The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

"G" is for Gurus

A few times, I've expressed comments on the order of: "If X turns out to be true, I'll admit I was wrong." Now, that doesn't mean that a given "X" couldn't be true, and I was still correct. It means that I will often set up simple tests to sway my opinion one way or another. Yes, the issues are often (if not always) more complex. For instance, I never believed Saddam had WMDs. If they had been found, I would have thought "oops! I was wrong." I have hard-right friends who still believe, based upon grainy photos on fringe web sites, that there were indeed WMDs. I have hard-left friends who, had WMDs been found, would have claimed Bush planted them. In both cases, I consider these examples of people who have simply made their minds up, and won't be swayed by evidence.

When I said that the question of Nationalized Health Care is complicated, but if one says that it is less efficient, I'd look at life expectancies and infant mortality rates. We could also look at "wait times" for services. I didn't have the data when I said that. If it turned out that these indexes were favorable to privatized health care, I would have taken that VERY seriously. While I would have been willing and interested in looking at additional data, my base position would have shifted on the issue of "is it efficient for the average person?" I have a sense that a big chunk of people on both sides of political issues are arguing backwards from the premise that X or Y is true--and then look for the data to support their position. In complex issues, there is ALWAYS data supporting either position. If you don't start in neutral, you are trapped by your preassumptions, no matter how smart you are. In fact, I don't think intelligence helps you here much at all. We are driven by our emotions--intellect is secondary, I do believe.

I am not in any way suggesting that I'm above this. Christ, I put my own emotional mess right out for everyone to see. I have to meditate daily, or the B.S. stacks up so high I can't see out of my windows.

I say this because I think that my core belief about Politics--that it is not really rational at all, despite measured debate. That it is a worldly expression of spiritual beliefs (essence before existence or existence before essence) explains better than anything I've seen or heard why intelligent, educated, moral people can disagree so violently about things that seem to be so damned CLEAR to both sides. Because ANYONE who is strongly political is arguing backwards from a premise that roots in their subconscious. They don't grasp the degree that ANYTHING that supports those pre-assumptions automatically gets brownie points, and anything that disagrees with it has to march up a steep and ugly hill, with intellect lobbing spit-balls all the way.

I remember reading St. Augustine arguing logically for the existence of God. I actually felt sorry for the guy--it just can't be done. And no one at his level of intelligence and education would ever try it unless they STARTED with the assumption that there was one, and then tried to "prove" it logically.

I guess I'd say this: any time there isn't an easy, actually workable experiment or piece of evidence that would disprove your contention, you are safest to assume that your position is based not on logic, but on emotion. That may not be completely true, but otherwise you can argue yourself into circles, never realizing that you've already made up your mind--and are now just re-convincing yourself of what you were pre-disposed to believe.
Another dose of my Lifewriting Mailing List essays...

G is for Gurus

There are so many writing teachers out there.
Each of them has the ultimate writing formula,
and the ultimate characterization tool, and
the most sure-fire path to publication or
screenwriting success. And many of them
are really smart, really knowledgeable,
really good and sincere people.

Hell, I say terrific things about my own product,
the LIFEWRITING YEAR LONG, and judging by
the reactions of the people who have purchased
it, I have every right to. But I try to make one
thing very clear: there is only one real guru.
One real teacher. And she lives within you.

No external teacher can do anything save point
in the direction of your internal guru. If they
say they have "the" way, take it with a grain of
salt. Yes, there are still fabulous things to learn.
And you should learn all you can, from everyone
you can. But YOU are the one who has to make
it work.

I've heard it said that a martial art won't turn you
into a fighter. You have to find the fighter within
you...the thing your are willing to die for...
and then learn to express that truth within a particular
system of movement. And no class will turn you
into a writer. But if you can find the writer within
you, you can use John Truby, or Robert McKee, or
Chris Soth, or Steven Barnes to teach you how to
refine and channel that storyteller into someone
who can communicate to others.

But if you can't make that internal connection,
forget it. Forget it. There are no magic formulas.
If there were, everyone would have discovered
it by now.

But the good news is that the truth is buried in
plain sight. There are no guarantees of external
success, but you CAN become a better writer, a
better fit for a particular market or genre. If you
will connect with your own heart, learn to speak
your own truth, you can go deeper and deeper
toward the gold buried in your internal vault.
If you understand the various structures which
are the "language" of writing, you might learn
to express that truth in a way that makes you
money. Maybe.

Some people seem to have this naturally. The
rest of us fight and claw for every inch. But
if you are writing to express yourself, to sing
your song, to clarify your own thoughts...then
the act of writing itself is a victory.

I've got twenty-two novels, tons of television,
and two movies in development at Fox
Searchlight. I'm a starred speaker at the L.A.
Screenwriting Expo, and have lectured on
creativity from Mensa to the Smithsonian, and
have taught writing at the University level.
And I'm still just trying to figure it all out, to
grasp how my heart and soul and intellect
and energy can combine to create the best
work I can do.

And these messages I write to you are really
messages to myself, reminding myself what
I know, and what I don't know. Just trying
to figure it out.

You are, and must be, your own authority.
Your own teacher. Your own Guru. Now, if
you're willing to take that responsibility, I'm
here to help you along. Get the LIFEWRITING
YEAR LONG, listen to the Cds, read the
workbook, do the homework. Especially,
the homework. And somewhere along the
way, hopefully, you won't need me, or any
teacher, ever again. Heck, you might WANT
me, but you won't NEED me. And that
makes all the difference in the world.

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