The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Friday, October 12, 2007

Z is for...Zero Tolerance

Dear %$firstname$%,


Z is for…Zero Tolerance

For sloth. For dishonesty in your writing. For the
voices in the back of your head that tell you
you’re not good enough. One of my students
is ex-military, a man who has been and done
in more dangerous theaters of war than he
can ever tell a civilian about. In discussing
writing with him, he confessed that he is
totally frozen by comparing himself to the
masters he admires: Faulkner, Hemingway,
Shakespeare, Dickens. He just can’t get past
the voices. This man, who has lived for decades
in a world where the slightest mistake could
cost him dearly, is up agains the fight of his life.
As I’ve said before, one of the smartest men
I’ve ever known said that if you only had two
things to maximize your chances of success in life, they would be
1) Well defined, written goals and
2) The ability to take action despite the
voices in your head.

And what would be a fine goal? How about
1000 words a day. And watching one movie
a week, while reading the script? Or reading
10,000 words a day. Somewhere in there
is a damned fine goal, one which will get
you to your optimum function in just a few years.

As for the voices in your head, you need to
integrate some form of meditation,
contemplation, exercise or activity that
allows you to either shut up the voices,
or separate yourself from them. Prayer.
Playing music. Dancing until you reach
second wind. There are many techniques,
and you’ll need to find one that works for you.
The point of these twenty-six mini-lessons
is to give you an overview of a set of skills
and attitudes that can help you reach your
goals as a writer—whether you want to
write books, stories, or for the screen.
The truth is that you’re going to have to
develop new skills. To work like a field
hand. To deal with disappointment, fear,
fatigue, and betrayal. To learn something
new every day, and to overlearn those
skills until you have them integrated
at the level of unconscious competence.

It is a long road. Start walking!

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