Wednesday, February 6, 2013

NINJA STUFF: Why We Write (Part Two)

Last time on Ninja Stuff: We discussed the long odds of would-be writers seeking publication and the pain of authorial aspirations.  If you haven't read the first post, you might want to start there. 

And now, the thrilling conclusion...

Remember, Esteemed Reader, every book reviewed here was once a manuscript circulating editors and agents and those manuscripts are your competition. Those writers are the ones you're up against. Don't sweat the overwhelming numbers because all the me-too newbies are inflating them. 

But to seek publication implies a strong sense of pride. You really think people should be reading your book when they could be reading Watership Down or The Dark Knight Returns or any of the books by the writers who've appeared here? You really think your manuscript stands a chance against the likes of Ashfall? If you don't, quit, and improve the odds of publication for the rest of us.

My book is not better than Ashfall. But it's the best I've got and you better believe I'm bringing my 'A game'. I used to clog up the system with my awful queries and worse manuscripts, but I've been at this a while now and I haven't quit. I'm up every morning writing and I'm reading every evening. And I'm a Ninja! What you got:)

In all likelihood, you've written a better book than mine, and if so, great. As soon as it's published, let me know and I'll review it here. Nothing pleases me more than reviewing the book of an Esteemed Reader. But if you're one of those writers like me that can't quit, can't even honestly conceive of quitting, then bring your best. You'll need it.

It's impossible to win an Olympic medal, yet people win them. It may be impossible to get a new book published, yet I'm reviewing the works of debut authors all the time. Nobody ever won a gold medal by sitting around complaining that the competition is unfair and the sport is too hard. No writer ever published a book by whining and quitting. You want your book to sit on the same shelf as the many wonderful books published every year, earn your place there.

And your best may not be good enough. My best may not be good enough. But anything worth doing is worth doing right. Go big or go home. Read as widely as you can and write with all your heart and everything you've got. Learn as much about the publishing industry as you can, get your work critiqued and critique the work of others, and hone your craft. 

Do everything you can to make yourself a competitor worthy of a Mike Mullin. Even if you should get published, your book still has to find its place in a marketplace already crowded with amazing debut novels such as Ashfall (and, to be fair, some crap).

I'll end this series by sharing the story of how I became the Ninja: I went online and started a website. The end:)

Okay, fine, I'll elaborate. I started a website that no longer exists because it was stuffed with badly written articles and mean-spirited book reviews (I don't write those kind anymore, but that's the subject of another post) and short stories written in college no one but me really wanted to read.

But I was able to get an interview posted with my mentor, the amazing writer, Will Allison, because I knew him. Next I interviewed writers I met at conferences. I didn't start out approaching Richard Adams, it was a process that got me there. 

The moment that changed things online for me was when I started this blog and called myself the Middle Grade Ninja. Just as Bruce Wayne needs Batman, I too need an alter ego who can be all the things Robert Kent isn't. 

Robert Kent is too timid to approach writers I don't know and ask them to face the 7 Questions, but the Ninja isn't. Robert Kent is horrified at the idea of regularly approaching editors and literary agents, knowing what a small place the publishing world is. One wrong email to an editor or literary agent or writer might just hamper or destroy my chances at a writing career before it's begun and in full view of the internets! 

But the Ninja laughs at such concerns and chases after interviews with wild abandon. "Why would Lois Lowry bother being interviewed here?" Robert Kent asks. "Why wouldn't she!" the Ninja cries. "Let's email Jean Craighead George!"

And as this blog has gown, I've grown as a writer. All this reading of contemporary books and forcing myself to review them here has served to strengthen my own writing. Getting to know other writers has enhanced my knowledge of what it means to be a writer and getting to know publishing professionals has given me knowledge of the publishing world I can't pay to get elsewhere. When it comes to things I've done to improve myself as a writer, nothing has helped as much as becoming the Ninja.

Has it been enough? Will it ever be enough? I don't know. But I do know I'm a better writer now than I was before. At one point I had my writing area wallpapered with rejections, but before I accepted an offer from my agent, I was only sending out a handful of queries and agents not requesting the full manuscript had become a rarity. 

I know that my first child test readers didn't finish my manuscript and nearly all of the most recent batch did. And they even wrote nice reviews that warmed my heart and meant more to me than they can know. 

You can be a Ninja, too, Esteemed Reader. Or whatever alter ego you like. There's nothing particularly special about me other than that I haven't quit and I'm not afraid of hard work.

There comes a point in every writer's career where the writer must make a choice to give up, or to keep going no matter what. And if you're going to keep going, go all the way.

Robert Kent is scared and small, but the Ninja is fearless and he won't ever quit. He'll never back down. Never tell him the odds. He knows he can't ever stop, so he fights with everything he has. He's a competitor. 

The odds against the unpublished writer worry Robert Kent. But sometimes the truth isn't good enough. Sometimes writers deserve to have their faith rewarded. 

So I let the Ninja hunt it. Because he can take it. Because he's not our hero.

Que that Hans Zimmer theme music: BUM! Bum bum! Badda dadda dadaa dadda dadda, dat, dat, dada! Rheee, rhEEE:)

He's a silent guardian. A watchful protector. A dark Ninja.

Or so I tell myself and it helps me sleep at night:) Tell yourself whatever fiction you like, Esteemed Reader (no one's delusions are as fine as a professional liar's). But know why you write and own it. Bring everything you've got and know you are not afraid of the competition. 

The competition should fear you.

And now, just in case the preceding passage eluded you, or if you want to relive the magic one more time, I present the finest, most inspirational clip of film from the greatest movie in the history of cinema:

Somewhere, Mrs. Ninja is rolling her eyes and shaking her head:) But hey, while I'm handing out inspiration: if the guy who wrote a post this nerdy can find a woman to marry him, there's hope for everyone!


  1. * Just a moment ago I had big doubts about my writing, not sure if I could go on. Your inspirational post just made me do a complete 360º, giving me the gumption I needed so I wouldn't quit. Also, the film clip was the extra push. Thanks!

    1. Thanks for the comment. I write these things to inspire me. If Batman reaches you when you need him as well, that's even better:) Keep going and send me your book as soon as it's published. I'll make it my Book of the Week.

    2. * I'll keep your encouraging words in mind as I hang in there with the writing. Wishing you the best with your own projects

  2. This is such an inspiring post! Thanks, Ninja Robert, for sharing your passion and reminding that conviction is important.

  3. I can really relate. I'm so discouraged right now, I'm even discouraged by my inability to quit. After reading your post and starting to write this comment, I realized for the first time that "discourage" contains the word "courage." You're absolutely right. Writing takes a lot of courage and succeeding means not letting go:)

    "Courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality that guarantees all the others." Winston Churchill


    1. Great quote. We all get discouraged. That's why we writers need blogs and other means to connect and keep each other courageous.


Thanks for stopping by, Esteemed Reader! And thanks for taking the time to comment. You are awesome.