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.

“As Good As It Gets” (1997): Equality or Complementarity?

In the 1997 Romantic comedy written by James L. Brooks, Helen Hunt plays a waitress, CAROL CONNOLY, a single mother with a chronically ill son.

There is a terrific scene where Carol brings a boyfriend home for (hopefully) some awkward sex on the couch of her shabby apartment. She wants him, he wants her…she hopes for a night of passion, something to make her remember she is a woman, filled with hope and life and love and possibility, and not just a mother or a worker drone. Hope. Hope is the only cure for desperation.

But even though both are willing, everything goes wrong, because her sick child needs her, and as every good parent knows, a child’s needs trump EVERYTHING else. After a humiliating (and painfully funny and real) effort to balance a sex life with Mommy instincts the potential boyfriend gives up and leaves, and she is left alone.

Meanwhile, one of her steady customers at the diner, MELVIN UDALL, is a miserable excuse for a human being, a misanthropic homophobe with obsessive-compulsive disorder…but a wealthy, successful writer. She somehow sees his humanity, and is one of the only people in the world who seems to actually connect with him, mostly over his phobia about germs.

Their tenuous connection creates the entire film (which is terrific, funny, and heartfelt) as these two terribly wounded and imbalanced people carefully circle each other. The expression “how do porcupines mate? Very carefully” comes to mind.

And by the end of the film, Carol and Melvin have the potential to create a healthy relationship. Two imbalanced people in a balanced relationship? Sure. They aren’t equal — but they ARE complementary. They have a chance. If they give honestly and fully of what they have,

On the surface, they seem so totally incompatible that the situation is absurd. But audiences and critics loved it, and I suggest that they loved it because there is an essential truth lurking under the surface.

And it is this: for two people to have a relationship they must be in balance. Note that I didn’t say “equal” — that may well be where we’re heading as a culture, but much of the world isn’t there yet. But if you were to divide people up into say 10 different arenas of life: income, intelligence, emotional stability, fitness, attractiveness, energy, judgement self-love, capacity to love others, joy, spirituality…whatever basic qualities you see in the world, and give them 1–10 points per category, what you’d see is that if you add up the points, you’ll never see a vast mismatch. An APPARENT mismatch, where one person is terrific and the other is miserable S.O.B. would lower points in the “judgement” category, wouldn’t it? The “Self Respect” category? Maybe raise points in the S.O.B.’s “charisma” category?

The future might well be “my level of beauty and power in exchange for yours” but the past, and perhaps the present is usually “His power for Her beauty”. Anyone watching supermodels dating old millionaires has seen this at work clearly, and it is up to your politics and view of humanity to decide who is exploiting whom.

I say let’s give them BOTH credit, shall we? Each has traded what they have for the very best they could get. What is that exchange? If it is not an even-steven equality exchange, is it security for fertility? Luxury and social mobility for Sex? Intelligence for Emotional balance? Whatever you want, but find that balance point, and you’ll understand people more deeply. And the beautiful thing is that unlike “Incel Insanity”, saying this HAS (often) been our past DOES NOT mean it is our future. We can change this. But we have to look at it without guilt, blame, or shame. And ask ourselves how we want relationships to work in the future.

But one thing is certain: there is no cheating. We don’t attract what we want. We attract what we ARE. That’s the bad news. The good news is that you have the power to improve yourself, and it begins with the honesty to admit we need to do it.

Helen Hunt has sanity, nurturance, beauty, emotional stability. Melvin has the financial stability, generated by writing romance novels filled with yearning. Note that he didn’t make his money selling manhole covers or something emotionally neutral: HE UNDERSTANDS THE YEARNING. He is just too damaged to connect with it in his own life.

Can you see the balance? If she had been more financially stable, do you think she’d have been as likely to bond with him? Hardly. And if he had been more emotionally stable, do you think it likely that he’d have found a woman with her positive characteristics, but less need and chaos? Likely, isn’t it?

There is nothing negative about this, unless you choose to see it that way. Each can heal and help the other. And that yearning, that need, that sense of two human beings seeking to “fit” each other’s lives like a pair of jigsaw puzzle pieces, once it “clicks”, IF it “clicks”…is “As Good As It Gets.”

Brilliant title, wasn’t it?

In a very real sense, that’s all there is to love. Equality or complementarity. Two lonely souls who fit. Feeling that together, you are more than you were alone.

Here is how you can test this notion: create a list of the basic human characteristics. Look for people who have been happily married for more than 20 years. And look at that list, giving them each rough scores in the categories. If you do this often enough, tweaking as you go, you’ll start seeing the pattern: stable couples are roughly equivalent, even if their scores in different categories vary wildly (as with Carol and Melvin). You’ll start to glimpse a truth, as well as start understanding your own values and potential and areas you might want to work on.

Its kind of like a see-saw, where the two people have to be roughly equivalent in order to balance. Society can shift the fulcrum, but if it shifts too much, if there is too much of a power imbalance, I suggest the society itself stops functioning, and they’ll be out-competed by a healthier culture. Men and women HAVE to treat each other with a certain irreducible amount of respect and care, or the whole thing falls apart.

See that, and you begin to end the war between loving human beings, and see that we’ve been doing the best we can do with the resources we have. We have new resources now, meaning new opportunities…but we have to understand how we got here to open the door to the future.

Love yourselves, and be kind to each other…




“Get Away From Her, You B@#$!”

Remember “Aliens”? Sure you do.  Ripley (the great Sigourney Weaver) survived the alien attack on her space tugboat Nostromo, awakening decades later in a new world.   When she is asked to lead a group of tough space marines back to the planet where her ship originally made contact, she hates the notion…but must, both to save hapless colonists and stop her own nightmares.  The space marines are tough and willing, but overmatched by the ferocious aliens that have overrun the planet, underlead by an inexperienced officer.  Ripley, there only as an observer, must take control of the situation to save the lives of the savaged marines, escaping an ambush just in time to see their escape ship blown to pieces.


“Game Over Man!  Game Over!”


Trapped in the station waiting for a nuclear reactor to overload and betting all their hopes on the slender chance of getting a second rescue ship from orbit, Ripley leads the survivors in barricading the station, bonding to the single survivor of the initial alien assault: a little girl called Newt who managed to survive by crawling in the air spaces.  When the aliens overrun them, and Newt is taken alive, Ripley is pushed beyond terror to descend into the bowels of the station to save the child.   She does, but the alien queen follows them into their escape ship as the station blows up behind them.


All seems lost, but at this point Ripley, protecting her comrades and particularly the child she has sworn to save, goes beyond all fear, beyond any ordinary human consideration, becoming the Primal Mother, stepping into the strongest position any human being can come from: “I’m ready to die, and I’m ready to take you with me.”   Does anyone doubt that Ripley would have gladly perished, gone out that airlock with the alien queen, if that was what it took to save that little girl?  When she said those six words:  “Get away from her you BITCH!” the audience cheered as I’ve never seen.  She was beaten.  Wiped out. Finished. Out of options. All of the “space marines” were defeated or dead, her android torn in half, with no weapons, nothing but her mother’s heart and a ferocious will NOT to survived, but to die dealing death.  Few forces can stand up to such courage and power.


She won.  Not just her own life, not just defeating the alien queen, but winning the most precious things in the world: the love of a little girl (‘Mommy!”) and the knowledge that, yes…it was safe to dream again.


THAT is a movie.  And it works because it connects with a core truth.   It isn’t what you fight with, its what you fight for.   And she was able to rise to the occasion because she had pure motivation.


She did what I think ALL of us would do, if we understood what was at stake.





I remember talking to a student about a toxic relationship.  The guy she was with was just a nightmare of anger and depression, negative habits and needy accusations, flirting with violence.  She’d actually had kids with him, and the children were being negatively affected years after the separation. “Why did you marry him?”  She fumbled the answer a bit, but finally came back with “he needed love.,” she said.  Sure, he had problems, but “troubled people need love too.”


Yes, I said. But they don’t need it from YOU.


I asked a question that has been very valuable over the years: “would you have wanted your DAUGHTER  to marry him?”  And the vague, unfocused, defensive lok in her eyes disappeared and she came back sharply with “hell no.”


Predictable.  Why are we willing to accept for ourselves what we would not want for our children?  Because our children hold our hope for the future, our own dreams, rooted in our childhoods, reaching beyond our own lifetimes.    We love them with all our hearts.


Would that we loved ourselves the same way.  Our bodies and psyches hold a lifetime of scars, are “black bags” of unprocessed emotions, tangled values, confused beliefs and distorted memories.   Our CHILDREN are worth the moon…but OUR value is questionable.


But wait…if we make bad relationship choices, don’t those affect our future and present children.   Damaging them to continue this cycle on and on? Isn’t this a paradox? We’ll do it for our kids, but can’t do it for ourselves. And in not doing it for ourselves, we lay the burden on our children, creating nightmares for generations to come….



It can stop now.  Understanding the pattern gives us a new opportunity to come from love rather than chasing after it.   We KNOW how to stop the cycle.  All it takes is connecting to the “child” self within us, committing to protect our own hearts, and healing and improving ourselves until we are on the same frequency as the HEALTHY people who are looking for love.


It really is that simple. And if you don’t find them?  You are still happy and healthy. It is the ONLY approach that cannot lose, since the end point is and always has been finding joy in this world.




Spend a few minutes daily sitting quietly and visualizing the child you were, making them so young that whatever damage you’ve suffered has yet to hit.   See her vulnerability and promise, and commit to protecting her at ALL costs, making her life as wonderful and beautiful as possible. And never letting ANYONE play with her unless they pass your stringent standards.  And….disciplining her with love, as well, making sure she takes care of herself: discipline is love. SOMEONE has to be the parent, and she can’t do it.  You have to.


Do that…and you become the hero in your own story, capable of slaying dragons….or riding them, if you would.   Do this…and you earn your way into the company of other dragon-slayers, dragon-riders.  And if you think you could find a worthy partner in such company…


The door is open before you.





Grokking Love

The term “Grokking”, coined by the great SF writer Robert Heinlein in his novel “Stranger In a Strange Land”, roughly means “understand (something) intuitively or by empathy.”  This would be one of the core outcomes of most meditative disciplines: to KNOW yourself, to go beyond the surface stories and the ego shells to discover an ineffable truth within.


If I map this over to what the wisest men and women on the planet have said about this journey over the ages, this would seem to be at the very least being “awake”, and possibly knocking on the door of the state referred to as “enlightenment”, which lies beyond the gate called “non-dualism.”  It is, in other words…extraordinary.  And probably beyond the majority of human beings to achieve through sheer will.  Life experience probably gets most of us there, in time…but sheer effort or focus? I don’t think so.


But one thing   that is true is that this state MIGHT be useful, or might not, in terms of living  in our world. Depends on too many other factors, including the fact that the state is a fictional creation, and we have no paths to it, no consistent real-world definitions, and no real role models for what it might mean, or the pathways to it.


Love, on the other hand, is available to the vast majority of us. Probably all of us.  And since a large percentage of religious and spiritual disciplines that say the core of us, the essence of us, is love…the search for love and the search for truth are aligned.


And since coming from that loving space is one of the best ways to connect with others, there is no downside there either.   What about defending yourself?  Wouldn’t “coming from love” weaken you, make you less likely to be able to defend yourself, being so committed to loving?


Not if you are in alignment with nature.  Not if you love your family enough to protect it, or want to get home to hug and kiss them one more time.  Not if you love the child you were enough to be willing to defend her. Defend him, to your last drop of blood and last breath.


Love helps you forgive yourself, and when you do that, you can look more honestly at yourself because you are not afraid of what you will find. We are flawed. We make mistakes. We have swallowed the opinions of people we trusted…and some of those opinions paint us negatively.  We have values conflicts creating self-destructive behavior. Fears that create procrastination.  Egos that war with the world around us.


If we don’t look at that ball of knotted snakes, we can’t unravel it.  And so the ego protects itself partially by discouraging the very introspection we need.  “You are less than perfect!” is true.  “And therefore you aren’t worth it!” is not.


Loving ourselves means disciplining ourselves, as well as accepting where we are. Knowing we’ve done the best we can do.  In accepting ourselves, we learn to forgive the imperfections of a potential beloved.   If you can love and accept yourself where YOU are, you will be able to recognize, accept, and love another on your frequency, traveling in the same direction at the same pace.  You recognize a kindred heart, a kindred spirit.  A potential soulmate.


So…because love is so healing, so central…I choose love.  “Grokking” seems to imply “understanding” to many people.   Absent a grounded body and an open heart, that can devolve to more “head case” stuff, dangerous to a person seeking a real experience of life.   Interesting. But if  Valentine Michael Smith, Heinlein’s very human Martian, had been a real human being, I’m sure we would learn wonderful things about what was meant by that term. Absent that…we’re just trying to understand. And in a real sense, understanding is the booby prize.


Love is the prize.




(tomorrow, we will begin a new adventure together, a path of love.  Join me!)

Love Makes You Strong

(Trigger Warning:  There is violent imagery in this essay.  No joke)


Coming from love doesn’t make you weak, or less capable of resisting evil.   Nope. It actually is the core of willingness to die killing something threatening your family or core values, which is arguably  the most powerful  and clarifying position in the world, beyond even personal survival.


I’ll tell a story I’ve told before.  Many years ago, I had a neighbor (call him “Bob”) whose daughter was a friend of Nicki, we’ll call “Janie”.   “Bob” was a nice guy, but there was something strange: he seemed to take some kind of odd offense with me. Challenged me verbally with intense emotions behind it.   Seemed to take pleasure sniping at me.   Called the police on my dog, and then came over to my house and bragged about it and dropped into a boxing stance to challenge me to fight him.  I just sort of shook my head, unable to figure out what the hell I’d done to trigger such a reaction.


I tried to make peace.    One day I was at his house, and Bob complained about a bad back.  I invited him to come over to my house and use our spa.   He gratefully agreed.  He came over a couple of hours later in his swim suit, and a folded towel.   He asked me to hold the towel for him. What it concealed was…a revolver.




I asked him why he was carrying it. Without blinking he said that he was having trouble with his boss at work.  That the man was a terror.  And he was SO ugly. And…he looked just like ME.


Oh, shit.   Well, isn’t THAT special.


I remember sitting down with Swift Deer at my next Judo lesson, and telling him what was happening. That I felt paralyzed.  “I don’t want to hurt  Janie’s’ dad.”


Swift shook his head somberly. “And that’s why he’s going to hurt you, brother” he said.   “That’s what he’s counting on.”


I was thunderstruck. Swift was right. Whatever was going on with Bob likely had nothing to do with me.   But he had focused his anger and fear on me, and my very affection for his family weakened me.  ESPECIALLY my affection for Janie, which was enormous.  I was frozen: damned if I did, dead or wounded if I didn’t.


I went home that night, brain swimming.  What should I do?  I couldn’t hurt Janie’s dad.  I had to deal with this. But I just couldn’t. My love paralyzed me.


Then a thought crossed my mind, one of those “cubic inches of opportunity” that slide in from the blind spot: HE WAS TRYING TO HURT NICKI’S DAD.


Boom.  Something deep inside me bared its teeth.  Oh, yes.   He was trying to make my daughter an orphan.  My wife a widow.


And for some reason…that was TOTALLY different.  QUALITATIVELY different.

He was trying to hurt Nicki’s Dad?   The hell he would.


So…what was I going to do?  I remembered a story I was told by…hmmm…I’ll be just a little oblique here.  Let’s say a martial artist friend and instructor of mine who is extremely savvy about the psychology of martial art, science, and sport.   Yeah, him.


He told me about a day when a belligerent gentleman came into his school spoiling for a fight.    Roaring “I wanna talk to X!” My friend and teacher listened to the ravings, and got very calm. Reached into his desk, and pulled out a loaded 9mm (he is legally permitted to carry). He set it on his desk. Then imagined the man breaking into his office. Imagined himself shooting the man right through the head.  Rather dreamily imagined the guy’s  brains splashing against the wall, and the body sliding down, death clouding his eyes.

And smiled warmly.

Put the gun away, went out and talked to the guy…who was INSTANTLY as mild as cream.


THAT would be my tactic. I imagined “Bob” swinging on me.  And responding with a burst of violence the likes of which he had never dreamed of.   Imagined breaking his limbs and curb-stomping him, and thoroughly enjoying the resulting mess.     Oh, yes…there is definitely a part of me that enjoyed that imagining.  Anyone who really knows me knows it is there, buried deep down, a rabid wolf I’ve been feeding for decades, with the promise that if the justification ever came…I’d let him out.


I warmed myself on that vision of destruction, then  went out of my office to my family.  Kissed Nicki. Kissed Toni.  Patted my dog good-bye.   And walked across the street.

Knocked on the door. His wife “Kathy” answered.  I said, “hello, Kathy.  Is Bob here?”

A little puzzled, she said yes, he was back in his office.  “May I speak with him?”

Why sure, come on in.  I walked back to Bob’s office, and there he was at his desk.  He  looked up at me with surprise.  I said “Hi, Bob,” and just talked to him for a few minutes, to his slight confusion. Perfectly pleasant conversation.  Then I looked at my watch, said: “well, I just wanted to come by and say hello.”

He walked me to the front door, I said good-bye, and left.   Weeks later Kathy told me that after I left Bob looked at her and said “You know? That Steven Barnes is really a nice guy.”


Why?  Because I had absolute clarity.  Was 100% ready to go.  The slightest twitch would have triggered it. And on an animal level…HE KNEW. I had left him no uncertainty to exploit.  No fear to strike into.  No lever to manipulate me.

Ready to die. Ready to take him with me.  Hell, I’d said good-bye to my DOG.  Can’t get more serious than that.

How?  By connecting to what I really, really loved: Nicki.  Toni.  And my dog, of course. That love swept away all mists of confusion.  I might be of several minds about my own safety, but NOTHING will harm my family while I live.

Connect with your love, and you have strength beyond fear.    Connect that love to your own inner self, and you change your destiny.

Heartbeat meditation and visualizing the child within me for 20 minutes a day, every morning, is my path.   I hope you find yours.

Nothing is stronger than love.





“If You Love Someone…DON’T set them free, but…”


“If you love someone, set them free.   If they come back, they’re yours; if they don’t they never were.”  Richard Bach

Not quite what I have in mind.  But almost.  Let me explain…


Seth Breidbart said:   “At Detcon, at a room party. Someone asked you for dating advice, and you told him to treat every woman as if every other woman he’d meet would ask her for advice about him.

Felicia (his current wife)  was sitting on the bed trying not to die laughing, because before she agreed to go out with me that’s exactly what she did. She asked three of my exes if they thought she should, and four of them said yes.


This is so cool (and yeah, I wonder about that math…).   We did one simple course on “The Soulmate Process” which is a branch off the “Lifewriting” tree: the assumption that the Hero’s Journey, examined, will reveal successful patterns of behavior.  That if you identify people who have achieved the goals you seek, if there is a consistent difference.  And it was by talking to hundreds of people who had been married over 20 years, and listening carefully to what they said, that this particular tactic arose.


Why?  Because so many people met their partners by being introduced by friends, often friends they had dated who had “friend zoned” them (and yes, I’m using this in the neutral sense: one person wants a romance, but the other wants only friendship.  Happens all the time, and mature people roll with it.)


But…there is also another way to look at it: It gives each partner a chance to evaluate the other BEFORE the relationship begins, based on opinions of other trusted people.   People who (you hope) will tell you the truth:  Is this person honest?  Do they have a temper? Are they loyal?   Do they bad-mouth their exes (fail to take responsibility) and on and on…all the way to “are they emotionally stable?”  “Are they possessive?”  “do they respect boundaries?”  and the all important “are they violent?”  “are they bat@#% crazy?”


Things that are good to know in advance.  (and yeah, the notion that people are doing this does keep you mindful about treating people well.  In a way, it is acknowledging that in days gone by, we usually married people deeply embedded within a web of family and social relations, often people who grew up in the same village or neighborhood, whose histories it was easy to determine)




I was shattered after my first marriage died.  Knew that I’d made mistakes, and vowed to correct them.   It was in that painful process, throwing aside everything I thought I knew, that it was politically “correct” to believe, and actually WATCHING human mated pairs as if I was an anthropologist from Mars, that I noticed the things that became the core of the “Soulmate Process.” It was in practicing them and getting a thunderously positive response (it was actually frightening how easy it was to attract women once I made a few tweaks.  Jeeze.) that I realized I’d touched something real, and that I was at a crossroads.  I could use what I’d found to be the biggest Playa I’d ever known…or I could channel that energy appropriately (given my stated values and desired outcomes)  and find a life partner.


And I clearly remember the night I got on my knees and prayed that I would find that partner, and expressed my willingness to wait for her as long as it took.


The next morning, I met Tananarive, and 2  1/2 days later we were effectively engaged.  Bonded.  Neither of us have ever looked back.


But…there was a problem. I trusted my instinct about her quality.  But I wasn’t totally certain she could trust hers about ME.   It wasn’t whether I was a “good person”, it was whether we were a match.  She was making a BIG decision.  Maybe the biggest of her life.  If I really, really loved her, I would want her to have all the information she needed to know for sure.  How could I do that…?


A plan occurred to me. At the time, I lived in Vancouver, Washington, and she lived in Miami. Our social circles didn’t overlap, so there was little help there. But she was doing a West Coast tour for her novel MY SOUL TO KEEP, and we decided I’d drive down to San Francisco, and drive her up to Vancouver to spend some time together.


It was a great trip, driving up the 101 along the Pacific Coast.  When we got to Vancouver the game really began. At the time I was separated from Nicki’s mom, and we lived in a side-by-side duplex, so that when Nicki came home from school she would come to my side of the house, and when Toni came home from work she’d go over there.  We were on very good terms, and I often ate dinner over there.


Well…when T and I arrived, to my absolute delight, Nicki greeted her with a great big warm hug. Wow. I hadn’t set THAT up.  And I’ve never exactly asked Nicki why.  I suspect it was because my little girl knew I’d been unhappy, and now Daddy was happy, so she assumed T was a nice person, and was grateful and happy to meet her.   But…all I know is that I went “Whoa!”


But the next thing was what I HAD planned.  I walked T over to Toni’s side of the house, sat the three of them at the living room table, and said:   “You guys talk about whatever you want” and LEFT for two hours.  To this day, I don’t know what was discussed.


But here was my thinking: this could only be good for T. 

  1. She would get a sense of what attracts me in women by meeting Toni.
  2. She would sure as hell get to know what Toni thought of ME.
  3. She would also probably think “this guy is confident!”  and that is NEVER a bad thing.
  4. IF there was bad mouthing from Toni, then no matter WHAT that would be a warning sign.  If she was telling the truth: run. If she was lying, that calls my judgement into serious question, both in terms of marrying the wrong woman, and in terms of being over-confident and putting them in the same room.
  5. She could, if she wished, get a sense of how and why things had gone wrong, a chance to make her decision about whether similar things might happen to her.
  6. And…there were doubtless things I never thought of, and maybe even things I won’t say publicly.


But no matter what…I felt that whatever happened in that conversation WOULD BE GOOD FOR T. It would allow her to make an informed decision, and I DESPERATELY wanted that.  I knew from the first 12 hours I was with T that she was exceptional, a woman of intelligence, beauty, skill, and power.  She had her own destiny.  I would have cut my arm off before voluntarily doing ANYTHING to harm her, or take from her one atom of her potential, or do a damned thing to diminish her spirit. No.  ONLY if I could be good for her and help her reach her destiny did I want her to make the decision to be with me.


Otherwise?  I would have gladly turned her into a Little Sister, shared everything I could about the writing business, and been as much friend and confidant as she needed.  Why?  Because due to the “Soulmate Process”  I was 100% confident that if I was a woman, I’d want to be with me.   And have no reason to believe I’m all that unique in terms of values, actions, energies, and direction. Which meant that yeah, I’d find someone.  After all, the MORNING AFTER I had made my decision, I’d met T.  Life was going to be great.  No need at all to obsess.


Would it have hurt if we hadn’t worked out?   Sure. But less than the eventual pain of a shattered life and precious lost time.  I can handle pain.  No problem. I ain’t made of glass.  And much less than the guilt of harming someone I already loved.   So the conclusion was: if I loved her, I had to be prepared to let her go. 


I had to be WILLING to lose her, in order to know she was mine.


How does this all sort out?

  1. Be willing to let your intended meet your friends and family. If you are really courageous, be willing to let them meet your exes.  If not, ask yourself why?  What does that say about your judgement?  Or your perception of the Intended’s judgement?
  2. Be insistent about meeting your intended’s friends and family.  And Exes.   If they put up barriers or bad-mouth them, factor that in to your decision making. Be careful: this is your life, and your heart is owed to no one.


What if it is IMPOSSIBLE to meet friends, family (and especially) Exes?  Be cautious.  Let a caution light burn in the back of your mind.  Pay extra careful attention to how they treat children, animals, waiters and service people.    Listen to what they say about their exes, and remember they are talking about THEIR judgement.  Note if they tell crazy stories about family, and ask if you want to be in that web.  Pay extra attention to how they behave when stressed: tired, broke, intoxicated, whatever.


Don’t rush into things. And if you do…and things go wrong…it was NOT their fault.  YOU  are the one who misjudged. They were just being who they are. You MUST take responsibility (literally “the ability to respond”) for your actions and decisions, or you are SCREWED.  If you cannot take that adult responsibility, you should not be having sex.

Yeah, I said it.


I’ve used this with same-sex friends as well.  I remember being at a guy’s house once, and something seemed…a little off.  So when he was out of the room, I FLINCHED at his dog…and the dog cowered.   Oh crap. I learned later than he was a rage-aholic who had abused his kids.

I remember being at another guy’s house, and I flinched at HIS dog. The pooch stared at me as if I was crazy, and just panted.    Love that guy.

Just some thoughts about a sliver of the SOULMATE PROCESS, how and why it works, and how you can apply it.  More to come…





The “Geek’s Guide to finding your Soulmate” is cooking now, at the same time as the “Write a story in a month with a sentence a day” program, and at the same time that I came across a person in deep pain, struggling to make it through his day.   I made the suggestion of a Morning Ritual to access their positive emotions, and received the following heartfelt note:


(“Sidney” said:)

“I know you’re trying to be helpful but — a morning ritual? It’s a victory just to get out of bed, get dressed, and brush my teeth. Often enough, I don’t manage the teeth-brushing.


My family is in a time of extraordinary stress. I’m sorry to subject you to the detail below, but if I just leave it at that, you may not understand that the situation is not something any adult could easily cope with.


After an X-year fight, a corrupt judge just gave joint custody of my two young (ages X andY) grandchildren to their violent, untreated   sex offender, twice-convicted child rapist father. Know that one of the convictions was against his X yr old step-daughter on the night he married her mother (a different marriage, he’s had X), so a X yr old definitely isn’t safe from him.


All of the adults involved (on our side of the fight) are struggling, even the ones who aren’t being triggered by all this, as a few of us are. All were blind-sided by the judgment. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I rage. I have flashbacks on a daily basis. If I can snatch some moments of peace in the middle of all this, I do, but then I get word (like I did this morning) that the police have been called. And here we go. Again.


I’d have to be heartless to be in control of my emotions right now.”




This is horrendous.  And PRECISELY why and when a “Morning Ritual” or some other practice designed to channel that fear and rage and helplessness is the most important.  Yesterday we explored the notion that one of the most malicious things about stress is that it discourages you from doing the very things you need to cope with it.


Note the last sentence:  “I’d have to be heartless to be in control of my emotions right now.”  In other words, “if I love my family, I CANNOT be functional.”


I would say that the more critical the situation is, the more desperate, the more vital it is to be able to perform.  Is it COMMON to be able to perform well under such stress?  NO.     But at such moments, do the ones you love need a hero the most?  YES.


And the problem is that here is where the ego will sabotage you. If depression is the “dark night of the soul”, then the way THROUGH it is “the leap of faith”: faith in yourself, your companions, or a higher power.


If you believe that loving your family means being crushed, you have no leverage.


If you guilt-trip yourself because you cannot act,  AND GUILT-TRIPPING WEAKENS YOU, you have no leverage. (While not ideal, it is true that some people can actually motivate themselves with guilt and anger)


This is how stress protects itself.   It is NOT your fault, not in the slightest.  But it IS your responsibility, because “the ability to respond” is all that makes it possible to act, and action is what creates change.


“Sidney’s” situation, as described, is about as bad as it gets.  ANYONE would feel that pressure.   t.  And this is where “being the hero in the adventure of your lifetime” is what can save your heart, and save your family.   While it is best to have integrated a “Morning Ritual” style practice BEFORE you need it, the truth is that any time you start you are starting to build the resource you will need the next time.  And if you need it now?  If you can see your way to making the decision, you might be able to create a “Ritual Buddy”, someone who will call you daily and remind you.  That’s the “Faith in your companions” aspect.  It works.


But note how much this ties back to “Love yourself.” Under stress, especially bad things happening to the people you love, a sense of contempt, of anger with yourself for being helpless undermines the very motivations that could create clarity, leading to more efficient and effective actions.


WHEN IN THE STRESS TUNNEL, YOU SEE NO OPTIONS. Even if there ARE no external options, staying free of that tunnel is still the best option.  At the very, very least…you now have the capacity to help your FAMILY stay out of the “stress tunnel” so that they can brainstorm answers that no individual can possibly find.


And if there IS no answer?   Then a tragedy has occurred, and the rest of the family must protect each other, their hearts and their children, so that the actions of a monster do not destroy an entire network of souls.   NO matter what the circumstance, what you and your family needs is as much clarity and positive action as humanly possible.


Maintaining that attitude without excoriating yourself for not having that strength currently is the Inner War.  And for the sake of your children, and the child within you and everyone you love, you might be slain, but you cannot surrender.



That is an extreme. But what of those other arenas?   Writing a story in 30 days?  Finding a soulmate?


Both require the same thing: the capacity to control your state, which makes it possible to define and take actions leading to your solution.  How do you control your state? By controlling your mental focus, the language you use, and the way you use your body ALL AT THE SAME TIME.


Writing a story?  That minimum is a sentence a day.

Finding your Soulmate?  If you want a healthy, balanced person with positive energy YOU MUST BE SUCH A PERSON. It is brutally simple.


How do you do that?  Start with self love.  How can you do that?   So many ways, the “Ancient Child” and “Heartbeat Meditation” and dream journaling and a Morning Ritual are just a few.  But all that takes time!  Well, how much time did you just spend reading THIS?  There was your damned time.  You have the time.  But the stress protects itself with lies.


Five minutes. THAT’S the minimum.   Distributed through the day in 60-second increments of deep breathing, so that the “minimum” is actually sixty seconds.  One minute.


One sentence

One minute.


There are your minimums for creating a story. Finding your Soulmate.    There are others for making or protecting money, or becoming fit.    But once you see the minimum, if you don’t do it, does that trigger self-loathing and depression..?


THIS IS WHY YOU NEED TO START WITH SELF-LOVE. You cannot wire around this, ignore it, postpone it, trick it or lie your way out of it. You have to go into the pale places within you, face the Dark Night, and find some bedrock of faith.  Can’t find it? Then find the bedrock of survival. Don’t know where that is?  You can find it simply by slowing your breathing down below about 4 breaths per minute, because when the carbon dioxide level rises in your blood you will hit emergency. Then…imagine this is happening to a helpless infant (“The Ancient Child”) and that YOU are his/her only protection.


You’ll find that strength. It IS within you.   That ability to fight until the last drop of blood.   And whether it is protecting your family or building your dreams, the doorway is ALWAYS there, even though when you are IN the “stress tunnel” you cannot see it and might need someone else to point it out to you and support you.


That’s why there is more than one of us.  That’s why, come what may, I will ALWAYS encourage you to believe in yourself.  Always.  No matter what.  If you want someone to agree that you are helpless, you will need to go somewhere else.


But personally?  I’m hoping you’ll stay.






October 13’s “30 Day Story Writing” after-action report

So we had another great webinar Saturday, where T and I chose an idea, and then dove into process: how do you turn an idea into a story?  To avoid pure instinct and emotion, I discussed the technical aspects, questions like “Who, What, Where, Why, How, When?” and patterns like the Hero’s Journey.


If I had ANY lack of clarity or faith in my ability, I would never begin a story until I had applied these tools, understood the overall shape and HAD AN END IN MIND.   I wouldn’t write it unless It felt like it would be fun, and also could see a direct way to write it. There are ALWAYS unexpected problems, so starting with something that has energy and direction is a must.


I don’t know what the final title will be, but the brainstormed possibilities were great, and right now I’ve chosen “Fugue State.”  I like that.  Multiple meanings that allow us to twine thematic elements and subtext. Yummy.


One of the most important things was THE PROCESS ITSELF.  Brainstorming (between multiple people) mindstorming (when by yourself), the importance of foolishness, how to collaborate without tearing each other apart (one person holds the kill switch, always.  It varies between projects: if T’s name is first, SHE had the kill switch and did most of the mechanical work.  And vice versa) and so on.


So I hope people are watching the PROCESS as much as the CONTENT.   Most readers only see the finished PRODUCT, and that is the least useful in terms of learning, like trying to figure out an internal combustion engine by looking at the paint job.


Anyway, serious fun.  Today, I just transferred the simple paragraphs of description into WRITER DUET, a great on-line screenwriting/collaboration software.    Wednesday, I’ll break it down into scenes and Friday I’ll add dialogue.


On Tuesday and Thursday, I’ll work on the current Larry Niven project, “Ghost Writer.”   And every day, I’ll tweak the Mississippi Shuffle script.  By the way…I sent it to my agents last Friday.  Fingers crossed!



Write with passion!


(www.lifewrite.com is the way to join the fun.   Be a part of history!  Our goal is not just to write a story, but a GOOD story, a PUBLISHED story, and one good enough to be win an award.  Hey!  I dream big.)

My most important thing today:

My most important thing to accomplish today: rest. I’ve not taken a day off in almost eight weeks, pushing to create my new script. The title: MISSISSIPPI SHUFFLE. Just turned it in to my agents yesterday, and while it is far from perfect…I think it has the potential to be the best visual art I’ve ever created. LOTS of work to be done, yes.


But…I can feel that my regulator is “stuck” on “on.” I have to chill, calm down, work out (done: Kettlebell intervals) and sleep until my body feels “light” and my throat doesn’t feel scratchy. Then probably eat sushi and watch movies. Done my basics for the day: more than a sentence on that story (219 words, actually, two paragraphs describing a possible story arc) and when T gets back from UCLA i’ll run it past her. If she agrees, tomorrow I’ll integrate her thoughts. Saturday on the webinar I’ll discuss all the thought patterns I’ve employed so far. Then next week…I’ll write a short script, as if it were a 15-minuteTwilight Zone episode. If it still works, the following week I’ll turn that into text. And the week after that…we polish. Not the only way to create a story (it’s the opposite of “Pantsing”) but it allows me to detail every step of the process for the students.


You can still join us!  Go to www.lifewrite.com and get ready to create A HALLOWEEN STORY IN A MONTH, WITH A SENTENCE A DAY!


(The trick, of course, is that the “sentence a day” is the MINIMUM. No one says you can’t do MORE.  Heh heh.)


Now, what was that most important thing? Oh yes!  A nap!


See ya!



Fourteen Solid Notions

We’re pushing into the “Sentence a day…horror story in a month” territory.  Today I’ll be choosing one of the two main ideas we came up with.  And I’ll let the students know which it was.   But meanwhile, in  a completely different arena, I’m getting some business coaching, and was given the following list of principles. And (surprise surprise) every one of them applies to writing this story.   As there are many students who are working on their OWN project along with me, I thought I’d share it to stimulate conversation:

  1. Do the Work
  2. Show Up Hungry
  3. Not use your current or past situation as an excuse
  4. Not make someone else responsible for your results
  5. Be polite to your naysayers
  6. Only compare you to you
  7. Earnestly attempt to answer all questions on your own
  8. Buy success with your own time
  9. Take imperfect action, viciously
  10. Not freak out at the clock .
  11. Choose to get uncomfortable every day…
  12. Be brutally honest about where you are
  13. Kill parts of your old self (if not all)…
  14. Lean in


Good stuff, yes?  Join us!   WWW.LIFEWRITE.COM

Steven Barnes

First Question From Saturday!

We did a webinar Saturday, the first of the “Write a Halloween Story in a Month With a Sentence A Day” class we’re doing all month. (you can join at http://www.lifewrite.com)

Got a question today from “Judy”:


“Good morning Steve, I enjoyed the 1st. part of the short horror story we’re going to build together. I wasn’t able to tune in live as I had guests from out of town. I can already feel the anxiety starting that always seizes my mind when I want to write. I think that I have pinpointed my issue. I don’t have a full understanding of story structure. I have some great books that I have read and am reading but the “click” moment that everyone says will happen, isn’t happening. Is there a foolproof approach that I could use. I’m tired of freaking out about it. It’s zapping the fun out of a creative process that I want to get better at. Thank you. Judy”


Judy isn’t alone in this.  “Pantsers”, people who can just sit down and write, can be very intimidating. In reality, everyone is a “Pantser” about some aspects of life, and not in others. All “Pantsing” is is having all the component skills at that “Unconscious Competence” level so that you can enter flow state and run with it.


If one of those component skills is NOT integrated, you hit a road bump. Frustration, fear, and “writer’s block”.  If everything is fine, just drive down the road and enjoy the sun on your skin and the wind in your hair. But if the car breaks down, pull over, pop the hood and haul out the tool box.


Lifewriting is the tool box.    What is Judy’s need? To have a form of story structure that will serve her, that she can then integrate to the level of Unconscious Competence.    O.K.–got her covered.


The Hero’s Journey.  Yep, back to basics.  A story is like a circle. Once you understand geometry, if I give you three points, you can draw the rest of the circle.   So…IF you will apply the HJ to a dozen movies (movies are great because the storytelling if usually more direct and easier to extract than stories and books, more of which can be experimental in structure), you are going to start to get “A-hah!” moments.  Then, once you understand how it works, you can play with it.  So…ask yourself the questions implied by the ten steps:  EVEN IF YOU CAN ONLY ANSWER THREE OF THEM, YOU SHOULD START TO GLIMPSE THE REST OF THE “CIRCLE”.

  1. Hero Confronted with the challenge. Who is the hero? What is their challenge?  Does it take them by surprise?  Could they see it coming? Why or why not?
  2. Hero Rejects the challenge.   If the challenge will change their lives or make them grow, it is likely to be frightening on some level. Why?
  3. Hero accepts the challenge.  Why do they finally own their situation? How are they forced to, or allowed to, engage?
  4. The Road of Trials. What are the steps a character must take to resolve this? Where must they go? What must they do?  What actions must they take, and what will they learn as the result of taking them?
  5. Allies and Powers.  What must they either express of their core capacities…or what must they learn? Who are the people they must align with or learn from to achieve this goal?
  6. Confront Evil and Fail.   The largest defeat usually happens in the last 1/3 of the story. What is it? What goes catastrophically wrong?
  7. Dark Night of the Soul.  This defeat will empty them out, destroy their self-image, or throw them into the depths of despair.  What is their psychological response to the structural disaster?
  8. Leap of Faith.  Always one of three things: faith in himself. Faith in his companions, faith in a higher power.  Which is it, and why?
  9. Confront Evil and succeed.  What is the victory?  How does it come about?
  10. The Student Becomes the Teacher.  What transformation occurs as a result of the action?


Now…note that this is the basic structure of story. It can be twisted, turned, minimalized, repeated, expanded or shrunk. Every story actually does variations on it, but I can take ANY story that has been at all  recognized as “story” by a significant number of people, and show how it fits.


I consider it a perfect starting place, because, unlike any other structure, you can also apply it to your “journey” of writing.


  1. Judy is confronted with a challenge to write a story in a month.
  2. It’s scary to do, because she doesn’t understand structure.
  3. She decides to take the challenge anyway.
  4. She starts writing and planning.
  5. She asks me for tools to help guide her.  (“What is structure”?)
  6. She WILL hit a major stumbling block.  Possibly, this was it!  Most likely, though, it will be found along the way.
  7. She will feel fear, despair, even want to quit.
  8. She will find a way to keep going (or…she will QUIT!  In which case this story ends there, but it is a part of a larger life saga)
  9. She will finish the story.
  10. She becomes a more accomplished writer. Possibly, she will be able to teach others how to travel this path, because she now has greater knowledge.


See how this works?  If not, take a dozen movies and “map” them on this pattern.  Choose simple, straight-forward movies, not complex delicate emotional dramas.  They can be harder to “map”.


By the time you do that…you’ll be a different writer.  Stronger and clearer on your process.


Now get to work!


Write with Passion!