The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Advice from a dropout

So, I’m teaching SF/Fantasy, Characterization, and Plotting at the Screenwriting Expo this weekend, promoted as a “Star Speaker” based on audience reviews from the past two years.

You know?  I used to be excited about that, and  thought that such speaking might lead to something good career-wise.  Now I know better.  If I lecture, I’m going to lecture for the sheer joy of it.   Over the years, I’ve gotten to know several of the top “writing gurus” and there is an uncomfortable truth: none of them are actually writers.  In fact, most (but not all—there are some very talented exceptions) of them might be best described as FAILED writers.  I would equate this to centipedes who know where all their legs are, but cannot dance.  I can do both—and I think that when I teach, the light of my love for the craft really emerges.

To tell the truth, I’ve learned a huge amount from some of those “Gurus,” but I’ve learned a lot more from the teachers and friends I’ve had who were real, working writers.

What I needed more than anything else was a sense of what it would be like in the trenches.  Here’s a confession: I dropped out of college because my teachers couldn’t finish their own writing projects.  I was terribly afraid that their “failure attitudes” would infect me.

As I’ve gotten to know myself better over the years, I know that there was no reason to fear.  My mom had “infected” me with enough success-consciousness for three lifetimes.  But the fear of being unable to reach my dreams motivated me to make the biggest mistake of my life, and one I plan to correct.

This belief in attitudes ascendant over mere technique is everywhere in my teaching.  The very core of the LIFEWRITING YEAR LONG is the intersection of the Hero’s Journey and the Chakras—of characterization and plot.  That can be taught in ten minutes.  All I do in the week-long or year-long courses I teach is to anchor this attitude in the subconscious of my students, to give cross-referenced examples of how this works.

In fact, for the rest of my life, I think that all I’ll be doing in my writing is deepening my understanding of plot, characterization, and poetics.

That’s enough work for several lifetimes.  Personally, I only have 120 years to get it straight…

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