The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Saturday, March 04, 2006

What Is Lifewriting?

I’ve been asked this several times recently, and thought that this would be a good opportunity to stop and examine the basic pieces of the puzzle-ball I call Lifewriting.
About fifteen years ago, I was teaching a writing class at UCLA, and a student complained that, despite his respect for the resources (flow state management, plotting, characterization tools, etc.) I offered, he wasn’t certain his life was organized to support a writing career.

From time to time life gives you a cubic inch of opportunity.  Either you grab it then, or it is gone forever.   Without the slightest hestitation, I said, “If you were the hero in a story you were writing, and you already knew that at the end of the story your hero got everything he wanted and needed, what would you have him do next?”

Much to my surprise, as soon as his eyes stopped spinning, he immediately formulated all the solutions he needed.  He could get up an hour earlier and write.  He could listen to books as he drove.  He could negotiate time with wife and kids for another hour in the evening.  He could start a writing circle.  And on and on.

Stunned, I asked the other students pretty much the same question, with pretty much the same results.  As soon as they looked at their lives as a story, for some reason formerly intractable future problems were seen merely as temporary obstacles.

I spent the next few days studying human psychology and story-telling, eventually falling upon the work of Joseph Campbell, an American writer on intercultural mythic archtypes.  A bomb went off in my head when I read his opinion (paraphrased here) that “Cultural myths are the depersonalized personal dreams, and our personal dreams are the internalized cultural myths.”

Stories contain certain core aspects rather predictably.  No matter where you go in the world, no matter what period of human history, certain story aspects pop up again and again.  With variations, certainly, but it is quite tempting to suggest that those basic aspects of story work all over the world because they mirror the actual patterns of our lives.  In other words, story is the old people of the tribe telling the younger people “this is the way your life will be.”

Viewed this way, studying story teaches us about ourselves in some key ways.  I’ve written on these things before, but my thoughts evolve, so I’m going to share them again.

Before I dig into it, an overview would be that I view the core of Lifewriting as the intersection of three things:
The Hero’s Journey
The Yogic Chakras
The Time-Line

We’ll talk more tomorrow.


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