The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Friday, July 28, 2006

Writing--and Living--From the Inside Out

The trick with Lifewriting is to grasp that you are your own primary audience.  That sales or awards or anything else are entirely secondary to being honest to YOU. 

How to do this?  You must develop a set of theories about how human beings operate, what the world is, how we can best live together.  What is love?  What is worth dying for?  How much freedom shall we sacrifice for security, or vice versa?

These questions have plagued philosophers, psychologists, and politicians for generations.  I have my own answers to each of these.  Some of them are clear, and solid.  Others are more flexible and less dogmatic (my dabbling in politics is notoriously likely to be more philosophical than historical in basis.)  But still, you must be prepared to defend your positions, because in essence, that is what a story is: a conversation setting out part of your beliefs about the structure of the universe.

An example: in my Outer Limits episode “A Stitch In Time” there is a moment when a woman has the opportunity to travel back in time and kill the man who raped her.  Executives at the company wanted me to have her walk away, realizing that if she changed her own past in such a fashion, many other women would suffer.  I stared at them, and  said “It’s easy for us to say that.  We’re all guys.”  And indeed, there wasn’t a woman in the room.  “Go home and ask your wives about that one.”

I rarely push back hard against television and film folks, but this was a matter of principle.  I’ve dealt with rape victims for decades, and I haven’t met one who wouldn’t move heaven and earth to go back and change that part of their past.  This ties in intimately with my beliefs about the most basic motivations in the human spirit: survival, and a healthy sexual expression.  We’ll do almost anything to live without fear and dysfunction in these arenas.

Well, they came back the next day looking pretty sheepish.  To a woman, their wives agreed with me.  They shot it my way.
I tell my students often: “I’m not asking you to accept my values and beliefs.  I want you to develop YOURS.  To be prepared to die defending them, because ultimately that is what life is, a daily expression of your deepest values.” 

The LIFEWRITING YEAR LONG is based on ideas like this: to clarify what we are as human beings, and then find ways to communicate it in our work.  More, to integrate our world view into the STRUCTURE of our work, and our lives. 

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