The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Writing "Machine" Step #1: A Story A Week, or every other week

All right.  Let’s take another look at the Ten Steps of “The Machine”.   Please understand and bear with me.   I never formalized anything beyond about the first four steps, but definitely “clustered” my advice around the areas I’m going to be discussing.  The point is to create not a given story, but a pattern of action which will, over time, lead you to your own methodology, your own way of controlling conscious and unconscious, of expressing yourself cleanly and honestly.  Of building the healthiest career your heart and mind can construct, and taking your art as far as you possibly can.

    A lot to ask.  But I think that much of this is doable, if you focus properly.   I’m going to be tinkering with the “10 Steps” as I go, so bear with me.  

    The first step:

    1)) Create an output goal (a story a week, or a story every other week.  Or a
thousand words.  Or five pages).
    You have to look back from five years from now.  What output will take you to your chosen goal?    I wanted a hundred stories, all circulating in the mail at the same time, before I began to evaluate the wisdom of a writing career.  That meant that at a story a week, I’d have it in two years.   A story every other week?  Four years.   Cool.

Or…look at it as “a million words of crap.”   At a thousand words a day, that’s about three years.   Five hundred words?   About six years.   Cool.

Or…Scripts.    At one script page a day, that’s about two scripts a year.   Five pages a day?   LOTS of room to throw crap away, and still have three scripts a year.   Cool.

And remember…the gut-grinding work is the writing.  Craft is in what you throw away.  Art is found in telling the truth, and if you write enough, you simply run out of lies.

Are you willing to do your five-six years of work?  Your million words? Your hundred stories?  Think about it: in the process, you will learn all your basic skills of research, flow management, typing, grammar and spelling, plotting and characterization.  You will learn about the market, and how to submit, and how to handle rejection.  You will in the flow of that time begin to shift your definition of yourself to “writer” in some core, unconscious ways.   The books, stories, scripts are by-products of living your life in a particular way.  If you act in accordance with your own deepest wisdom AND learn everything you can along the way, you will “cut away” everything that is not you, and reveal whatever “talent” you have to offer.

But the real talent, the CORE talent, is doing the work.  And learning one new thing every day about your chosen field.  Just one new thing.  Every day.

And write.  And write. And write.

Have you got what it takes to do this?  Can you make your peace with doing this day after day, year after year, for the sheer love of craft and self-expression?  Even if you never publish?    If you can, joyously…you have a damned good chance of being an author.   You're already a writer, dammit.

These ten rules are designed to help you craft a process that will bring you joy and satisfaction regardless of what the external world says about your work.  You CANNOT control the world’s reactions to your dreams.  You CAN choose to live a life of self-expression and growth.   And it is when you do that…without worrying about the external results but applying yourself to excellence in every conscious way…

That beautiful things happen.  The work always belongs to you.   But sometimes, blessedly, the world responds with a “yes.”

And that, my friends, is magical.



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