better person.  Recognizing your OWN bullshit is more important than recognizing it in others.


Apply this to Lifewriting?  Well…in writing, how about crafting an argument or conflict between two people, one political and the other philosophical?  All you’d need to do to make that a comedy…or tragedy…is exaggerate their obsession with their individual approach.


And in life?   Note where and when in movies and books characters sort out one or the other way.  Those who never introspect, and those paralyzed by introspection.  And decide, for yourself, how you will error-check and influence.


What is true? What do we do about it?


Different questions with different results and processes.  Don’t confuse them.





Diversity and Appropriation

I must hear some version of this a dozen times a month:

“I am plain vanilla white American. But I want to tell stories that have never been told before, without stealing.  And I also don’t want people to hate me.”


So…what we have here is someone who wants to write about a wider range of humanity than what he generally sees onscreen in in print.  But he also wants to be respectful of the concept called “cultural appropriation.”  This is admirable, and I can see how people get lost.  While I cannot offer an absolute answer, I can discuss my own perspective here, briefly, and in greater detail on tonight’s LIFEWRITING LIVE (6pm Pacific).

I wondered the same thing.  In my early writing career, questions of writing white people, or women, or gay people, or foreigners, or those of different psychological or political persuasions was daunting.   I’d been hurt by negative or condescending portrayals. But even worse by exclusion. What to do?


  1. My life would be poorer if it were not for writers writing across cultural, racial, and gender lines. That being the simple truth, I would never discourage people from trying.
  2. You will never make everyone happy. What you can do is be true to yourself and your world view. Do that, and it is my experience that reasonable people will honor your efforts.
  3. You probably don’t have anything to teach black people about being black. But you can certainly teach us about how white people see us, which is valuable. And you can educate white people who have put less thought into it than you have.
  4. “Cultural appropriation” is a genuine concern. It is also one of the only ways that humanity progresses: I do something, you copy it making little changes, if those changes improve the results I copy your changes.   Memetic evolution. But…I’ve seen situations where actual members of a group were excluded, while the excluders play games with the symbols and rituals and art forms of the excluded.   I find this destructive and self-serving in the extreme.   There will never be total agreement on “how much is too much” so all we can do is try to treat others as we ourselves would wish to be treated.
  5. The ONLY time I would not encourage people to write “the other” is if they do not offer them equal humanity.  In other words, if your secret belief is that (for instance) black people are inferior, I’m not gonna spend my time and energy encouraging you to promote that view. Nor are you likely to be long-term successful in concealing that attitude.  For instance, note the following logic chain:


  1. BLM has no legitimate concern. There is no systemic racism.
  2. There are clear differences in performance/results between racial groups.  Infant mortality, life span, incarceration, education levels, inherited wealth, etc.
  3. If there is no difference in the systemic context, the other logical conclusion is that the people themselves are not equal.
  4. If you side-step and say it is “culture” then you are just kicking the ball down the road: either that culture was imposed from outside (systemic racism) or it arose spontaneously from within.  The question that reveals this is: “under the same historical circumstances, would white people have suffered as much for as long?”  Anything other than an enthusiastic “yes” should be interpreted as a belief in inequality.


That logic chain doesn’t say such a belief is “wrong.”  It says that once you deny a difference in context, you are de facto promoting a difference in content.  That 99% of the time, that is the dichotomy, and pretending otherwise is disingenuous.


Ultimately, we cannot perform the multi-generational experiments necessary to test either position to a solid conclusion. All you can do is amass data, and decide which pile you have more faith in.    It is up to you which path you take.


But if you, like me, choose faith in equality, then you have to stand by it.  That means you can’t say “black people are equal, except that white people are evil.”  Nope.  If you don’t see the contradiction there, you’ve got a problem, and if you are white, that problem is one of self-loathing.


No, you have to take a view of humanity that embraces–or rejects–all of us.


Personally, I’d choose embracing.  Loving humanity, and considering us basically equal.  Those who share THAT POV are my closest brothers and sisters.  I adore seeing what they have to express about how human being interact, the meaning of history, the ethical structure of the universe.  Love it.


How to do this?  We’ll take a tiny fragment out of the overall LIFEWRITING program and show how it applies here, tonight at 6pm PST on LIFEWRITING LIVE!




“Fractal” goal setting

LIFEWRITING is about taking a totally new approach to approaching your existence:  being the hero in the adventure of your lifetime.  What if no one is coming to rescue you?  You’ll never heal your relationships with dead people, it is too late to go back and create a new past.

What if we are all there is? This moment all we have?  Well…we’d better stop waiting for that ship to come in and by God ROW OUT TO MEET IT.

Lifewriting is different from any other writing focus, because it is for people willing to “judo” their lives and careers: want to be a writer? Great!  Write about characters dealing with your own existential issues, fears, hopes, and dreams. And as you solve their problems…you solve your own.  And whatever you have learned to solve problems in your PAST…becomes fodder for creativity in your stories.   Create the link between the inner and outer world, and then kick butt.


The Lifewriting group is our proving ground, where we can cluster people who see their lives and careers as process can gather and support each other.


“You guys are wonderful! ALL of your suggestions are fabulous. I’ve been sleepwriting today and I LOVE it!”–Yvette R. Murray

“I LOVE that term `sleepwriting'”

“I think your lovely wife coined that phrase. But it’s been amazing. Thanks for the suggestion. ALL of your suggestions are awesome.”

“Bless you. We love writers SO much, and are building a tribe of conscious artists who want to transform their lives and the world!”


I love waking up and having a conversation like that.   Let me unpack it a bit.

  1. I want to know, every day: who can I help?  How can I help…and have fun in the process?  Oh, cool!  Yvette is having a good writing experience, she’s excited.   Whatever she is doing to express excellence in writing on ONE level is about writing…but on another deals with all of life.  If I can help people become excellent in ONE arena, I can show EVERYONE how to be excellent in all arenas, by applying the same notion. Happy, healthy people open their hearts and become loving. If they are grounded, they are strong enough to be safe, and THAT leads to expanding their sense of self, and embracing the world.
  2. “Sleepwriting.”  T uses this term to mean the process of mulling over story issues while falling asleep, waking up, or even in dreams.    Step back a bit: writing is problem solving.   You are simply addressing a particular set of problems dealing with word choice, structure, character, plot, research, on and on and on. Problems.  Some can be solved in sixty seconds, some take weeks of research or months of planning (it took me about three YEARS to crack the structural problems in “TWELVE DAYS”.   It is taking about a year to crack the structure of “TRAVELER”, my current novel.)


To a huge degree, intelligence is problem solving.  WISDOM is knowing which problems to solve.  I say to solve the problem “How can I live a balanced, healthy, successful, joyful life?” is a damned fine problem.   My own version of this demands balance of body, mind, emotions, and finances. Spirit is implicit in those.  The beautiful thing about this is: what if there IS no spiritual dimension?  You end up “only” getting health, energy, success, happiness, love, and money.  Aww shucks, that SUCKS so hard, doesn’t it?


Anyway, given that…what is “sleepwriting” and how can you use it?


“Sleepwriting” would be using the “Hypnogogic” state, that place between sleep and waking you experience first thing every morning, and last thing as you go to sleep at night.  It is the place where you can manipulate dreams and fantasies (I…well, I love generating certain fantasies that kinda get my motor running in the morning, if you know what I mean, and I think you do.)


This is a moment when you have connection between the conscious and unconscious minds.  And the unconscious mind is VASTLY smarter than the conscious, which is like a bucket compared to the Pacific.  If you can formulate your problems clearly, and fantasize about them before you go to bed, and tell yourself you want a solution in the morning, you will often find that when you wake up, you actually have a solution!


I’ve done this countless times with stories.  For instance, I’m working on logistics for a script that takes place in 1870.  I need a context where black and white men would mingle on relatively equal terms in a very specific way.  Well…based on research, New Orleans had Creole cat houses where this happened.  But…that’s SOUTH of where I want to set this section of the story.   I’m in Missouri, dammit.


I went to bed at night with my mind zig-zagging between locales, not seeing any elegant way to do it. Dammit, was I going to have to lose energy in my story by changing locations?  Or sacrifice an important interaction?  My brain was buzzing.


WHAT did I want?  A great script, that will sell quickly and be PRODUCED.   The current idea is excellent.   A structural issue has arisen. So…I want to solve that problem, one way or another!


WHY?  To tell a great story with high entertainment value and a kickass subtext.  Joy, contribution (“why can’t I see this movie TONIGHT?” people have said when I pitched it), money, improving skill, playing for position.


HOW?   Focus on the problem, go over the “known knowns”, define the “known unknowns”, ask my unconscious for an answer, and go to sleep.   Turn the problem over and over in a playful way as I spiral down into sleep.


What happened?   When I woke up in the morning, it hit me in the face that the answer was right in front of me all the time.   No, I won’t say what it was. But I will say that when Mohammad can’t go to the mountain, sometimes the mountain can come to Mohammad.  Ahem.




You can do this with ANY problem.

Question: how can I have a happy life?

Answer: make my living doing something I love.


QUESTION: What do I love that I can earn money with?

Answer: Writing and teaching.


Question: What writing project sounds both fun and potentially profitable?

Answer: There is this idea called MISSISSIPPI SHUFFLE…


Question: What is the best way to write it, one day at a time?

Answer: define characters, themes, scenes, conflicts…whatever I know, “low hanging fruit” style, using the Hero’s Journey to organize structure loosely.  What do my main characters want?


Question: How can I create an interaction between two characters in a position of relative social equality, to give them a chance to size each other up?

Answer: (After research) such interactions took place in New Orleans.


Question: How can I manage the logistics so that the story functions directly, not in a zig-zag of repeated imagery?

Answer: Well, I’ll keep that to myself.



Can you see how the big “what?” (living a happy life) motivates “why” on every level? That cracking every problem generates joy?


Its all “vertically aligned” with my core identity and goals.  “Fractal goal setting” would be a way of looking at this.    And once you learn to do it with storytelling…what is there to stop you from doing it with your body, your relationships, your finances?  NOTHING.  Focus is focus. Skill is skill.   “Master one thing, master ten thousand things.”


Or as Jerry said to me long ago:   “Once you master anything, you know how to master anything else.”


Beautifully said.  Starting with your ultimate goal (Joy) back up to the things that bring you this, and be sure they relate to your deepest values. Then move to the long-term material goals that support this, and then the medium goals, then short term. What do you need to accomplish THIS WEEK, and then what are the most important 1-5 things you have to accomplish TODAY?


Then…do that thing.  Most important for writing?  Solve this one problem. How?  “Sleepwriting.”


This stuff all fits together, people.    Neat and clean and one step at a time.






Honoring the inner child

“Thank you for helping me believe in myself again.”  A lady who joined Lifewriting Ultra yesterday gladdened my heart.


“Thank you, Steve.

I have had a lifelong dream of writing. I even believed I could. Until my high school literature final went south. My sense of humor and deliberate anachronisms did not resonate with the grading rubric.


I spent 3 days in bed. And when I got up, I had also given up. Not on my dream but on my skills.


It’s been 30 years.


Time enough, don’t you think?


I wished I had spent 30 years practicing instead. But since I intend to be a legend of troublemaking at the nursing home in about 30 years… it’s also a good time to start.

Thank you for helping me believe again.”



I’m using the Lifewriting for writers concept to anchor my teaching, because it is the closest to my own heart, and I understand this aspect of the puzzle most clearly.  What do we have here?   An “Ancient Child” situation to be certain.    You start with a childhood dream, and then the teachers and gate-keepers anchor enough pain to your ambitions that the voices in your head SCREAM at you that if you continue in that direction, you will be crushed.


All the voices insisting that you be “practical” and “realistic” come in.  For me, this was my mother burning my stories, my teachers mocking the notion that I could be a writer, others telling me “black people don’t write” and seeing no path to what I wanted to be.


But…I was too stupid to quit. I just refused.   And searched the world for ANYTHING that would help me develop the tactical, strategic, emotional, practical and even spiritual skills that would keep me going forward until I succeeded, or exhausted all reasonable options.


The world WILL crush your dreams, not because it hates you, but because societies and families will always select for the practical survival skills. Any society that doesn’t had better be incredibly wealthy.


If you are going to be happy, YOU will have to take responsibility for your joy.  The “machine” of society will get you to the point where you can earn enough money to pay back, in taxes, what it cost to educate you.  Beyond that?   Up to you.


Connecting with your childhood dreams takes   self-love.   Admitting that you want them, are willing to fight for them, takes courage.  Fortunately, you don’t have to actually reach them to be happy–you just need a sense of constant momentum, moving in that direction.  This is why the “Sentence a day” idea is so powerful–it is a step toward your bliss, creating a cascade of positive emotions, and motivations to do more.


My “Atomic minimum” for family is five minutes with Jason

For myself, it is Tai Chi/Morning MAGIC

For body, the Five Tibetans

For finances, moving at least 5% from my checking to my investment account every week.


Tiny steps that lead to huge changes.  Steps so small that it is obvious that YOU have the power.


And when you start that process…things begin to change.  Take your power back.  Be the hero in the adventure of your lifetime.






Fractal Goal Setting

Had a wonderful conversation last night with a brilliant, funny lady Heather V. Krell, about my next novel, TRAVELER.  Monday I pitched a very few people a KILLER idea for a movie script. Everyone’s reaction was “take my money now!” and so T and I are huddling.  Starting a new story (novella?) with Larry, something unlike anything we’ve ever done, and only we could do.


At the same time I launched the EARN 100K IN 25 HOURS A WEEK freebie (www.diamondhour.com) and am getting ready to launch the best writing course EVER.   It is designed to take you from wherever you are to the next level of your career:


I am creating the best writing package I’ve ever done, something that will take any writer from where they are to the next level of their career. For instance:

1) From never written to first story.

2) From intermittent to steady writer.

3) From steady writer to submitting

4) From submitting to published

5) From published to publishing regularly.

6) From publishing regularly to writing longer work.

7) First novel finished

8) First Novel published.

9) Writing and publishing regularly

10) Steadily increasing the quality of your work



Busy busy busy.  The trick to balancing all of it is to consider myself the “Hero” in my own story, with each project being a mini-cycle “Hero’s Journey” fitting into the overall structure of my life.


So…every week I know the most important things to be done that week.

Every day I know the most important 3-5 things to be done that day.


And I START my day by revving up my emotions (“Why”) and focusing on the most important outcomes (“What”). After, only after I’ve done that do I look at the “how”, which are the daily to-dos.


But wait!  There’s more!


Do you grasp that each individual “how” breaks down into another outcome, which can be represented and approached the same way? It is like “Powers of Ten” applied to your life and goals, fractal organization, zooming up or down depending on which level of clarity I need.


I can step all the way back to the life I want in ten years (finances, family, career, health and fitness) or zoom all the way in to look at…say the email I’m writing right now.


WHAT: to write a useful, powerful post.

WHY: to educate, inform, entertain, express myself, help people, move my own career forward to support my family and the causes I believe in.

HOW: write a post that is honest, expresses who and what I am at this moment, and explains how I solve a problem in a way that would be useful to my own younger self.


Good set of reasons and plans, yes?   So I’ve been fighting to get to this place, where I can take my entire business to a new level. (What).   So that I have the freedom to no longer give a #$%% what any particular person or organization thinks about my writing, and can write whatever the @#$$ I want (Why), giving the little kid inside me an insane playground, working by myself, with friends, with my sweetheart, and my mentor.


Life is good. Can you see how I zoom in and out, looking for balance and dynamics, being sure that EVERYTHING I do is connected with the most precious goals in life, so that I have full power at every moment?


I knew you could. Today was Jason’s first day back at school!   For various reasons I didn’t sleep well last night, and was wiped out when I woke up.  Wanted to roll back over and go to sleep.  But…


WHAT: Jason’s morning ritual

WHY: to help him have a great first day, send him off with love and hope and focus, so that he can have a great experience in High School, so that he can love learning, so that he can find his excellence and harness his passion to something that creates goods and services to his community, so that he can build a nest and find a mate, so that he can make grandchildren I can bounce on my knee and tell how I used to change their daddy’s diapers, embarrassing him like hell and completing the circle of shame.

HOW: Get out of bed, do my morning ritual, get my energy and focus UP so that I can transmit it to Jason at 8:00 am Morning MAGIC!



Yeah. It all fits together. And when you get it right, there is an elegance to the patterns. It will be clumsy at first, but soon, any flaw in your program will feel “lumpy” like a flat tire on a car.  Ka-Flump! Ka-Flump!  Oh, that’s right, I didn’t check my finances today!  I didn’t’ work out! I didn’t connect with Jason and T and Nicki!  I didn’t’ write at least one sentence.


If I do those things…the ride is smooth.  Macro or Micro.





(P.S.–we’re planning to announce the new program in a FB Live next Wednesday.  Not totally sure we’ll make it: we need it to be EVERYTHING the student needs, just add sweat.  And won’t start if we haven’t reached that level. You guys are my family!)