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.


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

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



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



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


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


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


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


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


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


Write a sentence a day.

Write 1-4 stories a month

Finish and polish, seeking TRUTH, not “cleverness”

Submit, and keep submitting until they sell.

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

Read 10X what you write

Repeat for 100 stories.



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






Step #3: Accepting the Challenge

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

I mean…come ON, people.


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


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


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







Meditation and Art

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

My answer:

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

The Inner and Outer Games

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

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

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

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

-Steve Barnes,

HJ #2: The Hero Rejects The Challenge

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


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


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




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


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


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


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


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

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


And then he went out to die.



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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







The Hero is Confronted by Santa

Trying to unpack the most basic steps of the “Manifesto” is harder than it looks.   I want to make things as simple as possible…but no simpler.  “The Hero is confronted with the challenge” is the first step, but what does it mean?     This is always a desire to either decrease pain  or gain pleasure.  It sometimes requires action (our big-screen blockbusters) but ALWAYS  requires a clarifying of the Big Two questions: “who am I?” and “what is true?”   Always.


Once upon a time, like most kids, I believed in Santa Claus.  Christmas was a time of mystery and magic and joy and family togetherness.  Waited for it all year.  “Be good!” I was told. “And good things will come.”


And I tried.  Oh, how I tried to be good. As I got older, there were problems, of course.   I began to hear whispers that Santa wasn’t real.  I caught my parents making a bicycle late Christmas Eve.  I noticed that there were multiple Santas in different stores, and on different street corners.   I noticed that poor children got fewer toys from Santa than rich ones.   Something was wrong.


But…but…Mommy and Daddy were the source of all good things.  Without them I had nothing. I trusted them completely.  Surely they wouldn’t lie to me.  Would they..?


And even if I decided that they would, and had…how would I deal with the information?  Did I distrust them?  Did I PRETEND to still believe so as to manipulate them into buying me presents they really couldn’t afford? Well, yeah, I did that.  I think most kids did.


But…but what did I think about it? What was true?  As I grew older, the first temptation was to be a wise ass, and tell the younger kids that there was no Santa. Wow! I was smart!  Then…I saw that that caused them pain.  Did I have anything to transform that pain into pleasure?  Actually…no, I didn’t.   “I’m wising them up” I thought.  “How dare my parents lie to me! It’s all bullshit!”


But as I grew even older, I saw how hard my Mom and Dad had worked to choreograph those moments of joy.  Wondered why they wouldn’t take personal responsibility for giving me and my sister those presents. Wouldn’t that have been the better thing? They bought them. Why didn’t they want those hugs and kisses and thanks?


As time passed, and paid my own bills and took adult responsibility for myself, I began to see how hard life could be, how often callous.  And that it seemed odd that people were more polite around Christmas time. Even adults.   There was something magical about it, even for those who were not devout, didn’t believe in the deeper Christian story behind the exterior holiday.  And later, studying NLP came across the concept of “anchoring”–that highly emotionalized actions and experiences become associated with events.  And that when this happens in childhood, we can associate them for a lifetime.


Oh.  My parents had sacrificed not just their time and energy, but the joy of hearing “thank you” because someone had done that for them. They had learned that this was a good thing. Why?


Because children believe in gods and monsters. We grow up in a world where resources are given to us from no source we can understand. We do not understand money.  Or work (unless we grow up on a farm!).  We understand love, and hugs, and food, and shelter.   And love Mommy and Daddy beyond measure because they provide these things.   We’re wired to.   And Santa…who is everywhere, in many forms, impossibly…once upon a time brought the greatest gifts of all.


Somewhere deep within us, we still remember that magic. And the entire culture remembers it, once a year.  And we smile at each other, and are sweeter, and kinder, and more giving.  Because we were given to.  And that sweetness is a good thing. And good for our children. And most parents forgo a few hugs and kisses to give their children that same gift, the gift they were given, that can make a stranger’s kindness a trigger to remember the best days of our lives, and remind us to pass that blessing on.


And I realized it might have been “smart” to see through Santa…but it was not “wise” to rip that myth away from children unless I had something to replace it with, a culturally held story that communicates across race, gender, nationality, even religion.  A shared language of love and giving.  It is “smart” to see the artificiality.  But it is ego to rip it away from children unless you have something to replace it with.  I’m not smart enough to replace all of that.


Everyone will come to their own conclusions about these things. That is part of the process of maturation.  But when my daughter Nicki was born, and began to grow, I watched her eyes alight with wonder at the decorations, and her burbling with delight as she opened gifts, and REMEMBERED what that felt like in my own life, and all my parents had given me, sometimes at great costs to themselves. And committed to creating the same wonder for her, if I could.


And knew that there would be no time when I told her to doubt the magic.  That she would, with the passage of time, come to doubt it for herself…and that that would be just a little sad.  That my son Jason in one year totally believed in the “Elf on the Shelf”…but by the next year began to wonder, and by the next was totally in on the joke, but pretended to believe…because it was fun.  And of course because he could con me into buying presents I couldn’t afford.  Because Santa.


I was like my Mom and Dad, at their best.  Giving because it gave joy.


What is true? Who am I?   I was someone who lived to bring joy to my family.  We move away from pain and toward pleasure.  No one can tell an adult what to believe, or that is not an adult.  We have to make those decisions about every story we were told, whether about Love, or fitness, or success…or Santa Claus.


We grasp that there are facts: love makes life easier.  We can anchor intense experiences into our bodies and trigger them for a lifetime. We need shared languages to create a culture.  That Santa Claus is not factual.


Or…we can see that, while not “factual”, some stories are in a sense “true.”  That they contains internested lessons that can keep people alive in lonely days.  All cultures have such myths, sigils that represent deeper truths.

Is a flag worth dying for?  As a piece of cloth, no.  How about as a symbol of a nation?   Die for a political abstraction?  Absurd?

Well…how about the fact that a group that cannot rally, and sometimes go to meet an enemy BEFORE that enemy reaches their homes, will have to fight as individuals with the Huns burning their towns and killing their children in the streets. But a culture that can abstract to rally around an idea…or a piece of cloth…can be motivated to fight, and prepare to fight, before the threat actually arrives.  And therefore has a greater chance of survival. Yeah, a paradox.   Fighting for a “mere” symbol can actually be the best way of protecting what is real.


Can this be abused?  You betcha. But is it necessary?  Looking at human history…it seems hugely valuable.   You want to fight BEFORE your house starts burning.


Teaching our children to believe in a lie can help them understand what is true.


Paradox.   Stories are all about that.   Suffering the pain of discipline today: exercising, balancing your checkbook, telling an uncomfortable truth…can stave off death, disease and disaster tomorrow.


What is the STORY you tell?   The “Hero confronts the challenge” that the story he believes in says: “it is time to act.”  Or that the story he believes in is a lie, and must be changed. The map doesn’t match the territory.


Santa isn’t real.   But it isn’t clever to say so to the younger children, who deserve their chrysalis period.  Stories are not true. But neither are our direct perceptions through flawed senses.  We ORGANIZE our minds, select the perceptions, emotionalize them and ignore the irrelevant…to create meaning.


And communicate that meaning through stories.


The quality of our lives is the quality of the stories we tell.  Even if they aren’t quite factual.  Lifewriting loves to look at the connection between the inner and outer stories, and simply asks writers and readers and filmmakers and filmgoers to examine this insanely powerful tool, and begin to use it for their own direct benefit, and the benefit of mankind.


Trust me: if you don’t use it consciously, it will be used against you. And the lies stuffed down your sleeping throats will be a lot less benign than a jolly elf in a red suit.








Lifewriting Manifesto 4/22/17

I’ve modified the “Lifewriting Manifesto” so that there are ten steps, each keyed to a step of the Hero’s Journey.   There are other story patterns, and other patterns of human change and growth. But Lifewriting is the only one that does BOTH.  Once you begin to apply it to writing a story (“plot”) the PROCESS of writing a story (“work flow”) and the process of living and growing in the world, you tap into something huge, a truth floating just beyond conscious thought.  And once you can sense this connection, you can apply it to relationships, and groups, and nations, and to the world itself.  This is the collected wisdom of all the world’s elders telling the young people of the village “this is how life will be.”  Make the implicit explicit, and you will understand your lives in a way few ever do.


Contained within it is a basic triad of human physical experience: career, relationships, fitness.   Look at the way YOU struggle to balance these you will gain understanding of human nature that will transform your writing.  And that as you begin to apply these understandings to the people around you, you will understand humanity, and life itself.


This manifesto is a work in progress only.


  1. Lifewriters are aware of the CHALLENGES in our  lives in all three major arenas: emotions, career, and body (“Hero confronted with the challenge”).  We have CLEAR OUTCOMES and know why we want them.  And know that the primary goal of life is happiness.
  2. Lifewriters seek to master the EMOTIONS that both stop and empower us, knowing that they are the fuel that powers our engines.  (“Hero rejects the challenge”)
  3. Lifewriters accept RESPONSIBILITY for their emotions and actions and commit to doing WHATEVER IT TAKES to bring their goals into the world in an ethical, loving fashion. (“Hero accepts the challenge”).  We care for our own health and sanity, knowing that wounded healers help fewer people.    We work from our hearts, or from the struggle of physical experience, not from our mental concepts or spiritual aspirations, knowing that these must rest on a bedrock of reality.
  4. Lifewriters take daily ACTION, at least one small step EVERY DAY toward our objectives, learning as we do.  (“The road of trials”). We are writers, filmmakers, teachers, leaders…who understand the power of STORY to create meaning in life, and know that we are the heroes in our own stories.  We are committed to being AWAKE, AWARE, ADULT human beings.  While we work from our hearts…we also protect ourselves and allow no one to damage or denigrate us, understanding the power of BOTH individual strength and group action.
  5. Lifewriters  understand the GAP between where we are and where we want and deserve to be, and seek MENTORS and ROLE MODELS who have accomplished these things, modeling their BELIEFS, STRATEGIES, SKILLS and BEHAVIORS. (“Allies and Powers”).  We know that if we try to communicate to everyone we reach no one.   We find our “tribe”, the people who speak our language and share our journey, and nurture them in return for their nurturance.
  6. Lifewriters accept that FAILURE is an inevitable part of the journey: “the only way you know how far you can go is by going too far” (“Confrontation with Evil–defeated).  That our external or internal obstacles can only be revealed by action…and we are at peace with this reality.
  7. Lifewriters know that DISCOURAGEMENT AND DEPRESSION come to all human beings, in different degrees. (“The Dark Night of the Soul”) and prepare for it…in advance.   Know that our emotions are controlled by how we move our bodies, what we focus on, and the internal language we use.  We keep track of the ways we moved through these painful emotions in the past, and collect resources so that we can “get back on the horse” more rapidly in the future…and forgive ourselves for being human.
  8. Lifewriters have FAITH that the future will be better and more meaningful than our past.   That we can have this reliance either on a higher power, our companions on the journey (friends, family, mentors), or…in ourselves, in that spark of ultimate potential within us.  That if we love ourselves as we would our own most beloved child, we will see the potential in that child no matter what. (“The Leap of Faith”)
  9. Lifewriters prepare for VICTORY, knowing that all change brings death to a small self-concept, and our egos will fight to keep us in place. We are humble and gracious in victory, as we were balanced and maintained equanimity in defeat.  We know that opportunities come again and again in life, if we continue to strive, focus, control our emotional states, learn and grow.   That any single opportunity may come only once…but the next will come soon enough, and we must be prepared.  (“Confront Evil…and emerge victorious”)
  10. Lifewriters make a path for others.    Lifewriters know that the final step, “The Student becomes the teacher” is the movement to the higher level.   Your knowledge is tested by your ability to help another to your level.   That mastery is a verb, not a noun. A process, not a position.  It is NEVER ENDING GROWTH AND IMPROVEMENT along the path of life.  And that the most precious thing in the world is helping another human being out of darkness and into the light  We love ourselves, and humanity.  We know that selfishness is not the problem: defining “self” as limited by skin color, nation, gender, religion or other external measures is the problem. We are not part of the problem…we are the answer.


We are Lifewriters.  And we are thousands strong.





What is a Lifewriter?

I was asked this question last week, and realized I’d not defined it clearly.  I still have no clear definition, and that’s not fair to people I’m asking to consider this path. What I HAVE done is taken a crack at a “manifesto.”  I am asking for critiques, thoughts, suggestions, refinements.   Thank you in advance!



  1. Lifewriters understand the basic steps of the Hero’s Journey:
    1. They are aware of the CHALLENGES in their lives.
    2. They know they must master the FEAR that stops them from growing.
    3. They accept RESPONSIBILITY for their lives.
    4. They take daily ACTION (“the road of trials”)
    5. They find MENTORS and ALLIES to help them along the path, so that they can gain the SKILLS and ABILITIES that take them to the next level
    6. They accept that failure is an inevitable part of improvement. (“Confront evi–defeated”)
    7. They understand that they will experience negative emotions and depression (“The Dark Night of the Soul”)
    8. They have FAITH that, even in the heart of the coldest winter, spring will return.
    9. They are prepared for the shock of VICTORY, and can be good winners.
    10. They teach others the path to growth.
  2. Lifewriters understand that there are multiple levels to human existence, and that it is safest to grow either from the grounding of physical experience, or the connection of heartspace. That our ideas can be convincing, but delusional.
  3. Lifewriters control their own story. They know that their history is a collection of memories and events, but THEY control its meaning, by knitting it all together with perspectives, beliefs, and emotions.
  4. Lifewriters understand that a major way they impact the world is by telling  stories to others.  It is the ONLY way we can communicate our deep emotions and perceptions, and has been used by all great teachers through all human history.
  5. Lifewriters are often professional communicators: writers, filmmakers, teachers, marketers.  They are committed to finding the truth of their lives and speaking it as directly as possible, allowing those who resonate to find them.
  6. Lifewriters don’t bother trying to speak to “everyone”–they know this is an impossible dream, and will ultimately stop them from communicating with ANYONE at all.
  7. Lifewriters have a clear OUTCOME for their actions, they know WHY they want these things…and only after clarifying these two things do they decide HOW to accomplish their dreams.
  8. Lifewriters are the Heroes of their own stories. They have decided to be awake within the dream of their own existence.   While understanding that life is larger than the consensus reality we live in, they play full out, for their own pleasure and the good of humanity.
  9. Lifewriters protect themselves, understanding that wounded healers help fewer people.
  10. Lifewriters love themselves, and humanity. They know that selfishness is not the problem: defining “self” as limited by their own skin, color, nation, gender, or other external measure is the problem.




A Black Belt In 24 Hours

I think the Dalai Lama is right: the purpose of life is to be happy.


Let me tell you a story.  Years ago, I was working at a women’s self defense workshop under Dawn Callan.  She is the greatest self-defense instructor I’ve ever seen in my life.  In two days, she could teach a woman more about protecting herself than most instructors can in two years. What did she do?  Drill a few simple techniques, and work through the negative emotional crap that comes up for civilized human beings when they consider defending themselves. Then give them a chance to go into “controlled berserk” against a padded attacker, anchoring the hyperemotionalized experience into their bodies.

They have to make connection with a spiritual truth:   we as beings have the right to be here, and the right to defend ourselves.


To be free of fear, which opens the door to happiness.


Anyway, there was one woman (call her “Ginger”) in the workshop who simply couldn’t hit the kicking shield. Ginger was so lost in illusion, so wrapped up in the rules we give women around social niceties that she was paralyzed by fear.  “I’m afraid I’ll hurt you” she kept sobbing.   No one could help her, and for some odd reason (yeah, right) they brought her to me.


After several prompts, Ginger just froze, and stood there with tears streaming down her face.   I had an intuitive flash about a way to reach her.


“Do you have a daughter?” I asked.  No.

“Do you have a little sister?”  She nodded.  Bingo.

“Do you love her?”  I asked.  Ginger nodded again, sobbing.

“Would you do anything for her?”  She nodded.

I took a deep breath.  I won’t say exactly what I said to her, but let’s just say it was a very explicit, ugly picture.  “If I get past you, I’m going to ______________”  The kind of thing I wouldn’t put in print.  Whatever you’re thinking, this was probably worse.


And…something happened.   Ginger’s  energy shifted, totally.   Instead of thinking about herself, she was thinking about her sister. She didn’t have permission to defend herself…but she damned well DID have permission to protect her sister.


And…Ginger knocked me across the room. And jumped on me, and beat the hell out of me. And it took three men to haul her off.


“THAT!” I screamed.    “That place, RIGHT THERE. THAT’S the place you have to go!”


Crying and sobbing she was…but Ginger also had just learned how to access that space  beyond fear and concern for social rules.


Survival. Protection of the tribe.  Rather than the “social” rules operating WITHIN the tribe, she played according to universal rules of survival that exist when core personal or genetic survival is at risk, and from there, she was an unstoppable force.


Some women think only women are taught this.  No.  SMALLER PEOPLE are taught their own version–don’t fight back, or you’ll be a target.  LARGER people are taught this.   Don’t be scary or people will hate and fear you.


MINORITIES are taught this.  Don’t make waves, or you’ll “reap the whirlwind” of violence and disapproval of the majority group controlling the law enforcement system.   Members of the MAJORITY are taught this: you benefitted by privilege, so shut up and listen, don’t defend yourself or you are an oppressor. 


There is no group that doesn’t get hit with this stuff.  In a world of social niceties, where everyone is playing fair, acting according to social rules is survival. Courtesies are social lubricant, and ease the way. There is a reason diplomats speak with so carefully.


But you have to know when it is time to forget the niceties. Forget the rules.   WHAT WOULD YOU BE WILLING TO DIE FOR?  That woman was willing to die to protect her little sister. That meant that she didn’t care what I or anyone else thought about her.  She didn’t care if she lived or died. She was only concerned with the maintenance of her ULTIMATE VALUE–her sister’s life.


When you are clear about this, you can, as that line from ROAD HOUSE goes…“be nice. Until its time to not be nice.”


If you have been damaged by life, it probably affected your sense of self, of being precious and divine.   This is true for women, men, entire social structures, humanity itself.   The truth is that the core attitude of the martial arts is something very close to: “I’m ready to die, and I’m ready to take you with me.”   A human being in that space either dies…or wins.


Want to be a black belt in 24 hours?   Spend that time alone in a room, and consider very clearly what you are willing to die for in life.  And then what you are willing to kill to protect. Get clear on the fact that no matter what you do, you cannot live small enough that death will forget to gather you up.   You may not be able to think of doing this to protect yourself, due to damage, due to the fact that you may not have been told that you are precious, and perfect, and made of the same stuff as the stars.  It is not “victim blaming” to say that we must be prepared to make such choices. It is enabling adult responsibility.  RESPONSE-ABILITY. The  ability to respond.  Anything other than this is learned helplessness.   As well as angels, we are also stone cold berserkers. THAT is the reality.  Anything else is what you were taught to survive childhood.  And ESPECIALLY if you were hurt or unloved in that childhood…you may have a very difficult time accessing your truth.


But…ALL human beings were nurtured at some point in their lives.  If you weren’t you would have died.  You may have no conscious memory of such a reality,  but the circuitry is there.  Dive deeply enough, and you can find that spark of divinity.  Once you find it, commit to protecting it at all costs.  Find the part of you that will bare its teeth like a mother tiger protecting its young. Once you find this place, and anchor it with a visualization or physical movement, you have a very different relationship with fear.


ANGER, pure homicidal anger…in the service of love.  Primal mother/father love.  From this position, you can change your life, express your art, right social wrongs, change the world.


Or die in the process.    All great leaders and creators understand that they are burning up the substance of their lives to create something new.    You have to die anyway…why not commit to spend your life energy for something you care about?  Some principle, some cause, your art, a better world, your family if necessary.   Dig deep, and no matter how much the world has tried to bury that live wire its in there, spitting sparks.  Dig it out and connect it to the dynamo of a righteous dream, and you can:


  1. Transform your body.
  2. Transform your career and art.
  3. Transform your relationships.


What can stop the power of a mother tiger diving through fire to protect her cubs?  THAT is the power of connecting.  My dream, of ONE MILLION AWAKE, AWARE, CONTRIBUTING ADULTS and THOUSANDS of awake, aware, adult artists and storytellers…simply asks you to connect with this survival power, and then apply it to something you care about. To move BEYOND fear to action in the service of something you love.


Love. THAT was what was on the other side of all that fear that “Ginger” experienced.   By the end of the workshop, when she had devastated our padded attackers like a Tasmanian Devil, she gave me the longest, sweetest hug I think I’ve ever had in my life, telling me I’d given her the best and most terrible gift she’d ever received, that for the first time in her life she had moved beyond the tragedy of a childhood of abuse to a sense of power…


We cried together. She got it. And by giving it to her, I’d connected with that precious place again, the place I found that day I stepped out into the traffic rather than be beaten by bullies.


Safety, in the heart of danger.


THAT is who we really are. The rest is social games to survive our families, or the world.   But playing small won’t protect you. It is just death, a little dose every day, draining all the pleasure from life until you have to numb yourself just to survive.


There is more than survival. There is life. And hope. And love.  But you must break out of the illusion that you are weak. You are not weak. You are more powerful than you have ever imagined. That is why they have to try to control you.


When you are free, you can act from love rather than fear. Take the steps to lead you to joy.  And you will have found your life’s purpose: to be happy.






(These principles are ESSENTIAL for committed artists, or activists seeking to change the world.  You will deal with fear on every level, from survival to social rejection.  The ANCIENT CHILD technique was specifically created to connect you to the primal power programmed into every human being, even if you have no conscious awareness of ever being nurtured. And now you can have it FREE if you will try one month of LIFEWRITING PREMIUM, the world’s only writing system that connects the inner world of the artist with the outer world of the art.  Go to WWW.LIFEWRITINGPREMIUM.COM and take your first step on a new path.  You have nothing to lose but fear of  your fear!)

What would you do next?

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a writer more than anything in the world.  I’d rather have failed as a writer than SUCCEEDED at anything else–I wanted it that badly.  But I’d never met a writer. No one I knew knew one.  My mother was terrified I would fail, and actually burned my stories.  Teachers mocked me, and bullies beat me up just for being a lonely, nerdy,  sensitive, creative kid.   I was told `black people don’t write.’


But I was too stupid to quit, to know when I was beat, and bulled my way through by hook or crook, struggling with every fear and doubt imaginable.  I sought role models, read hundreds of books, attended every lecture I could, and wrote and wrote and wrote, even though sometimes the rejections were so painful I curled up on the floor and cried.


But somehow, I kept moving forward.


But somehow, I kept moving forward.  I managed to put together a clumsy but effective collection of techniques that allowed me to limp from failure to failure until…I began to publish.  And then make serious money. And then actually learn enough that I was asked by UCLA to teach others.   Yeah, I had “Impostor Syndrome” and couldn’t believe I had anything to say.  But I figured you could “fake it ’til you make it” and went ahead.  Then one day, teaching at UCLA, I found something totally different.


Then one day, teaching at UCLA, everything changed.   It was simple, so simple that it changed my life:




Astonishingly (after the steam stopped coming out of his ears) he began to come up with all of his own answers. And then…so did everyone else in the class.   This simple strategy changed my life.  Applying it in all three arenas of my life (Body, Mind, and Spirit) it led to earning THREE black belts, becoming a NY Times bestselling, award-winning science fiction writer, and marrying my Soul Mate, American Book Award winning novelist Tananarive Due.


The keys to the kingdom, right in front of all of us all the time!




I’ve spent the last thirty years refining notion,  teaching it, healing students and clients so that they can achieve the same success…I called the approach LIFEWRITING, and taught it to thousands of students worldwide.  But I wanted more.   It seemed obvious to me that STORYTELLING IS THE WEB THAT HOLDS HUMAN SOCIETY TOGETHER, just as it defines us as individuals.   That if I could leverage it properly, teach it to enough committed writers and artists it would not only help them master their careers but that together we could change the world.


So we came full circle: from a toolbox for writers to a tool for general development to a specific world of magic for writers (oh, all right…readers can come too, but while it will help you understand why you love story, and help you transform your life, the greatest value is to the storytellers themselves!)


Tananarive and I have  a simple goal:  ONE MILLION AWAKE, AWARE, CONTRIBUTING ADULTS.




Remember the formula for socially conscious artists and activists?


  1. Love yourself. Care for yourself.
  2. Love one other person
  3. Understand history, and humanity, without guilt, blame, or shame.
  4. Find your tribe.  Don’t waste your time arguing with sleeping children or smiling monsters.
  5. Succeed.


We’ve created countless tools to facilitate this, but the most important one facilitates healing of emotional wounds, getting you in touch with your dreams, tapping into your true energy, and giving you the drive to change your life.


THE ANCIENT CHILD is that tool.  It sells for as much as 49.95, but if you will just give us a chance to show you what LIFEWRITING PREMIUM can do for your writing career, we’ll give it to you FOR FREE!!


If you are a writer, reader, film-maker, film-lover, teacher, or leader of any kind, LIFEWRITING IS FOR YOU. And LIFEWRITING PREMIUM is PERFECT for you if you are a writer or artist.  And we’re so confident  in our system that we’ll let you try it for the first month for ONE DOLLAR, and get the ANCIENT CHILD free of charge!   Then, after 30 days, if you don’t agree that LIFEWRITING is worth far more than the mere $29 a month, just cancel and keep all the goodies you’ve gotten!





Be the hero in the adventure of your lifetime!