The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Joss Wheden and Lifewriting #1: "Finish It."

Frankly, I think Joss Wheden’s “Avengers” is as re-watchable as “Star Wars”.  His orchestration of these iconic characters was simply superb.  It is easy to forget how easily it could have turned into puree of bat guano, and instead, was as pure an evocation of the experience of being 12 years old and reading a Marvel Comics Annual as I can imagine.    What a gift!
The “Lifewriting” principle is simple: to treat your life as if it is a story that you are writing.  This enables you to gain perspective, take life less seriously, and transfer conceptual/creative tools from one arena to another.  Also, because the “Hero’s Journey” contains a syntax of action and thought that can be applied to story, the process of writing story, and life itself, it is a lovely way to simplify life if you are a writer: a writing structure that can structure your life!   
When the creator of a massively popular and successful film shares his hints on how to create scripts, there is a wonderful opportunity: to apply Musashi’s “Know the Ways of All Professions” principle and see how said thoughts apply across the board.   Let’s apply Wheden’s 10 principles, and see how they work, shall we?

“Actually finishing it is what I’m gonna put in as step one. You may laugh at this, but it’s true. I have so many friends who have written two-thirds of a screenplay, and then re-written it for about three years. Finishing a screenplay is first of all truly difficult, and secondly really liberating. Even if it’s not perfect, even if you know you’re gonna have to go back into it, type to the end. You have to have a little closure.”
Yeah.  Finish “it”.  Do it, even if your first draft, or first effort is imperfect.
1) Body.  Finish your written plan to transform, heal, and nurture your body. There will NEVER be a “perfect” diet or exercise program that works for everyone, that all the “experts” will agree on.  Ultimately, you will be responsible for selecting and testing your theories and practices.  And you will have to live with the results.  But get started, notice your results, keep your eyes on the goal, keep studying people who have gotten better results from you.    Finish the week’s workouts and eating patterns.   Record your results.  Polish, polish, polish.
2) Career.  Finish your plans to align your career and your core values.    Finish your daily tasks: do all you can do, every day, to move toward your goals, and the years take care of themselves.  Finish designing your “Secret Formula” plan. Finish reading that book: you need to be constantly learning new techniques and principles.    The “gods” in any profession are often considered “intuitive geniuses” by those who are outsiders.  The more knowledgable you are about ANY field, the more you see the actual work and sacrifice involved.   Finish your 10,000 hours.  If you aren’t willing, find something you ARE willing to spend 10,000 hours on.  Those hours will pass, whether you have invested them, or wasted them.  It’s up to you.
3) Relationships.  Finish your daily meditations, even if they are imperfect.  Finish your “Soulmate” pattern, clearly defining what your heart seeks in a partner.  Finish getting your initial feedback from the closest examples you can find: don’t let your fear of hearing bad news stop you.  Actually ask for dates outside your comfort zone.  Clarify your perceptions.   Deal with your fear and blame and resentment that the opposite gender makes demands of potential partners--just like you do.   And they probably aren’t the same demands you make...but that doesn’t mean they are any less reasonable.    Understand the foibles of humanity without placing yourself above them, or having the irrational reaction that if we aren’t BETTER than animals we must be LESS.  Jeeze, that tweaks me.
4) Finances.   Finish your basic financial plan.   Balancing your checkbook weekly.  Actually establish a percentage of EVERY DOLLAR YOU EARN that you will put into an untouchable account BEFORE you pay your bills.   And watch the results you get.  It will be murderously hard to do this, harder than establishing a pattern of exercising BEFORE you eat breakfast, doing your 1000 words first thing in the morning, or loving yourself as a primary position.    We are trained to take care of others first.  Programmed to do the imperative rather than the generative.   If you don’t break those habits, you’ll be hanging on by your fingernails all your life.
Finish it. Do it.  Make the commitment. Then polish, tinker, research, redo, compare, consult, create, and repair.    Do it.    Perfectionism is procrastination masquerading as quality control.
Do it, damn it.


Friday, May 16, 2014


Goals.  “Goals are dreams with a deadline.”   Do you know what you want, when you want it, what you are willing to do to get it? Have you studied what others who have succeeded did, and committed to paying the same price?    Is the realization of your long-term core goals worth investing 10,000 hours?  Yes?   Then See it, Feel it, Touch it, Taste it, Hear it.   Make it real.  Invest yourself.   Say “if it’s to be, it’s up to me.”   What do you want in 10 years?  5 years?   3 years?  1 year?   Six months?   3 months?  1 month?  1 week?  Tomorrow?      What do you need to do today?  Do the actions, emotions, beliefs and values all line up along this entire ‘time line”?    If they do, you have the absolute best chance of reaching your goals.   No one can promise you external success...but if you START with gratitude, you’ve got the world mastered.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The First Steps

Each of these DIAMOND HOUR pieces, of necessity, will address multiple arenas.  It’s that “psychotensegrity” thingie we mentioned a while back--everything connects to everything.   So if you commit to five minutes a day (and EVERYONE has five minutes) one of the first things you have to do is disarm the part of your head that says: “I don’t have time.”

When I taught writing at UCLA, one of the things that happened in one class is that the students complained of not having enough time to work.  So the next week, I started by asking who had seen X or Y television show, discussing them in turns of character, plot, and so forth.  Once I had engaged everyone in the room, I reminded them that every single one had confessed to watching at least seven hours of television a week.   And that if they had seven hours, they had enough time to execute their projects.  The average person watches MUCH more than an hour a day.  You have time.

If not, that’s your first goal--to find yourself an hour a day to invest in personal development. You owe yourself that much.  And your first step is that first five minutes. By breathing for sixty seconds five times a day (the “five minute miracle”) you begin the process of converting stress from strain to motivating force.

Here are some things do do during that first five minutes (and don’t even TRY to tell me you don’t have five minutes, if you had the time to read this. That is simply a lie.)

So...WHILE YOU ARE BREATHING DEEPLY for sixty seconds...

1) Identify the three most important things to accomplish today.
2) Identify three reasons to accomplish each of them.
3) Imagine three people or causes OUTSIDE YOURSELF you will benefit by accomplishing these things.
4) Identify three new resources you can investigate to help you.
5)  Three people you can contact to brainstorm more efficient ways of accomplishing your intents.
6) Visualize your “end state” in your primary goals in body, career, and relationships.
7) Imagine three times you succeeded in the past, and fully associate with them.
8) Three reasons to have faith you can and should do this.
9) Three ways you motivated yourself in the past to do things that weren’t intrinsically “fun.”
10) Three ways you are in alignment with BOTH  your childhood dreams and deathbed values.

Write down your results.   Review your previous day’s notes.  Walk the Thousand Mile Road.


Monday, May 12, 2014

Diamond Hour, Secret Formula and Energy

  • I feel that I want to look more deeply into the “Diamond Hour” concept--the universe seems to be nudging me in that direction.   More requests for it, more sign-ups for that list.  Probably more need to solidify my own practices, rooting them more deeply.  The question is how to approach it.   

Well, I’m going to take a meta-position on this.   I’m going to use my own “Diamond Hour” to create this new course, sharing the pieces of it as I go.     So I woke up this morning at 5:30,   fifteen minutes and   meditated. (Ancient Child and Heartbeat).   Up, made myself a cup of tea and checked my email and FB messages.   Re-wrote my core goals, a statement of Faith (why I believe I can and should achieve them), the action steps today, and what I am grateful for.
Then took a look at what I’ve been asked (or otherwise moved) to look at in terms of DH:

  • Time management, create, resilience, courage/proper assertiveness.  nature and community.    balancing creative and financially rewarding work,    time management, exercise   money management, getting adequate rest,   goal setting,  study, relationships/love/sex, communication, Rest and energy.
  • ###
  • Wow.  A lot of different things, and I want to simplify them before I dive in.  
So...let’s say that

1) you have balanced goals (Body, Mind/career, relationships), the unfoldment of which will benefit not just you, but the world as a whole
2) your beliefs support their achievement,
3) you know the steps you need to take and have at least three different routes to achievement that do NOT require “luck” or someone coming to save you.  Tactics and strategies and
4) You are focused on all you have to be grateful for RIGHT NOW.

Have those things?    Yes, I could go more deeply into any one of those categories (and will) but want to be broad right now.  If we assume you have these things, what else do you need?

Well, on a very general sense, you need ENERGY.   Energy to move forward, to pick yourself back up after you have fallen down (and you will), to change habit patterns (behavioral modification) , change your mood, and even to help motivate the people around you.

Remember: this is a dynamic sphere. I see and feel it but cannot pretend to “understand” it.  But I’m going to try to pick at the loose threads and see what we can unravel and hour at a time.

If we generally separate the “Diamond Hour” into three   chunks of ten-thirty minutes each for an investment of about 30-90 minutes a day, we’re starting to bring this into focus.     The first step is to invest five minutes a day.   This “Five Minute Miracle” is the gateway to all that follows.    Let’s emphasize energy, and see what we can accomplish in five minutes a day:

 Five Minute Miracle plus Increasing Energy.    

Five sixty-second “breathing breaks”, one every couple of hours.    The “Secret Formula” plus “Increasing energy” is our goal.  This is assuming that you have ONLY five minutes a day.  O.K….wow.  What can you do..?

1) First breathing break.   Re-write your goals.   Quickly.  Top three.  Split your attention so that you are breathing deeply and slowly as you do.  Visualize your goals and FEEL what you will gain from achieving them as you do.

2) Write your reasons for believing you can and SHOULD achieve your goals.  Again, keep it very short, and split attention so that you are breathing.  
This time emphasize your posture.  While writing, you should sit as if suspended by a string hovering over your head. Be a marionette.

3) Write your top three actions that must be done TODAY and TOMORROW to accomplish your goals.  No begging, pleading, or luck.   What can YOU do.   If you are in sales, remember that sales is a transfer of enthusiasm, and aligning your needs with those of your client.  What are you going to do for THEM?     You don’t sell vacuum cleaners--you sell clean homes, and healthy families.  You get what you want when you help someone else get what THEY need.  Breathe.   Concentrate on the EXHALATION.  Then relax.  EXHALE.  Then relax.

4) Write out your reasons for feeling GRATEFUL for another day of life, another opportunity to help the people you love, to serve your community, for being strong and sane and healthy.  For being able to BREATHE without equipment.

5) Joint mobility drills, allowing the compressions and releases to create your breathing.  Energy is created by the interaction of diet, rest, exercise, and focus.  Again, you could study each of these for a year, but just being aware of basic principles, you are cheating yourself out of your life.  Some fast thoughts:

1) Eat today for how you want to feel tomorrow, and to recover from yesterday’s stress.
2) If you get less than eight hours of sleep a night, and are fatigued, look no further for a MAJOR leak.
3) If you exercise less than two hours a week, you are VASTLY out of alignment with what your laziest ancestors could possibly have managed to survive.    Look no further for a MAJOR leak.
4)If you don’t know the  WHAT,  HOW, and WHY of how you will use your energy to feed into the “Secret Formula”--how you will use it to create your dreams and support the people you have another MAJOR leak.   You may actually not have permission to be healthy!   One of the most frightening things I’ve ever heard as a coach is that someone is worried that “if I have more energy, people will just want more from me, so why bother?”

These suggestions are both global and specific.  I can’t be broad without asking more questions than I can answer, and can’t be specific without leaving out giant areas of importance.   But I’m hoping that by moving between several different models but anchoring the discussions in a few simple concepts, I can both remind myself of what I know...and share with all of you.   This is the first step.



Saturday, May 10, 2014

Mother's Day

Tomorrow is Mother's Day. The sacred bonds of motherhood extend beyond the biological act of conception and birth. It is the protection and healing, the shelter and love. The sharing of the feminine energy in the world. All humans have some of it, women generally have more, mothers specialize. But if you have a teacher, neighbor, co-worker, sister...anyone who has warmed you with their heart in this very special way, please reach out to them. You never have any idea how much a simple "thank you" can mean to someone who feels forgotten or unappreciated, who has given her heart to the world and wonders what it all means. Tell them it means everything. And if you are fortunate to have a mother in any biological, social or personal sense...and she is still here...treasure her, and be certain that she knows you do. I bless my own mother, Eva Mae Reeves, for giving me birth and raising me. My sister Joyce for loving me and teaching me to read. Nicki's Mom Toni for being so much more than my friend and love...for giving me hope when I needed it most, and a darling daughter to boot. For Patricia Stevens Due for giving birth to the love of my life. And to Tananarive, who brought me my son, for whom I'd waited a lifetime. And walks with me every step of this punishing, miraculous, beautiful journey called life. I love you all.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Applying the "Diamond Hour"

I love letters.  I don't have to think of the subject for today, which might be "cheating."  I'd rather just take a look at what people would like me to look at, look at it, and allow you guys to tell me if my perception is awake today.  I'm applying the "Diamond Hour" concept more precisely, and asking for areas of interest:

Hi Steve,

One thing that often occurs to me as I think about the structures that you present is that sometimes I would like to hear what you have to say about balancing between creative, but not financially rewarding, work and  the work that supports us -- which may in itself be satisfying but not fulfill some self-expression needs.   I wonder what advice you have to people in that situation.

I would suggest that two different basic approaches can help such a person.  

1)  My general pattern is to use Vin diagrams.   In “A” are the projects I’d like to write.  In “B” are the projects I believe can sell. Where the circles overlap, that’s where I write.  So...I don’t write the things that won’t sell (generally) and I don’t write the things that could sell, but I have no interest in writing.   In terms of the “Ancient Child” meditation, this is lining up the interests of the “Child” and the “Adult” personalities, harnessing the “Child’s” creative energy while still respecting her emotions.

2) But there is another approach. And that is that you spend some time creating something sheerly for the love, contribution, practice, or self-expression of it.  With no thought or consideration for financial reward.  This means that the Adult or “responsible/productive/financial” part of your personality might have to work just for working, with less “fun” or intrinsic satisfaction involved--you are getting your “fun” separately.  Balance.  Play HERE, work THERE.   In terms of the Ancient Child, this is letting the “kid” run off and play, while the “Adult” goes to work later or earlier in the day.
In terms of the Diamond Hour, you could easily dedicate ½ hour a day to pure self-expression artistic form, going deeply into flow for thirty minutes of painting, composing, writing, sculpting, drawing or whatever.    It may not seem like much, but over the course of a year, that’s over 150 solid hours of pure pleasure invested in something moving your life forward, or deepening your sense of self expression.

Now...if you also spend 15 minutes a day researching marketing, making connections,  sending brainstorming emails to other artists and so forth, you can make serious progress, over time.   The last 15 minutes should be your physical time: the Five Tibetans, FlowFit, etc.   15 minutes of “planning” time, and 30 minutes of “Flow” make for a great way to edge your way further toward your dream life: where body, mind, and emotions….or “child” and “adult” aspects of yourself are aligned together.   

More questions, please!