Only DOING is knowing?

Steven Barnes
4 min readAug 25, 2023


I mentored an Analog contest winner yesterday. It was GREAT fun. I taught some of the same principles we’ll teach in the SECRETS OF HOLLYWOOD SCREENWRITERS workshop coming up on September 23 ( I gave her the six-link “Lifewriting Chain” to success, testing her reactions, watching her face and listening to her voice to see where her breakdown was.

And it was in the third step: “polish and submit” at least one story a month. And the problem was fear of submitting less than her best work. The problem is that YOUR EDITING BRAIN WILL ALWAYS BE SMARTER THAN YOUR WRITING BRAIN. That means that no matter what you do, you CANNOT polish a story to absolute perfection. You can ALWAYS find something to polish or change or add or delete.

A person could spend their entire life polishing a one-page story, and never, ever get it “perfect.” So the “books aren’t finished. They escape” notion makes sense. The belief she needs to have is that she will learn more by writing her NEXT story than by polishing the last one forever.

The “chain” is designed to expose flaws in your process, and at one point I proposed a definition, asked a question, I think might be useful:

“What if when you said `I know how to do X’ you actually included all of the EMOTIONAL aspects, the MOTIVATIONAL aspects?”

In other words, if you know how to do pushups, know you need to strengthen yourself and consider pushups to be ideal, BUT CAN’T MOTIVATE YOURSELF TO DO THEM, then no, you don’t know how to do pushups. You may know the technical form, but the thing itself, the action, exists in the real world, not in your mind. The “ideal” of a pushup is interesting, but you can think about it for a year and it won’t do you as much good as the first actual physical motion.

“I know how to make a sandwich” but you’re sitting without moving? What would happen if you included the motivation to get you up in the definition of “make a sandwich?”

There are two responses that seem commonplace to the statement “I don’t know how to do it.” First, people aren’t even likely to say that. They are more likely to say “it can’t be done” because their egos can’t accept that there might be things it doesn’t know.

Second, “I don’t know how to do it” is often followed by “and therefore I cannot do it.” End of story. Fear and paralysis, and the “Incel” resentment of those who control the resource you want, or those who have succeeded where we have currently failed.

The HEALTHY statement is “I don’t know how to do it…but I can learn.” The WHAT then becomes “Learn how to X”, the WHY is “so that I can diminish pain, increase joy, and be of service.” The HOW would be all the modeling, research, therapy, networking, or whatever that it takes to move from “I can’t” to “I can.” It would be no exaggeration to say that a common belief of high performing people is “If I can’t, I must.”

And before you rattle off some b.s. about this being a “privileged” attitude, no, it is precisely the attitude Steve Muhammad drilled into us: “The concept of failure does not exist in my fighting science. I will find a way or make one.”

THAT is a philosophy for the downtrodden, the people born in disadvantage, to whom the world says “you can’t. In fact, we’ll kill you if you try.”

Now, he drilled that into us while we were in the high-energy state of painful exercise. It went DEEP. Man is an intuitive genius, who understands that the lessons we learn while in highly emotionalized states go deepest. And he saved hundreds of us with those teachings, and I will love him forever for that.

With writing, if you will just love yourself enough to believe in yourself and be willing to commit to your dream…then empty your cup and follow a worthy Sherpa up your personal Everest…so long as you ENJOY the process you literally cannot fail. Its not even possible, if you remember that the meaning of life is Joy and Service. Have fun and you win every day!

If you can define “knowing” of a thing not as a sterile technical thing but whole body-heart-mind: that a writer writes. An AUTHOR “has written.” Which is cool, but you can be an “author” by hiring someone else to write it, and put your name on the cover. A.I. anyone?

My sympathy is not with wannabes. It is with WRITERS. Or LOVERS. Or ENTREPRENEURS. People who want to feel the joy of becoming and sharing. And EVERYONE can get on that path. No one can promise how far you get, but if the journey itself is part of the reward, then you are as safe as life can be.

So…first accept the belief that “I can learn anything I need to succeed.” Those who can believe that, or even ACT AS IF they believe it, can then explore the question “what if the definition of `knowing’ is in the DOING of the thing, not theories and speculations and intellectual knowledge of technique?”

I honestly don’t know if people would find that useful. You tell me.

She sure did.





Steven Barnes

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