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.

Taking Action

Staying with the notion of having a perfect week, we stay with the “A” in M.A.G.I.C., which is “action.” What are the actions you have to take this week to make a substantive positive change, and have a positive experience?


What are the “chunks” of those actions you have to take TODAY to move in that direction?


If you lack clarity, and can’t figure out what you need to do, you probably haven’t taken the steps of:


  1. Clearly deciding upon a goal
  2. Modeling the behavior and beliefs of others who have accomplished similar goals.


If you know what to do, and break it down into small actions that will get you there, what is the Minimum Effective Action that will keep you moving?


  1. In writing, that’s a sentence a day.
  2. In yoga, that might be a single pose
  3. In emotions, it might be no more than the “Five Minute Miracle” of sixty second breathing breaks.


See how it works?   Small actions (five minutes) which begin to de-inhibit the tendency to procrastinate or believe “there is nothing I can do.”


And what if you cannot do even five minutes? One line? One pose?   Then you have determined the real problem is NOT lack of time or resources. That is just the excuse your demons use to stop you.  The problem is fear. The problem MIGHT be a lack of clarity on “why you want to do it.”


That puts the ball back in your court: the answer then might be to work on your fear response, or come up with more reasons to do that basic five minutes.




Very simple.  Musashi’s first principle is: “Do Not Think Dishonestly”.   Without honesty, you have an inaccurate map of reality. You then become capable of “running east to see the sunset”–your ego has tricked you into wasting all the time and energy you could have used for transformation.



I am reminded of a friend who was a fabulous, sexy, funny, attractive person, who had never had a successful relationship.    When I asked him if he had specificity in what he wanted, he said absolutely.  He wanted someone sexy, funny, intelligent.  A relationship with passion, honesty and intimacy. On and on.


He’d tried.  He really had.   And was beginning to believe that relationships were impossible.   Was hanging around with other men and women who supported that notion.  Challenged my notion that relationships can work.


I pointed out one very simple fact: he had never requested a LASTING relationship.   He got everything he asked for…except he had neglected to mention “duration.”


Oops.  The expression on his face when he realized that he had screwed himself was priceless.   That was over ten years ago.  He changed his goal, and within eighteen months had a spanking new relationship that has lasted to this day.


Funny how that works.


He knew WHY he wanted a relationship, but didn’t have the WHAT right.   The correct WHAT demanded that he be a slightly different expression of himself, take different daily actions to be the kind of person who can attract and sustain a relationship, which then “radiated” a different message. NOW he begins to attract people on the same wavelength, with different intents.


I remember clearly when a friend told me that I was ready to get married.  “How do you know?” I asked.  “It’s like a cab with its light on,” she laughed.   “Men who are ready for serious relationships just broadcast on a different frequency. That means they’ll attract a different kind of woman, one who is also looking for a serious relationship.”


And not only was she right, but within about eighteen months I was married.  And have noticed the same thing in other men and women.  Not just about relationships, but about money and obesity and writing careers.


There are people pretending. And there are others who have decided.


The ones who have decided have more reasons to ACT than to NOT ACT.


And they know, because they are taking different actions, and getting different results.   It’s painfully simple.


Your actions are driven by your emotions which are responding to the clarity of your goal.


What you do tells the world who you are, and what is valuable to you, and whether you have the emotional permission to have it.



Every day can be a diagnostic.   Every step is another chance to ask “who am I?”  If you love the answer, keep walking.   If you don’t, change your gait, or change your path.





(get your free copy of the “Seven Day Mental Diet” at: www.fiveminutelifehacks.com)


Working on the outline…

I’m working on the outline of my new novel, TRAVELER.  Very carefully, I’m allowing a few trusted friends to look at what I’m doing to give feedback. Here are some of the things I am examining:

  1. Overall plot. Is it exciting, engaging, different?
  2. Characters. Are there at least three characters you’ve never seen before, or at least never seen in this combination?
  3. Thematics.  Can you “feel” the core thematic threads working through the different sequences?   Do they trigger an emotional reaction?   Are they reflected in the events rather than the dialogue or authorial voice?


If someone reads a short (10-20 page) outline of the novel and these (and selected other) tests are passed, I will begin to write.   I’ll use WRITER DUET to create a script first, as a script has character, dialogue, and plot but can be written far more rapidly than a novel. If it still works, then I’ll expand it out to a novel by filling in description.  In the process I’ll learn new things. New scenes will present themselves. The characters will have new notions.


Also…I’ve been asked to write three short stories for different anthologies. One is set in the Dream Park universe, to be written with Larry.   But the other two have philosophical or political bents.   I will find aspects of the world of TRAVELER, and write short stories around them. That will allow me to experiment with tone, refine my thinking on the extrapolative aspects, and create back-story that will make the novel even better.


So…out of this process I’ll get:

  1. Practice in refining the PROCESS of writing
  2. At least two short stories
  3. A script to market
  4. A fine strong novel


I’d call that a pretty decent return on investment, wouldn’t you?



Write with passion!


(oh…and it all starts with a commitment to write at least one sentence a day.  Every day. No matter what.  My average is probably 100X that…but what the heck!)

The Snowstorm that saved my life

Thirty years ago I was driving in central California and got caught in a freak snowstorm.  I could only see five feet in front of the car.  It was utterly terrifying, as I was driving on roads I didn’t know.  I could have died.


It saved my life.




The “Seven Day Emotional Diet” notion is about deliberately setting out to have the best week of your life.  The happiest, most successful week in alignment with both your childhood dreams and ultimate values.


“Success is the progressive realization of a worthy ideal” said Earl Nightingale.  Not “the accomplishment of” not “getting money” or whatever, but “progressive realization.”  That means that you are taking a step every day.


Twenty-five years ago, my first marriage died.  I was stuck in a one-bedroom apartment in Vancouver Washington having lost my house (and inheritance), with no job, career in tatters, alone, broke, and desperate.


All I had was a television set, a bed, my dog, and a gun. Bad combination. Everything seemed to be misty, shrouded in pain and doubt.  I called one of my closest relatives, pleading for emotional help, and received an answer of “oh, you’re all right.  You’re always all right.”


I hung up the phone, staring at the receiver, feeling more alone and isolated than ever in my life. For the very first time, I understood how people could want to kill themselves.  I wasn’t going over the waterfall, but I could hear the rapids.


And I remember sitting quietly, going into meditation, asking my deepest wisdom what I should do.  I saw no answers. But…that didn’t mean that there were no answers, it meant that I couldn’t see them from where I was.


So…I remembered what it was like to be caught in a snowstorm, as I once was. And remembered that I couldn’t’ see where I was going…beyond the next five feet. But that if I could travel those five feet safely, I could see ANOTHER five feet. And another, and another.  And that eventually I got out of the storm, creeping forward at about five miles an hour.  And as long as I could keep creeping forward, my fear of freezing in the snow was held at bay.


So I made a commitment.  “Lord,” I said.  “I’m going to keep moving forward. I’m going to do the things which, if I can keep doing them, will get me out of this.  I can’t see beyond my next step, maybe two steps.  I’m going to leap out on faith. Please catch me. But if you can’t, and there are rocks down there…let me hit before I see them.”


So I started working on my next book.  I started running again.  And I began to heal my heart, figuring to give everything I had to trying to heal my family. And if I couldn’t’ do that…make myself a better man, so that I could find new love.


One step at a time.  Small steps.  Sometimes tiny.  BUT A STEP EVERY DAY.


It was terrifying. But I actually made a game out of it.  Looking for signs that I was heading in the right direction.  And that could be positive results…or life throwing more crap at me. Why?  Because ANY time you are moving from one level to the next, all the demons of hell will oppose you, especially if they live in your own heart.


One step. And then another. And another.  I began to enjoy the pain, because it was an obstacle I could fight through.   Every day another step. Another page.  Another lap. Another hour of meditation.  Another book read, gaining wisdom. Another martial arts class…


Just one more.  Just one more.   Was it true that if I was in great shape, if I had money, and if I loved and honored myself I would be happy?  Yes.  Was it true that THAT guy would never be lonely?  Yes.   Was it true that every day lived like that was “the progressive realization of a worthy ideal..?”


Yes, it was. And…I emerged from my funk.  I found love, broke through my physical barriers, and wrote a dynamite book. Putting the pain of my experience into the heart of my protagonist.


Came out the other side.  One step at a time.


And that was in one of the worst depressions of my entire life.   If I’d had the “Seven Day Emotional Diet” notion down, it would have been even easier.  That’s why I want you to use it.  If you don’t have your free copy, you can get it at:    www.fiveminutelifehacks.com 


One step at a time, one moment at a time, one week at a time.


Its your life.  Own it!




Strike Like a Scorpion

For various reasons, I’ve said that LION’S BLOOD might well be the best book I’ll ever write. I wasn’t sure I’d ever be willing to invest that much of myself in a project again. That’s the old “more pain than pleasure” associated with an activity–you cannot do it. But…over the last couple of years I’ve noticed myself consciously thinking and lazily “researching” a restructuring and retelling and re-imagining my Emmy winning Outer Limits episode “A Stitch In Time.” Wondering what I would do with it now. Wondering what I’d have done with it if I’d had a free hand at the time. Knowing that that particular story is owned by the production company, but that there are thematic aspects no one controls but my own heart. And…I’m getting close. I have an eleven-page treatment for a story called “Traveler” which isn’t totally worked out yet, but is one of those “story Steve Barnes was born to write and was born writing” feels about it. Not ready to start writing it yet.


But working.  The “magic” happens when you are totally engaged in the work you CAN do.  Don’t worry about how the world responds, or which ideas you don’t have yet.  If there is a possibility that this idea would be wonderful, I have to orient myself to have the best possible chance to make that happen.


I have to work backwards from the idea: “what if this is the best book I’ve ever written?”


Scary thought. Hard to care that much.   I don’t want to get hurt.


But…if I’m not willing to be hurt, I’ll never feel joy.  You can’t get to “yes” if you are afraid to hear “no.”


So…let me apply the M.A.G.I.C. formula to this.  Remember?


Magic = Action X Gratitude X Intention X Conviction.


I want magic.


Action would be the daily behaviors I would need to take to optimize my chance to create a great book.   That means writing, dreaming, researching, testing, talking.   Coming up with HUNDREDS of creative notions, and knowing when and how to throw them away if they don’t fit.   Reading work that has the texture of the prose I believe would work best for a novel like this.   I’m thinking a combination of Ray Bradbury with more grit, and Chip Delaney without the overwhelming intellectual force.   That might do it.


Gratitude.  To access my creativity, to get beyond any wounds, scars, fears, resentments, fatigue or doubt I have to focus on my “wins” career-wise. I’ve had a ton of them. It is sometimes hard to remember, because I focus on what is missing, what can be improved, and sometimes forget the positives. It is the downside of being an achiever.  I can’t “turn off” the pretender voices, but I can ignore them if I keep my eyes on all the wonderful moments of my career.  I have so much to be grateful for: wonderful reviews and sales and awards and moments with writers I adore who praised my work or told me they believed in me.   So much.  I have to absolutely wash myself in those emotions, allow the little boy inside me to luxuriate in that positive emotion.  You done good, kid!   And the universe has been kind.   Because…if I can feel grateful for what has happened, it gets EASY to find faith in what is to come!


Intention.  This is my desired outcome.  And here…what I want is Legacy. I want to ask myself the question: if there was a book , a story I was born to write, what would it be?  It would be exciting, sexy, thoughtful, intense, action-packed, twisty, contemporary, futuristic, historical.  Would deal with big ideas and broad philosophical positions, with race and gender and identity, with concepts spiritual and mundane.  I have no interest in writing a book unless it has the potential to be the best thing I’ve ever done.  Why bother?


Conviction.  Faith. I have to believe that I CAN and SHOULD set my sights so high. That there really is potential for such a book in me.   That if I bring everything I have, leave NOTHING in the locker room, leave 100% of what I’ve got in the ring…then I can do this.   An all-out, ego-shattering, heart-breaking, gasping, clawing, glorious, bone-cracking head-busting effort. All-out sprint with every drop of heart and head and body I have, as if it is the last thing I’ll ever write.



Can you see how those four things: Action, Gratitude, Intention, and Conviction TOGETHER open the door to the best performance I’m capable of?  How “lucky” you become if you ask the universe for nothing but the opportunity to turn yourself inside-out giving everything you’ve got for a worthy goal? A goal that will destroy who you are, and open the door to what you might become?


THAT is a project worth investing in.    Eleven pages I have right now.   I am going over and over and over it, every day.    One day I will look at it, read it, and every twist and turn, every character, every extrapolation, every notion and emotion will build one upon the other in a cascade, and when I finish reading it I will be shaken.  DAMN, WHAT A RIDE!


Then I will recruit a very very select circle of readers.  People who I trust with the little boy in my heart, and have them read that outline.  They will be writers, experts in specific arenas, friends, family.  Trusted and needed.  I’m thinking possibly two different editors: one to work with me closely, another to take it to a publisher eventually.


And if it passes their smell tests….


I will write a script.  That will allow me to test all structure and character and plot without worrying about the poetry of the interstitial linguistics.   And if it works as a script (which takes much less time to write, word-count wise) then I’ll expand it to a novel.


And if it worked at the outline level, and the script level…it will work at the novel level.  It will be grueling, and terrifying, and exhilarating, and when I’m done I’ll know I did everything I could to bring everything I’ve got.


And if I did it right? The reader will never realize how hard I sweated and bled. It will all seem to flow effortlessly.  Art conceals craft.  You see the Rabbit disappear, not the thousands of hours the magician spent practicing his craft. You see the perfectly timed and focused punch, not the tens of thousands of repetitions that got the master there.


And the ignorant and self-deceiving will say: “ah, talent!”

And the wise will know that I was up early and up late and shivered with fear that I wasn’t good enough have never been good enough, but somehow took another step, another step, another step, another sentence every day…until one day I emerged back into the light, and all was well.


Why?  Because I had faith. How?  By having so much gratitude for what the little boy inside me has accomplished that he was willing to get back out there and give it another shot. Just one more.


Because he knows Daddy loves him no matter what.




I remember when Jason was going to his first Judo tournament.  So long ago.  I think he was seven.   “What if I lose?” he asked me.


I held him and said: “if you do your best.  If you fight fair and hard, and keep your cool no matter what happens…then win or lose, buddy, we’re going for ice cream.”


And he went away, and came back a few minutes later with a fierce little smile.   “I’ve decided,” he said, “that I’m gonna  be very still, but when the moment comes I’m gonna strike like a scorpion!”


He did. He tore the mat up. Kids never knew what hit them.


He had taken action: countless hours of practice.  He had Gratitude for his daddy’s support and for a recent promotion.   He had intention: to act with decisive clarity when the moment came.  And he had 100% Conviction that no matter what, his daddy loved him.




I’m gonna write TRAVELER.


I’m going to strike like a scorpion.








(I’m focusing on the SEVEN DAY MENTAL DIET and M.A.G.I.C. in these talks for a while. If I can communicate their power, I think I can help anyone.   Please join me today at 6pm for another dive into the cauldren!   6pm Pacific, www.diamondhour.com

What Can I do?

When I was a kid, (almost) everyone told me that EVERYTHING I wanted was out of reach.

My parents were divorced: I wanted love.

I was small and weak: I wanted to be a martial artist.

My father had failed in his artistic career.  There WERE no black people in SF (so far as I could see).  I wanted to be a writer.

No hope. No role models.   No support.

But my mom played “Think and Grow Rich” and “The Power of Positive Thinking” and “Psycho Cybernetics” and on and on in endless loops and it got into my head.   And I realized that I could never ever quit, or I would lose my dreams and become one of the Walking Dead.

And I learned, and searched, and experimented, and implemented, and taught…and figured it out.  And now it is my turn to share what my teachers shared with me.  That’s what’s left to do, and it feels good, and right.

This is how life is supposed to work.


The  most basic piece of my “Five Minute Life Hacks” system  are:

  1. The establishment of a daily ritual of movement, emotion, and focus, from 1-20 minutes in length.
  2. The commitment to five minutes a day of this AT THE MINIMUM.


If you are in a killer stress tunnel, be sure you take five minutes ONE MINUTE AT A TIME during the day.  If you had the time to read this, but say you don’t have those five minutes: YOU ARE LYING to yourself.


Simple as that.   This is why I break it down as simply as this.  Sixty seconds.

Five minutes.   In one week, six days, you can feel the results from this.


Sixty seconds at a time

Five minutes a day

Thirty minutes a week



You can add more time, more modules. Can decide: “I want to put more focus on my body, my relationships, my writing, my X” and find efficient and effective means to expand. THAT is what the “Five Minute Life Hacks” program is about.


The writer who is full of excuses, with no time, who begins to write just one sentence a day, is part of this.

The parent who begins to spend a focused “Five Minute Achievement Check” is part of this.

The obese person who uses the “Smart Phone Diet” is a part of this.

The person who begins the “Ancient Secret of the Fountain of Youth” does this.


No matter what your concern is, focused on being balanced, and then take the minimum steps to walk that balanced path.  But you must start with committing to helping yourself, and committing to five minutes a day.  That’s the buy in.

It’s part of the trick.  By committing to five minutes, it stops being about how much time you have, or resources you have. It becomes about: WHO ARE YOU?  Do you keep your promises to yourself, or not? Do you tell the truth, or not?

If you don’t…all you have to do is commit to doing so, seek new resources, and try again. And again. You’d do it for your child.  Do it for the kid inside you.


That’s it!  That’s the trick!

You can start with one minute, just to get yourself going.  But the effect starts kicking in at the five minute mark.


I believe you can have the thing you desire most: happiness.   It is not your fault if you don’t have it: the people who taught you didn’t have it, and you were told to spend your intelligence solving the wrong problem. How to be “good at stuff” is only important if that stuff makes you happy.  And the worst of it is that the unhappy people want you to roll over, go back to sleep, and join them in their slow-motion nightmare.


WAKE UP, dammit!!


If you have a reason not to…PLEASE tell me what it is, so I can help you.  TELL ME WHY YOU HAVE THE TIME TO READ THIS, but don’t have five minutes to get focused, fit, stress-free, loving.  Tell me.  And if you have it, and want help creating that basic program, ASK ME.  Or heck, sign up for the free seven-day course at www.fiveminutelifehacks.com


If you want to go further, if you are really ready, please look at what I have for you at www.lifewrite.com


If you can think of ANYTHING I can do to make things simpler, easier, please let me know.  If I can, I will.


This is about your life, and the fact that it is NOT a dress rehearsal.



It’s Showtime, people!





It Isn’t Always Fun

(continuing to put five days of Five Minute Life Hacks into queue every day.  Whew!   Re-purposing the original 101 program, now that its been tested for a decade, is both challenge and opportunity.   The following is from day 60)


A writing student once asked me:


“I find it extremley lonely to sit in a room – alone – and write anything. I feel I am missing something, soemwhere, I should be doing something else – anything: TV, surfing the internet.. It’s as if I will do anything to avoid writing! I wonder did, or do you ever feel like this?”



Of course I do. The exact same sense: that there is something more important to do, somewhere else, keeps us from meditating, exercising, balancing our checkbooks, engaging with our loved ones. It is a core problem of the human “Monkey Mind”–so many possibilities so little time. Ever try to get your kid to do homework while other kids are playing baseball outside the window? That’s our mind.



More specifically, it might be considered an aspect of the CHILD portion of our mind. The ADULT mind has to set limits, goals, priorities, even when it’s not “fun.” Otherwise, our dreams will die.



A professional does what needs to be done even when it isn’t fun. If your goal is to become a professional in any field, you must learn and integrate this attitude. This can be tough for those of us who must combine self-expression with commerce….but since, ultimately, that is the challenge we all face, let’s discuss an approach.



The answer is Devastatingly simple, really: everything I am in life is tied into everything else. There are only three things I care about: family, writing, and martial arts. If it doesn’t tie into one of those three, I don’t do it. But that means that if I don’t engage with my family, don’t write, don’t practice, I begin to die inside. There is TREMENDOUS pain attached to not being a good father, an honest writer, a black-belt level martial artist. And there is TREMENDOUS joy attached to the attainment of these things. Every time my daughter smiles, or my son learns a new skill. Every time a reader tells me she ‘got it”. Every time I pull off a good technique against a skilled  opponent, I know I am on the right path.



All else is just obstruction: what stands in the way of your bliss? How do you take your brakes off? Learning to do this is a lifetime of work. Meditation, goal setting, journaling, seeking the advice of those who have gone before, clarifying your values…all are precious tools.



I would suggest by setting a goal of X amount of work per day, within Y amount of time. An ideal model might be to see how much you can accomplish in a single hour. Then, do that every day. Set a goal that you can objectively measure, so that if you DON’T do it, you know you are cheating yourself, you know that it has nothing to do with anything practical, but is instead your inner demons acting up. Then, as Musashi said, “walk the thousand mile road.” Every day. One day at a time.



This is the way of those who would create themselves, and their world. So far as I am concerned, there is no other.





Vertical and Horizontal “story integration”

The writing concept I’m working on for this new novel (working title: “Traveler”) is called “Vertical and Horizontal integration”. “Vertical” integration is the thematic core as expressed in human behavior: what am I saying about human beings? One way or another, every action has to reinforce or challenge this notion. “Horizontal” integration is the recapitulation of structure from one sequence to another. “Structure” is an expression of the writer’s view of reality itself, the “ethical structure of the universe”: how does the world respond to our efforts? Again, while the reader simply enjoys the story, the writer is taking them on a journey, and after several cycles of engagement (a little like the loops of a roller-coaster) the reader begins to feel the ebbs and flows, rises and falls of tension, and relaxes into them and absorbs.


This repetition, recapitulation or coordination of deep structure is NOT for beginners.   You have to have your characterization and plot at “unconscious competence” before you start screwin’ with this stuff, or you’ll get paralysis by analysis.  But…this ain’t my first, or thirtieth, rodeo.


If the thematics of the vertical echo the structure of the horizontal, my theory is that you have to be saying something valid and deep.  The reader will “feel” it.  If I dig and smelt materials, design and assemble the machinery, and test and polish the surface…all the driver knows is that that BMW sure drives sweet.  They relax into the experience.  I have to do the work for them, but the level of deep trust enables you to touch them on a deeper level.


I think that more “literary” writers do this with call-backs to other books or films or plays that the reader or viewer has absorbed over the years.   I am making a guess I can do this by coordinating the levels of structure and meaning.


It’s a fascinating game.  I started my career just wanting to write adventure stories.   Somewhere along the way, I decided I wanted more. Much more.   We’ll see if I can pull this off…


Does this sound cool?  Do you want to hear more about it (actual plot details remaining artfully vague of course) as I proceed?


Write with Passion!


Does the “Hero” have to want something? Does there have to be a “Hero”?

At dinner with the Clarion group last Thursday, I was asked if stories always had an obstacle, an objective.  After all, the classic “Hero’s Journey” is about someone who wants something, and their efforts to achieve it which take them into a deeper and steeper journey until some peak moment of revelation.


Well…yes, and no.  The truth is that “story” is one of those things where people know it when they see it, but the definitions can be a little slippery.  It varies between cultures and eras, seems slightly gendered, and whether you focus on the events or the lulls between them.


In discussion of the difference between literary and other fiction I said: “If there is a Typhoon on Wednesday, and an Earthquake on Friday, the literary story occurs on Thursday.”


Through allusion, metaphor, elegant use of language, description and deep psychology, the literary story seems to delight in seeing how extensively they can “string out” the time between events, the exact opposite of a typical Bruckheimer blockbuster, where it is all about the action itself.


But stories certainly CAN have action, with the lead-up to the action sizzling and building, and be considered the height of literature.   No writer in the English language ranks higher than Shakespeare, and no Shakespearean play ranks higher than Hamlet.   While the inciting incident (murder of his father) takes place off screen, the entire play is a build-up to an explosion of violence in the final act.


What of stories in which there is no single protagonist, no focused goal, no solid resolution or moment of change?  They exist, certainly, and you can find them more often in some cultures than other.


It would be interesting to compare cultures to stories, see if there are different levels of social organization, “patriarchal” structure, technology, history of conquest, body comforts and so forth relating to different levels of focus on the “Character-Objective-Obstacle-Outcome” equation.   Instinct tells me there would be, judging by the reading and seeing of thousands of stories from around the world.


But…as I didn’t travel to those countries and absorb the stories in their native language, I am unavoidably influenced by the cultural filters of the people who distributed the movies or chose and interpreted the stories.


So this is what I will say: let’s forget about trying to define “story” as some absolute thing separate form the perceptions of the people involved. This is what I will say, with confidence:




That would be the difference between a “mere” series of events, and a drama.  A series of snapshots, and a photo-montage organized so that people say “Ah!  I see what is happening here…”


Temporal sequence. Rising emotion. Desire. Pleasure and pain.  Conflict.


Now,  every writer will have their own formula for this, and every ARTIST will create a new design for every story that reflects an inner web of meaning beneath the surface events.  But…its flexible and deliciously subjective.


But if you start with CHARACTER-OBJECTIVE-OBSTACLE-OUTCOME, you really can’t go wrong.



Write with passion!


(join me at 6pm Pacific today to talk about “Writing a book a year in a sentence a day!”  on my Facebook page.    www.writerwebinar.com)

Wedges and Webs

Tananarive boggles me, really. She just does what she does, and it can often look like nothing is happening, and then BANG, everyone from Entertainment Weekly and TMZ and BET are talking about her UCLA class, and opportunities are coming from unexpected directions.   Powerful.    Unpredictable.   It fits into the M.A.G.I.C. formula, but because its coming from my peripheral vision, it just stuns me.  I think there is a primary difference between “male” and “female” energies in this sense, and I talked to her about “wedges” and “webs” this morning.  I need to think about this more, but there may be something important.


The “RPM” “Rapid Planning Method” also calls itself a “Results focused, Purpose driven, Massive Action plan”.    And it is in the “Five Minute Life Hacks” system because I think we can produce an adult version of the “Five Minute Achievement Plan” for students.


What can I see happening in that program for Jason?



This morning, he woke up early, took his shower,and got dressed. All perfection. Then…he “crashed” just before we were starting our Five Minute ritual at 8:00.  Why? I don’t know, but it is reasonable to assume that he is dealing with massive fear, inertia, doubt.   And this isn’t even factoring the reality that some days you just regress.


It is simply impossible to progress toward a life-changing goal in a straight line.  There are ALWAYS set-backs.


But what I had to do was keep my own fear (for his future, for his “flaunting my authority”) and keep my voice mild, my expression pleasant, my words loving even as he curled up on the couch and refused to come to the table.    Fear. Fatigue.  Confusion.


If he had defined himself partially as someone with behaviors and capacities “X” (bad student, independent and blasé), and I am asking him to be “Y” (open, honest, good student, trusting) there will be chaos. Fear.   He KNOWS who he is now. But…who is this other person? And if he starts to care, and fails, won’t that hurt more?


I see the precise same thing with any number of other human issues: poverty, ignorance, obesity, loneliness, personal safety, and more.   “If I take personal responsibility, won’t it just hurt more if I fail?”


Yeah, it will. But if you DON’T  care you are 100% certain to fail.  Your only hope is to take action, and for that, you have to have more POSITVE emotions associated with action than NEGATIVE emotions.  Otherwise you won’t act.


You have to have…faith.


CHALLENGE: To be a good student.

CONFLICT: He looks at his past, and it says he is not.

ACCEPTANCE:  He is presented with a challenge: for five minutes a day, to have hope. To trust.

THE ROAD OF TRIALS: Five days a week, he spends this five minutes.

ALLIES AND POWERS: His own intelligence and energy. His parents. Teachers.  Any co-students with ambition and clarity.

CONFRONT EVIL-FAIL: Bad test results reinforce the negative self-image.  He falls back on “I need to do it my way!” even if “my way” doesn’t work, because anything else is mysterious and dangerous.

DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL: Curling up on the couch.  Not wanting to face the negative test.

LEAP OF FAITH: Loving parents gently encourage him to spend just five minutes looking at the test.

CONFRONT EVIL-SUCCEED: He needed to split his attention between an Iphone  game and the morning work, but came to see that he had made a consistent mistake, and once identified, he could solve any of the problems.

STUDENT BECOMES THE TEACHER:  He MUST become his own teacher.  One day, he will be able to teach others. But right now, the development of “executive function”, things like syntax, and emotional control, and realistic expectations.


This will take many, many repetitions of the basic program.    I’d say that he shouldn’t expect any visible change for 6 weeks, any real change for 100 days, or any lasting imprinted results for a year.   So WE have to be the “Executive Function” for him. We have to have the faith that he don’t have.


And that, of course, is assuming that we’re on the right track. If not, we’ll try something else, and then something else, and then something else…until we succeed.


His greatest danger, then, is EXCESSIVE OPTIMISM.  Such that when something goes wrong (bad test results) he then crashes into despair.  This is EXACTLY like the obese, or poor, or lonely person who tries a “quick fix” for a lifelong problem.  “I TRIED a diet.  It didn’t work!”  “I TRIED to get a job/save money.  It didn’t work.”  “I TRIED a date.  It didn’t work!”


All of these issues yield to slow, careful movement over time. But the part of you that doesn’t want to change will trick you: you can lose because you have NO faith, or because you are OVERLY OPTIMISTIC, setting yourself up for failure, which then “proves” that you can’t do it…


Man, our egos are sneaky.


The point of the “101 Five Minute Life Hacks” is to take very simple steps like the “Five Minute Achievement Check”, and “The Five Minute Miracle” and “A sentence a day” and “The Ancient Child” and say…wait a #$%% minute.  Can it really be boiled down that far?  What if it can?


What is the shortest period that might actually help?    I say…a week.  6-7 days.  Thirty minutes minimum.    If I’m right (and I’m betting I am, based on ten years of research) then anyone who is willing to trust me for just 30 minutes CAN LEARN FOR THEMSELVES if I’m bluffing.


And if I’m not…if the hundreds of people who have tried this approach are correct…then all that has happened is that fifty years of research has finally opened a new door.  I can’t push you through it.


With Jason, I need to take all the love, all the trust, all the faith that he has and get him to give me just five minutes every morning.  He WILL backslide. It is inevitable. But I believe in him.


As I believe in you.  In US. That there really are small secrets and investments of time that can make massive differences.


Can you spend just thirty minutes to find out if I’m for real?  Pretty please?   I’ve made the first step as easy as I can: A free seven-day version of the 101 day program.   Free, guys.





The next step is yours.





Need Permission to thrive? Here it @#$$ is.

There is nothing, no reward, not sex or money or fame or fitness…that is worth losing
yourself for. Giving up who you are. That is your real power in life, to shed your mask
and just…be who you are. You’ll know you’ve shed the mask when you feel lighter, more
energetic and spontaneous and like “you could do this all day.” Creativity, aliveness, joy
all streaming out, and while you take shit from no one, you feel love for all. All you have
to do it commit to being yourself, and then spend your life discovering and expressing
that wonderful thing. Contributing all you can to the world, giving others permission to
do the same.
So…just in case you need it, today, and for the rest of your life, I give YOU
permission to be yourself.
You are enough. If no one ever told you that…and you needed someone to say it, I just
did. And if  your demons and pretender voices wanna fight, I got three black belts, I’m
sixty-five year old, and I ain’t gonna be sixty-four next year.   Life is not a dress rehearsal,
and I’ve got no more fucks  to give.
Bring it on.
Let’s all go to the next level. Together.