The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Writing "Macine" Part 6: Model Success

The “naturals” in any field can learn their craft, sport, or discipline simply by observing other people’s finished product, and working their butts off.   But the truth is that anyone can learn anything more efficiently and effectively if you make a specific study of learning techniques.    I will leave most of this homework for the student, but here is your basic assignment:

1) Identify three writers you admire who have achieved the kind of quality and success you desire, and have also written or spoken (in some accessible manner) of their career.

2) One at a time, study them.   Seek most specifically how they use body, mind and emotions.   NLP refers to this as “Belief Systems, Mental Syntax and use of Physiology”.   In writing, here are some possibilities
A) BELIEF:   What do they believe about the role of art and the artist in life?  What do they believe are the most important aspects of writing and art?

B) MENTAL SYNTAX:   What is the specific pattern they work in?   How and when do they research, outline, write first-draft, rewrite, submit, revise, promote?   Each of these arenas ALSO has sub-belief and syntaxes.   Study them.

C)  PHYSIOLOGY:   How do they actually position themselves in their work?   What physical environment creates their work?  What time of day?  What healthy stimulants or relaxants do they use?

3)   Look at what all three writers say in common.  Concentrate on this.
4) Filter out unhealthy activities.   Writers are just human beings.  They make the mistake of using drugs or alcohol to relax, they engage in self-destructive behavior, they have ugly relationships and do stupid things.  But what you seek is the “critical path”—the actions which are most generative.   The actions that professional, successful writers practice that unsuccessful writers neglect.  

Then…begin to implant these attitudes in your own life.    And watch your results soar!  Remember: success leaves clues.  Footprints.   Recipes.   Practice them today, and share them tomorrow!

Write with passion!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Creating the perfect “Diamond Hour” Part 5: Create a morning ritual.

The “Diamond Hour” concept says that one hour out of every day belongs to YOU.  Not your job, your kids, your spouse, or anything else. You.   Period.  And the absolute best time to take that hour is the first hour of the day.

If you can’t work that out at first, take the morning to do your first sixty-second ‘breathing break.”  Then…leverage that up to influence and control the first 15 minutes a day.    Consider this your time to control your input, and designed to put the rest of your day in high gear.
Here are the basic things you need to do in this time, ideally:

1) Wake up mind and body.
2) Raise energy and enthusiasm.
3) Imprint your long-term goals on your unconscious.
4) Clarify the steps you must take TODAY to move toward them.


The idea is to create a 15-minute session that combines mind, body, and emotions, and moves them all in the same direction.  

1)  For instance, Five minutes of  Sun Salutations, joint rotations, or Tai Chi can be combined with incantations (like “every day in every way, I’m getting better and better”) said WITH EMOTION.   Yes, your demons will sneer at you.  But if you are actually moving with power and purpose, and speaking with emotion, you will drown them out.   Cynical about this?  Imagine what would happen if you spent fifteen minutes every day frowning into a mirror criticizing yourself and calling yourself an idiot.  Think that might influence your performance?   By what logic doe the opposite case not make sense as well?

2) Next five minutes:   Continue moving, increasing intensity and focus.   Remember the formula?   GOALS X FAITH X CONSTANT ACTION X GRATITUDE = RESULTS.   What you do now is remember things already in your life that you are grateful for.   Health.  Friends.   Life itself.   Generate the emotions powerfully, as you walk or exercise.  MOVE, damn it!   Don’t just sit there.   Actually move your body as if you are happy to be in it!  Then…once you are filled with a sense of gratitude, TAKE THAT SAME FEELING and flow it out into your day, your week, your year.  Visualize the goals you have, the actions you have to take, and feel AS IF THEY HAVE ALREADY HAPPENED.   Give thanks for your success, visualize your actions, take a bow for the “win.” 

3) Next Five Minutes is Faith.  Prayers, affirmations, sacred songs and such exist in all cultures for a good reason—they imprint faith on the unconscious and conscious mind, and FAITH is what keeps you moving forward when you have lost confidence in your own ability.  

In the Hero’s Journey, Faith is faith in one of three things: faith in self, faith in your companions, and faith in a higher power.   Any one, or preferably all three of these varieties should be in your arsenal.   “Incantation” is the process of chanting a powerful statement, with emotion, WHILE YOU ARE MOVING with authority and energy.   Congruence is the key: your facial expression, body movement, vocal tonalities…everything you can consciously control should be engaged. 

 A popular incantation is: “All I need is within me now!” a statement that you already have everything you need.  All the strength, power, intelligence, passion, love, creativity, courage, resilience, sensuality, potential…whatever you need to learn, grow, sell, create, persuade, evolve, or whatever else you need to fulfill your destiny.

Imagine taking the first fifteen minutes of every day for 30 days to raise and focus your energy and clarify your dreams.  Increase gratitude.   Wake up your body.  Start your day like a tiger.  Anyone want to take a 30-day challenge with me?  Try this for just 30 days?  It takes no money…but it does take a willingness to win, to wake up from your dream and start shaping reality.     I dare you.


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Perfect Diamond Hour #4: The Ancient Child

Let's recap:

1) Five Minute Miracle.  Take five sixty-second “breathing breaks”, one every 2-3 hours.
2) Re-write your top 3-5 goals once every day.  
3) Begin to expand out the “5MM”  breaks.   “Heartbeat” meditation.

And now:
4) Begin to implement the “Ancient Child” technique to contact  your intuition and passion, clarify
your goals for the year and your actions for the day that relate to them.  This is where things start to get fun.   Step #1 will break the cycle of stress that creates fatigue, fear and tunnel-vision.  Step #2 begins to focus your energy in the direction of your passions and values.  Step #3 starts the process of deepening your practice, opening the door to self-knowledge and true healing. 

Now Step #4 begins a process that can last a lifetime, anchoring this new awareness to your intuition and sense of “aliveness” and creativity.    Anyone who has been a parent will recognize the fact that people can do things for their children that they cannot do for themselves.   I remember working with a life coach once who discovered that any time he mentioned my daughter Nicki my energy jumped.   Most of us know that we would live, and die, for our children.

Friends…that is a sliver of what you’ll get when you connect with your “inner child.” Now, note that this is a mental-emotional construct, but it works just fine.  The idea is to connect with the oldest part of yourself that pre-dates the damage, disappointment, aversive conditioning and limiting beliefs that impact  our psyches as we move through life.  All of the creativity and aliveness anyone could ever want is still there, waiting within you.

The basic process is to, while meditating, visualize yourself sitting in front of a mirror.   See the light inside your body.  Concentrate it into a human form, the largest you can make composed primarily of light. For a normal, average person, that will probably be a kid about 9 years old.  Sometimes older, sometime younger.   Or an embryo.  Or a single cell.  The point is to find something that predates the damage, and align with it.

There are multiple ways to access the instinct, creativity and wisdom of this part of your psyche.   Writing with your non-dominant hand works fine.   Simply sitting quietly and asking your I.C. For input works nicely.

It may take time to make contact. I made a serious error back a couple of decades ago, and violated my own values.  As a result, that “kid” inside me stopped communicating, and for the first time in my life, my creativity dried up.  I began a process of visualizing myself at a place that was a favorite as a child (the beach) and bringing toys for that child to play with. It took weeks, maybe months for me to see any sign of that child on the beach: footprints and disturbed toys.  More weeks before he approached me.  And when we finally embraced, he sobbed that he’d missed me horribly, and I swore I’d never betray him again.

And I never have.    The “Ancient Child” meditation, available FREE at, is a phenomenal gateway to your inner world.  But the synopsis given above will keep you going for months, if you just begin to apply yourself for 15-20 minutes a day.


Monday, April 22, 2013

Note from a student...

Just got a note from a student I thought I’d share: 


 I bought your Life Writing course about three years ago after attending your lecture at a Creative Screenwriting Expo.  Your ' s is the best writing course ever.   A true life-changer (I've been meaning to tell you that for a while now though I'm sure you already know).  I was the " computer guy " at the expo, helping Bill keep it together behind the scenes.  Anyway, since I got your course, I've written a pilot for a Sci-Fi series  and a full series bible.  I will be pitching it later this year.   I'm now living in Portland, OR and hoping to do the show here as a web series.  I'm so looking forward to your forthcoming info on writing, producing and distributing !  Again, congratulations and thanks for all the great, life-changing work you do.

-Gentry S.


I love hearing things like that.   The “Lifewriting For Writers” course is just spectacularly good, and I don’t say that because I created it.  I say that because I get notes like this all the time, every week, sometimes every day.  It is unique, unlike any other writing course in the world…and if you don’t have it, you’re cheating yourself.

Order your copy today…and you’ll be helping us make DANGER WORD…and the experience from DANGER WORD will feed right back into the education process, helping me be a better instructor for all of you.  And that’s something we all want!

The Writing “Machine” Part Five: Don’t try a novel until you’ve sold ten short stories.

One of the most common problems I run across is that people try to write novels before they’ve published anything at all.   They ask questions about plotting, characterization, sales, editing, agents, finances and more…questions that they often would have answered themselves if they had written short work first.

There are a whole raft of things that cannot really be taught…but they can be learned, if you place yourself in the arena of conflict.   Things that cannot be put into language, things that cannot be planned in advance, things that are too individual.  Things tht are too dependent upon the time and place in which you begin your struggles.   And such things are best learned in small lessons, without huge things at stake.

If it takes an average of  a year to write a novel, it is reasonable to consider that a “huge” expenditure, capable of straining even a healthy ego.  Rejection or failure on that level has crushed many a writer.
On the other hand, a short story is, or should be, the expenditure of a week’s effort, or a month at most.    But 100,000 words of short stories will teach you FAR more than writing a 100k novel.   Novels are just larger more complex expressions of the same patterns that exist in stories, and therefore short work is the perfect practice for the larger.  What other reasons are there?

1) The most common response to this idea is that “my ideas come out novel sized.”   Nonsense.   Core ideas have no length.  EXPRESSIONS of an idea have a length.

2) Novels can spin out of control easily, becoming longer and longer until they become trilogies and worse—before they are ever submitted.  I watched one person work on an idea for DECADES, before finally realizing the whole thing didn’t work.   It would have been better to find that out in a month, don’t you think?   That’s when you can adjust and decide to do something else with your life.  Or try another tactic.  Your demons are tricky.  There are many ways to be “blocked” and some of them involve keeping you too busy to notice you aren’t accomplishing anything.

3) You don’t need an agent to sell a short story.  But selling short stories will definitely impress a potential agent more than a blank slate.

4) Editors know agents.   Sell a few short stories, and you will have made connection with the “other side” of the game.   Editors and agents in New York have lunch together, run into each other at parties and conventions.  An editor who likes your work can be a powerful ally in getting yourself hooked up with good representation.

5) Short stories allow you to explore new and different stories and approaches, styles, genres and so forth.  You can literally try out a whole new personae, and if it doesn’t work…you’ve only invested a week or so.

6)  Short stories are how you develop your skills.   Novels are how you get paid.  

7) Asking  a pro to read one of your short stories is asking a LOT less than asking them to read an entire novel. 

8) Reading one of your short stories gives an experienced writer or editor a MUCH better sense of your skills than reading a comparable chunk of a novel.  

When someone asks me to read their novel, I decline.  I might be willing to hear a pitch or read an outline (and usually can detect problems in such a fashion).   But reading a short story is an EXCELLENT diagnostic of their skills.

9) Writing stories teaches you to complete your projects. How to create an ending and work toward it.   The most common error people have is not knowing how to end what they have begun.  Might as well apply your greatest efforts to what has the biggest bang for your buck.

10) Short stories are fun.  You can literally write the whole thing in a single burst of passion.  Re-writing is “work.”  When I say “write with passion” I promise you that nothing exemplifies this more than the joy of creating a complete project in a single sitting, you haven’t touched one of the purest experiences in all of art.   It is wonderful, often taking you into a flow deeper than anything you’ve ever experienced.

11) And what if you’re a screenwriter?  Writing short films like little Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes is a great way to practice the same things.

No matter  what your excuses are…I’m standing firm on the same advice I’ve given people for twenty-five years.
For these, and many many other reasons…if you haven’t published short stories, PLEASE don’t try to write a book.  I’ve seen too many people crash and burn going that route.  On the other hand, I’ve never seen anyone who tries the story route fail to publish, if they just don’t quit, do the work, and continue to model the success of professionals.

Write with Passion!
Just got a note from a student I thought I’d share: 


 I bought your Life Writing course about three years ago after attending your lecture at a Creative Screenwriting Expo.  Your ' s is the best writing course ever.   A true life-changer (I've been meaning to tell you that for a while now though I'm sure you already know).  I was the " computer guy " at the expo, helping Bill keep it together behind the scenes.  Anyway, since I got your course, I've written a pilot for a Sci-Fi series called, Gary-X, and a full series bible.  I will be pitching it later this year.   I'm now living in Portland, OR and hoping to do the show here as a web series.  I'm so looking forward to your forthcoming info on writing, producing and distributing !  Again, congratulations and thanks for all the great, life-changing work you do.

-Gentry S.
I love hearing things like that.   The “Lifewriting For Writers” course is just spectacularly good, and I don’t say that because I created it.  I say that because I get notes like this all the time, every week, sometimes every day.  It is unique, unlike any other writing course in the world…and if you don’t have it, you’re cheating yourself.

Order your copy today…and you’ll be helping us make DANGER WORD…and the experience from DANGER WORD will feed right back into the education process, helping me be a better instructor for all of you.  And that’s something we all want!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

42 (2013)

Just saw "42", the Jackie Robinson sports biopic. Very well done, although it could have gotten closer to its subject emotionally. Enjoyed the way they related large external events to his homelife and relationship with his young wife. Acting is strong across the board, and Chadwick Boseman is good but not great as Robinson. Harrison Ford is the best he's been in years as Branch Rickie, the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers who decides to root out rot at the core of his beloved sport, but I especially loved Nicole Beharie as Robinson's lovely spouse. Rousing, emotional...I've heard people doubt the power of sport, and the importance of such role models. They are welcome to their opinion, but I respectfully submit that the Jackie Robinsons of the world made this country a better place--for everyone. Give "42" a B+.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Oblivion (2013)

Just saw "Oblivion."    Pretty, and sort of sincere, even spectacular and moody at times, but I just can't think of a way it all fits together and makes sense.   Maybe someone could explain all of what seem like plot holes, but when I sit there asking: "well, why...?" through most of a film, it's not a good sign.  The basic set-up: Tom Cruise is sort of repairman for the whole planet, caring for these gigantic ocean harvesters that are the key to humanity's future, humanity having moved to, um...Titan.  Don't ask.  One guy?  And he never seems to leave the New York area.  At least, I assume that's New York, because we return to the Empire State building.  Earthquakes or something have changed topography so much you'd think you were in Colorado.   Well, there are plot twists, and naked swimming, and Morgan Freeman does his sacrificial negro routine.  But overall, the whole is less than the sum of its parts.  But the parts are pretty.  Give it a C.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Want to make a movie?

My wife Tananarive and I are making a short horror film, “Danger Word” based on our novel DEVIL'S WAKE.  Starring Frankie Faison (“Silence of the Lambs” “The Wire.”), it's going to film in New York in late May.   After its done, there will be a TON of new lessons about writing, producing, distributing and other things to share with all of you who may have the dream of creating your own work.  You can follow the progress at:
Have a look, learn how it happens, cheer us on, or even help us create!

Let’s put on a show!

The Writing "Machine" part four: Put your stories in the mail

Now this is a piece of advice most specific to unpublished writers, but can be generalized to any phase of your career.   It combines advice from Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury: Write a story a week or every other week. Finish What you write. Put it in the mail, keep it in the mail until it sells.

 Don’t re-write except to editorial request.

(And by the way, yes, I suggest that you start with short stories.  Sell five-ten of them before you try a novel.   Otherwise, it's like trying to run a marathon before you've practiced jogging around the block. And no, I don't care if your ideas come out novel-size.   Ideas don't have length.  Expressions of ideas have length.))

This pattern, subsumed in the pattern of the “Machine” is designed to get you off the dime and working.   If you define “writer’s block” as ANYTHING that disrupts the process of creation and publication, it is clear that some people “block” themselves by not beginning, while others “block” by not finishing.   Still others by not submitting once they’ve finished, or letting a rejection slip discourage them.  ANYTHING that interrupts the flow of ideas to rough draft to final draft to submission to publication is a “block” and you need to root out every obstacle, and work on the technical, emotional, psychological, commercial and other aspects of your chosen trade.
It’s really a matter of doing the chunks of work until you feel the flow.  Or flowing until you can identify the component pieces.  Either approach works.

One of the biggest confrontations is risking rejection, the big “no.”  But if you don’t understand that it’s a numbers game, that there is some unknown ratio of “no’s” to “yesses”,  you must learn the lesson.    Every salesman knows he has to knock on X doors to get one sale, on average.  He just focuses down and handles the rejection.

The same ratios exist in life in so many arenas: asking for dates, hitting a ball, breaking a bad habit…and on and on.  

The problem is that every goal that can actually change your life is accompanied by both excitement and fear.   The demons in your head are looking for any opportunity to convince you there is no point in trying, that the risks are too large.

In my own case, early in life I  knew that discouragement would devil me, and could sabotage my chances of a career.   There was so little external reinforcement for my goals that the demons in my head had enough allies to fill a football stadium.  So I set a number: 100 stories.  I would write, finish, and submit 100 stories, and if necessary have them ALL circulating between magazine editors at the same time, before I even STARTED asking whether or not I could “make it.”   100 stories.  That was 2-4 years of clear space, in which I could tell the nasty voices in my head to shut the #$%% up.

Two-four years to learn to deal with rejection, fear, sloth, all the negative chorus.  That gave me the room to have fun with it.  Every time a story got rejected, it was just another step closer to my goal of 100.    One of Tananarive’s teachers said that “a real writer papers his office with rejection slips.” 

Yes!   I was a real writer!

I just wasn’t an AUTHOR yet.   But I knew I would be.  Come hell or high water, I was.  Why?  Welll…

Let me tell you a little story.  When I was in college, I took a creative writing course from a very nice lady named N.  She doted on a guy named R. in the class who wrote exquisitely polished little gems about guys who seek the meaning of life by riding their motorcycles to places other people had never gone.  Beautiful stuff, much better than mine.  In contrast, I was writing stories about big amoebas that devour towns in Montana.  Oh, well.

She lavished praise on this fellow, deservedly.   Me, she called “the king of slick”, and I doubt it was intended as a compliment.  Everyone looked at R. and expected him to be a literary success.
That was all right.  I knew something they didn’t.   I had watched him when, on rare occasions, his work was criticized.  He lost it.  Couldn’t handle it.   He was defensive and complaining and attacking.  Sheer fear.

I sat back and hid my smile.  Friends, it was like noticing that someone pulls their right earlobe before they bluff in poker.  Or drop their shoulder just before they throw a cross.   Or a girl dropping her eyes south of the border on your second date.

Oh, yeah, it’s like THAT, is it..?

He wasn’t going to make it, and I was.  I knew it.  Because for all his literary polish, he didn’t have the emotional strength, the knowledge of his own center, to withstand rejection.  So long as N. Praised him, R. was fine (and I later found out she was…umm…”praising” him rather thoroughly, off-campus. If you know what I mean.)  But he had a false ego shell, and any hint of criticism cracked it.

That meant that eventually it would crumble, and when it did he’d have to start building his way up all over again.

And even though I was behind him in technique, I was ahead of him in terms of actual self-knowledge.  And in the real world, that’s what makes the difference.     I knew I’d make it, and he wouldn’t.

And…I was right.  Nice guy, great technical skills, but he didn’t know himself.   He thought his attitude and skills would sustain him, and was dodging and twisting to keep from taking the very hits that might have informed him of the true structure of the world, and therefore genuine knowledge of self.

The only way to get that is to actually place yourself in the arena.  Submit the stories.  Take the hits.  Ask the girls for dates.  Take chances.  Get knocked down.  Learn to stand up again.  There is just no other way I know.

Write.  Finish what you write.  Put it in the mail.   Keep it there until it sells.

Do the work, damn it!

Write with passion!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Perfect "Diamond Hour" #3: Expand a 5MM break into Heartbeat Meditation

The perfect Diamond Hour #3:   Expand one of your “5MM” breaks to 15-20 minutes.

So we have our first two steps of the “perfect” Diamond Hour. 

#1: Take one sixty-second “breathing break” one every 2-3 hours.  This interrupts the cycle of stress devolving into strain.

#2:  Re-write your top 3-4 goals every day.  This clarifies your purpose hugely, so that every day you are moving another step toward whatever forms your fondest reality.

And now, #3: Expand one of your “5MM” breaks out to 15-20 minutes of “Heartbeat Meditation.”
Meditation starts with the ability to focus your mind wherever you want it to go, for as long and as deeply as you need to accomplish a given result.  The usual benefits are quality of attention, relaxation, increased capacity to resist stress, to think clearly under pressure, and so forth.  There are deeper benefits that arise from the capacity to inquiry into the nature of mind, Self, and reality at deeper levels…but you’ll discover those as you go.  First, let’s help you deal with the stresses that generate fear and confusion.

Of all the forms of meditation I’ve studied—and there are dozens—the best for beginning and intermediate students WHO CURRENTLY HAVE NO METHOD is Anahata meditation, simply listening or “feeling”  for your heartbeat.   Sit quietly, spine erect.   You might want to make this your first “Five Minute Miracle” break of the day, perhaps first thing upon awakening.   Take your pulse at wrist or throat, and feel your heartbeat for fifteen to twenty minutes.  When you can, stop “taking” your pulse and just grow quiet and “soft” enough to feel your heartbeat throbbing in your veins.  Rotate your awareness through your body, seeing where you can “feel” your heartbeat most strongly. 
If you are relaxed enough, you can feel it almost anywhere!

A few thoughts:

1) Your first 10-15 minutes will be sheer confusion, voices in your head, urges to twitch and scratch, urges to clean the neighbor’s cat-box, or literally anything else to get you to stop inquiring into the nature of your mind.  Why?  Well, that’s a subject for another time.   Let’s just leave it at the fact that this garbage is completely normal, and analogous to cleaning out the garage.  Yeah, it seems that there’s an infinite amount of crap in there, but eventually you will reach clear sky.    Just the effort places you into an entirely different category of humanity: those who choose to wake the #$%% up.

2) You may find yourself going to sleep.  Another trick of the ego, which seriously wants to stop your inquiry (oops!  I said I was gonna stay away from this subject.  Oh well..) Find a position that is comfortable but not TOO comfortable.

3) If you have a hard time relaxing, you might try playing soft jazz, classical music (without human voices, preferably—unless they are speaking a foreign language you don’t understand), ocean sounds, meditative music, etc.  There are great apps for smart phones or Ipads that create relaxation sounds, and cost about two bucks.

4)  You can spend days, years, or the rest of your life with this exercise, and it will take you all the way home.   If you want to go deeper, after you have found stillness (for the average person, this might take months) during your meditation, begin to ask the most important questions a human being can ask: “who am I?” and “what is true?”

5) Observe the thoughts, feelings, emotions, and images that float through your mind.   Do not try to stop them.  Do not resist them.  Let them go.  Watch without judgement.

6) Write down your experiences in your journal.  As the weeks, months and years pass, your written record of  your experiences will become a guide-book to your inner world.

Again…these first three steps might take weeks or months or years to outgrow.   There is nothing but the process, really.  Go deeper, and if you have any questions about these suggestions, please don’t hesitate to ask.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Perfect "Diamond Hour" Part 2: Rewrite your goals daily

  Re-write your top 3-5 goals once every day.  Be certain to have a tangible, photographable  goal in each of your top three
arenas (body, finances, relationships).    And Journal your emotions and  observations.

This should take about two minutes.   If you can’t write your goals quickly and simply, you haven’t formulated them yet, and without clearly formulated goals, you are at risk of drifting, wasting your energy, and not seeing opportunities when they are presented to you.  Your brain works partially to filter out 99.9% of the millions of pieces of data presented to you every day.    It is like knowing your destination when driving across the country.   If you know where you’re going, and have talked to others who have journeyed there, you will know which routes to take. 

A road map doesn’t guarantee your arrival, but sometimes Route 10, which takes you directly to your goal, has ugly scenery.  Take it anyway.  Route 30 is very pretty, but ends up some place you never wanted to visit.   If you know your goals, you know how much gas you’ll need, what kind of vehicle, how many night’s lodging you have to arrange, how much cash you’ll need for food along the way.  You can get descriptions of the territory.  The journey may be difficult, but you vastly increase your chance of getting somewhere you want to go than if you simply jump in your car and drive randomly.  

Frankly, that is too close a parallel to what most people do.  I was initially surprised at the resistance people have to writing their goals down, and have concluded it is because that is an investment, a statement of purpose.  At the point you do that, you are admitting that you care.  You have something to lose, and if you don’t get it, it will hurt.

Do it anyway.   Nothing hurts worse than the sense that you’ve wasted your life.  I see that kind of regret in people every day, and it is devastating.   If your goal is clear enough to be photographed, it seems to engage a different part of your brain.  It may take work, but it’s worth it.   If you can’t think of a goal, then try taking a meta-position on it:

Your goal becomes to get a goal.  “In one year (date), I have clear goals in my body, career, relationships, and finances”

An excellent body goal might involve fitting into a particular size of pants or dress.  Career might be publishing a book, or finishing school.  Relationships might be new love in your life, a second honeymoon, or time meditating every day.  Finances might be an improvement in net worth or bank balance.

Specificity is power.   From that, you can see if you fall short. If this generates fear or shame, you know you have emotional work to do, and that goes on the list.    Fear is usually at the bottom of negative emotions, so any technique or perspective that reduces unhealthy fear will increase joy, creativity, confidence, focus, and gratitude.

Your “Diamond Hour” is the adult version of the “Morning Ritual” for children.  It is designed to channel your adult actions into creating a safe “play” space for your inner child.   I can’t express how important this is, the amount of sheer aliveness in your days.    No effort, no ethical sacrifice is steep a price to pay for this quality of “owning your own existence.”


The Writing "Machine" Part 3: Express your deepest values and beliefs

The “Writing Machine”  Part Three:   Write stories that reflect the values, beliefs, and concerns of your own life, in indirect form.

We are investigating the basic structure of “The Machine”, a writing concept I’ve taught, implicitly and explicitly, to thousands of students over the years, without ever formalizing it.  It is designed to produce, not a particular piece of work, but a body of work that gradually cuts closer and closer to your ultimate potential.  To that end, please absorb what is said here, mull over it, adapt what is useful, and discard the rest.

The third principle is to WRITE STORIES REFLECT THE VALUES, BELIEFS, AND CONCERNS of your life, in indirect form.

Most of the time, you’ll start a story with one of just a few motivations:
1) A character you wish to explore.
2) A story situation you wish to explore.
3) A fact or idea you find fascinating, and wish to explore in story form.

A fine suggestion is to “write hot, and edit cool”.   In other words, when you have your idea, you write your first draft at mach speed, enjoying the heck out of it, riding the flow of emotions.   The REWRITE, on the other hand, should be done with deliberation.   

When you’ve finished your first draft, it is time to read what you’ve written. What is the meaning of your story?  That meaning is generally expressed in your final scenes or images.  Once you extract that meaning, you begin your rewrite process, expressing or attempting to “disprove” your basic theorem  in each scene (for instance: love is stronger than hate, versus hate is stronger than love.)

As you move from project to project, you should also be deepening and refining your sense of what is important in your own life.   Refining your sense of self, and the world you see.   This could involve your sense of the divine, of the ethical structure of the universe, or the core rules of nature.  You might dig into your personal concerns about abuse, success, love, or whatever else that has affected you deeply.

This is especially good when it comes to issues that have deviled you in the past, stopped you from progressing or reaching your goals.  What emotional or perceptual issues have hurt you?  Continue to hurt you?

What are the lessons you wish you’d earned earlier in life?  If you could create a “time capsule” and send it back in time to your younger self, 10, 20, or 30 years ago…what would you say?  What might have made your days easier? Helped you survive emotional turmoil?  Steer you clear of a bad relationship?  Give you more understanding and compassion for yourself and others? Lifted you from depression?   Helped you survive the death of a parent or loved one?
What have you learned about life, the world, yourself over the years?   REFINE THAT AND MAKE IT THE BASIS OF A STORY.

Now, note…you should never, ever state your basic premise directly, for a variety of reasons.  But allow the images, actions, and language reflect and expand upon your theme, your basic idea.  
Decide that the dominant emotion you wish to project to your audience will be something uplifting, inspiring…or that you will use horror to cleanse, release emotion, warn or illuminate.   Shine a light on an unexplored corner of human experience.  Or just send a message to those a little younger and less experienced than you.

Now, your primary motivation MUST be entertainment, but the actions and reactions of your characters, as well as the way the universe responds to their efforts, reveals the meaning of your story, as well as your view of humanity.

Learn to control these things.  When your stories begin to reflect the REAL issues of your life, you are resting your craft upon emotional truth, and opening the doorway to art.  Harness those emotions and skills properly, and everything you write makes you a better person (by deepening knowledge and working out issues), and everything you do to improve your life makes you a better writer (by increasing knowledge of character and reality.)

And that…is a very sweet outcome indeed.

Write with passion!

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Writing "Machine" Part Two: Read 10X What you write

So our first rule was to create an output target and stick to it.  The second rule is designed to keep you from creative bankrupsy.   YOU MUST READ.   Lots.  Tons.  Everything you can get your hands on.   But too often, I encounter people who want to publish, say, SF, and confine their reading to the very magazines they wish to write for.

I think this is a bad, bad idea.  The first generation of SF writers seemed to know two things: literature and the sciences.  If you have, say 100 units of ability, and have to spend 30 of them on world-building, guess what?  You only have 70 units of ability to use on the quality of your writing. 

An SF writer would actually have to have about 130 “units” of ability to write fiction that is as good, measured purely as fiction, as a writer who has 100 units but doesn’t have to world-build and extrapolate.   This is why I   like to have students   write non-genre stories BEFORE experimenting with genre.   Do you understand character, poetics, plotting?   The elements of genre can disguise the quality of poor writing.  Easily.  A great idea is forgiven much bad presentation.

There is another factor.  If you eat steak, you know what comes out the other end.    So if you eat crap, what do you think you get?  Sorry for the image, but it is critical to disabuse yourself of the notion that you can be lazy about your input: garbage in, garbage out.    If you take the position that you must read ten words for every word you write, and not only that but must strive to read “up” from your target market, it is hard to go wrong.

What this means, of course, is that if you have the ambition of writing popular fiction, read bestsellers.  Want to write bestsellers? Read classics.  Want to write classics? Well…choose your grandparents very carefully.

That’s kind of a joke, but contains some truth, of course.  Ultimately, there is a limit to what focus, modeling, hard work and so forth will do for you.   There are undoubtedly inborn limits.   Personally, I’ve never met a human being who struck me as being at the absolute outer edge of his potential, although I know a few who come extraordinarily close.  If you concentrate on getting the very, very best from whatever potential you have, you’ll accomplish hella more than if you lament that you don’t have as much “talent” as someone else.  In fact, one of the first clues that a person is focused on the wrong things is if they spend time complaining about the success of others.

Do what you can, to the best of your ability.  And one core element of the “Machine” is to write a story a week (or some other serious output goal), and then read 10X what you write, one level “up.”   The truth is that if your ambitions are the very highest, then you should be spending the majority of your reading time with the classics of the ages.   Also immersing yourself in the mastery of some area of human knowledge.  And stripping away your perceptual and emotional illusions and masks, so that you are free to  cut closer and closer to the truth of your existence every day.

We’ll touch on that again, soon.  But today, look at the application of these two rules in your life. 

Write With Passion!

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.


Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Diamond Hour--Simpliified

Ten Principles For Your Perfect “Diamond Hour”

I’ve been promoting the idea of one “Diamond Hour” that belongs to you, every day.   And want to zero in on the ten most important principles connected with that idea.   So, just as with the “Writing Machine” I use in coaching, I wanted to see if I could extract the ten most important principles behind this.    It will take me a little time, but hopefully you won’t mind if I work this out in public over the next couple of weeks.  I’ll enumerate them, then go back over them day by day, o.k.?

1) Five Minute Miracle.  Take five sixty-second “breathing breaks”, one every 2-3 hours.

2) Re-write your top 3-5 goals once every day.  Be certain to have a tangible, photographable goal in each of your top three arenas (body, finances, relationships).  And Journal your emotions and observations.

3) Begin to expand out the “5MM” breaks.  For instance, spend extra time during session #1 by doing it first thing in the morning on awakening, listen to your heartbeat.

4) Begin to implement the “Ancient Child” technique to contact your intuition and passion, clarify your goals for the year and your actions for the day that relate to them.

5) Create a 15-minute (minimum) “morning ritual” of motion and emotion to center and begin to move your goals and intentions from concept to motion.   This means Joint Recovery, Five Tibetans, Sun Salutations…something basic and powerful that requires no equipment.  Something you do every day to anchor yourself into your physical body, your vehicle for this world.  As you do, you will go through a three-step process (Steps 6-9):

6) Raising your emotions.  (About three minutes)    While moving, use an affirmation like “every day in every way I’m getting better and better.”  The trick is to do it WITH FEELING and WITH MOTION.  Walking, exercising, breathing deeply IN MOTION.   You bring up the emotions you want to feel.   Charles Darwin believed that emotions were heuristics, simplified instructions for life that help us sort between numerous choices swiftly.  Without emotion, it is difficult to clarify values, and without values, how do you know which of life’s countless options to take?

7) Gratitude—past and present.  (About three minutes)  Imagine all of the things in your life for which you ALREADY feel gratitude: life, love, health, family, a roof over your head, etc.  As you do, chant out loud something like “I’m SO grateful for my loving children!   I’m SO grateful for a strong, healthy body!  I’m SO grateful for a healthy mind and happy heart!” and so on.  The core message of “As A Man Thinketh” and countless other self-help books is that our minds and emotions create our worlds.

8) Gratitude—future (goals).  (About three minutes)   Now, and this is important—take that SAME emotional energy you have raised about the things you have now…and begin to give thanks for the goals you have in the future, as if you have already accomplished them.   Say it out loud.   If you can’t say it, you can’t have it!   “I’m SO grateful for the new love in my life!  I’m SO grateful I take the time to meditate every day!   I’m SO grateful for my five new customers!   I’m SO grateful I look great in my size X pants!  I’m SO grateful my children graduated college!”   Use total physiology, emphasis, enthusiasm, body language.  The message of “The Science of Getting Rich” is that gratitude for what we have now is the foundation for our future accomplishment

9) Incantation (About three minutes)  chanting, aloud, with enthusiasm, the belief that you already possess the resources and power necessary to create your dreams.   Guru Tony Robbins suggests a statement like “All I need is within me now.  All the STRENGTH I need is within me now.  All the CONFIDENCE I need is within me now.  All the LOVE I need is within me now…”   Again, WHILE MOVING, WALKING EXERCISING. 

10) TAKE AN ACTION.   You’ve clarified goals, raised energy, visualized your internal world and the external steps you will take today and this week to create your future.  NOW…take an action!   Exercise, write  1000 words of your novel, write an email you’ve put off.  DO SOMETHING.  ACT ON A DECISION.

These are the ten steps I’ve been teaching, and using myself for years...and in some cases, since childhood.  Start with five minutes, while keeping a commitment to stealing a hour back from the world.   Then begin, one step at a time, to walk The Thousand Mile Road.  You may notice that I don’t specifically speak of Spirit.  That is deliberate.  But if you raise your energy, fill your life with love, learn to serve your community in a way that they exchange value with you, and remove the fear from your life…you will automatically begin to seek a higher connection, never fear.  Take care of the roots, and the rest of the plant will grow.

I’ll look at these again, very soon.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The (Writing) Machine

Over the last decade, I’ve used and taught a writing model I call “The Machine”  I’ve decided to try to boil down the basic advice to about ten steps, and you will probably excuse me if I do this in public.  Here are the ten steps that come to mind.  In the coming days I’ll work to refine and explain them:

“The Machine”
1) Create an output goal (a story a week, or a story every other week.  Or a thousand words)
2) Read 10 X what you write.
3) Read one level “up” from your writing goal.
4) Keep your stories circulating in the mail
5) Don’t try a novel until you’ve sold ten short stories.
6) Once you’ve finished your first draft, ask “what is the meaning of my story” and re-write from the beginning to sharpen this.
7) Model the healthy attitudes, actions and beliefs of the writers you admire.
8) Follow structure until you have mastered it (selling at least 10 short stories), then try freestyle.  If you have problems, revert to structure until it is internalized.
9)  Separate the “Flow” state from the “editing” state.  
10)   Develop a circle of writers and readers to evaluate your work.   Choose the smartest, toughest critics you can find, and learn to take the discomfort.

These ideas have served me and my students well.    Study them, absorb what is useful, and reject the rest.  More later…


Wednesday, April 03, 2013

"G.I. Joe: Retribution" (2013)

Watched "G.I. Joe: Retribution" with Jason yesterday. Having his eyes was a useful experience. I may have used up my Bad Movie tolerance for the year already...but I have to admit to enjoying it, in a 9-year-old boy kinda way. There was a bogglingly grin-worthy Ninja sequence on a snowy mountain that was a kind of perfection of the absurd. If you go to see a movie called "G.I. Joe" starring The Rock...this is what you came to see.
For those who can access their inner 9 year old...a "B".  All others...beware.

Morning Ritual--for adults

(An expression of the "Ancient Child" meditation available FREE at:

Tons to do in the next week. Under stress we tend not to remember the most important stress-smashing steps:
1) Stop every three hours and breathe for sixty seconds.
2) As you do, "listen" quietly and softly for your heartbeat.

And healing:

3) Visualize the light flowing within your body, as if watching yourself in a mirror.
4) Form the light into a living being within you. The amount of light will determine the size/age of the being.
5) "Sink" this image down to your root. Listen carefully to what this "child" has to say to you.

And performance

6) Remember your top 3-4 goals for the next year. Be sure you have one for each major arena. See how these goals will benefit you, your family, and your community.
7) Remember your top 3-4 goals for the next month. Be sure you have one for each major arena.
8) Remember your top 3-4 goals for today. Be sure you have one for each major arena.
9) Move your body: joint rotations, power-walking, dancing.
10) As you do, see your daily actions leading to success on the daily, monthly, and yearly level.
11) If possible, launch into your morning exercise session. If not, give thanks for another wonderful day of life, love, and possibility.

With practice, you can do all of this in 3-15 minutes. And the benefits, once you learn to ride a wave of gratitude and purpose...are amazing.


Monday, April 01, 2013

Owning Your Emotions

You have to admit that you want change in your life. Admit that you want that passionate relationship. Admit that you want a dynamic, lithe body. Admit that you want success in a career that empowers and expresses you, and contributes to the world. Admit that you want financial stability. What stops people is fear of disappointment. Success will always belong to those who step up and take the risk. The others will have some story about how they can't, or shouldn't, or mustn't. They'll blame their genetics, their environment, society, their parents, their spouse. Anything, everything, but taking responsibility for their own lives. Adulthood is the point of conation--the point at which you stop blaming and start taking responsibility for your emotions, your actions, your beliefs. Children can fault others for their emotions, say "they made me feel X." But if you would own your life, you must draw the line, and take responsibility.

Response-Ability. The ability to respond. Not guilt, blame, or shame, but response-ability. I know I'm dealing with a child when I hear "they made me feel..."

And an adult when I hear "They did X, and I felt Y about it." That subtle shift denotes awareness. And awareness is where it begins.