The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, March 24, 2014


I’ve written all kinds of different ways. Sometimes the technique is driven by a strategy, sometimes a philosophy, sometimes just personal amusement--following the energy.
But in general, I either start with an idea, flesh it out, and ask what character would be perfect to interact with and witness these events.  Or I start with a character and ask what would be the worst thing that could happen to them...and how it could turn out to be the best.  The two ideas interact.

Computer word-processors and programs like Scrivener offer the chance to write non-linearly, in an approach I consider closer to the actual way our brains organize story: sometimes time-bound, sometimes emotionally driven. Sometimes subjective-character, sometimes objective-plot.  Back and forth, viewing the story from one perspective or another, depending on mood and moment.  Every time you look at the relation of plot and character a different way, different things are revealed. This is why, once you have a basic knowledge of structure (especially one with infinite depth) you can just put in what you know on a given day, and not worry about the fact that it all looks so naked and unconvincing from a distance.

I call this the “Polaroid” technique. Rather than begin at the beginning and work my way through, I just ask: what do I know?  And put that in where it seems to go, do all I can on a given day, and then come back and look at it again tomorrow.  And always, ALWAYS, new facts have been revealed, new relations established, new perspectives leap to mind.  Always.  Not once, ever, if I have emptied myself out on day 1, does the project look or feel the same on day 2.  Never.

Do all you can, every day, and trust that tomorrow brings new potentials.     This relates to growth and change in other arenas as well.  What triggers muscle growth?

1) Stress
2) Nutrition
3) Rest.

Exercise, eat, rest.  All in proper balance.  The result?  Muscle growth.   How about learning?   Perform, study, sleep.   Dream-time (or rest-time) allows re-organization of material committed to the conscious mind, and new solutions arise in dreams, or while you’re showering, or taking a pleasant walk or run.


1)  Experience life, giving all you have to your family and community.  Plumb the deepest depths of your mind in meditation.
2) Study the philosophical, spiritual or religious texts that call to your heart.  Read the biographies of the men and women who inspire you.
3) Sleep or recreate.

As is true in all disciplines, most of the time you cannot perceive growth directly on a daily level.    Most of it is under the surface, slow, and will only pop up and surprise you when others who haven’t seen you for a time comment on how much you’ve changed.   This may be why intermittent reinforcement works better for training skills--we don’t get regular steady feedback day by day, we get nothing...nothing...nothing..ah!  A little improvement...nothing...POW!  Improvement in some arena we hadn’t even been watching!   Nothing...nothing...POW!  

If we follow that pattern: give it all you and “feed” ourselves.  Recreate and rest.

Now, the above formulas aren’t quite “magic formulas” in some chemical or mathematical sense.   But if you will experiment with them in all three major arenas, you will develop your own versions of them, and by moving through mental, emotional, and kinesthetic symbol systems you’ll go beyond language to understanding, and will “know” on a deeper level. That “knowing” will then become a great starting point to sort through every lesson about life, success, or excellence you’ve ever learned, and you’ll understand what the Masters have been saying at a much deeper level.

And will also have discovered a perfect justification for napping, and that’s always a good thing.


No comments: