How To Model Something That’s Never Been Done

Steven Barnes
4 min readDec 1, 2022

In discussing modeling, someone said that it wouldn’t work because they are doing something unique.

Really? Well, COUNTLESS times in human history human beings have done new and unique things. Guess what? You can study them, and see what emotional and mental structures and strategies they needed to be explorers.

When I set out to be a black SF writer, I didn’t know of any others. No pictures on book-covers or in any industry magazines that I could see. Does that mean I couldn’t model? Heck, no.

I just

  1. Modeled successful writers
  2. Modeled successful SF writers
  3. Modeled black people who had been successful in other artistic fields
  4. Modeled black MEN specifically who had been successful.

In studying these sets, I looked at at least three different people in each category.

  1. What successful writers did led to the Lifewriting 6-Step process we teach to this day.
  2. Successful SF writers understood some specific sets of extrapolative strategies, as well as specializing in some aspect of the sciences (successful writers in general often had specialized knowledge they repeatedly wove into their stories. Mark Twain and the Mississippi, for instance)
  3. Black people successful in the arts had some aspects that were the same as artists of any race: obsessive practice, finding mentors, etc. With the added “tax” of having to find allies in the white community. This is tricky, but it wasn’t THAT different from the problems of outsiders in any context. Let’s say there seemed to be a 50% tax, that I would have to be 150% as good to get 100% of the results. That was discouraging, but previous generations had paid a higher tax, so I had to either make my peace with that or find another path.
  4. An additional aspect, one rarely admitted, is the specific issue of sexual competition that relates to that tribal identity thing. I couldn’t be too aggressive, or I’d trigger the “threat” assessment. My answer was to refine my personality until it loomed larger than my ethnicity. There was going to be a real difference between “Steven Barnes, science fiction writer…who is black” and “Steven Barnes, black science fiction writer.” Worst of all would be “Black Steven Barnes, science fiction writer.” Very difficult balancing act, but if I don’t figure it out, I’ll be spitting in…

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Steven Barnes

Steven Barnes is a NY Times bestselling author, ecstatic husband and father, and holder of black belts in three martial arts. www.lifewritingpodcast.com.