Thursday, December 16, 2010

Ninja Novelist

By Jaden Terrell

Okay, I admit it. I'm a fool for Ninja Warrior in all its incarnations. Tonight, it was American Ninja Warrior, in which athletes from all across the U.S. compete for a chance to go to Japan and compete in the "real" Ninja Warrior competition.

For those of you who don't know, the Ninja Warrior competition features a series of timed obstacle courses. With each successive stage, the course gets harder. To date, after ten years of competitions and over 2400 individual attempts, only three people have ever completed all four stages of the competition. The first stage, consisting of such obstacles as the Barrel Climb, the Rolling Log, the Warped Wall, the Jump Hang, and the Rope Climb, typically eliminates 85 to 90 of the 100 competitors, some of whom are comedians and other entertainers, but many of whom are serious athletes. A fun time is had by all, but only the most serious--and well-prepared--competitors make it to the more difficult second stage, which includes the Spider Walk (navigating a floorless corridor by "walking" with a hand and a foot on each wall). A competitor who makes it through all four stages has swung on ropes, made his way along a ledge supported only by his fingertips, dodged moving walls, jumped over pits, scaled walls, and much more. No one wins a Ninja Warrior competition by luck.

Winning means you've trained hard, probably failed many times, then gotten back up and tried again. Competitor after competitor fails spectacularly, only to return six months later for the next competition. They train for hours every day; they build courses in their back yards. Some, after trying for years to get past the first stage, finally make it to the second. Some never will.

Naturally, as I watched the competition tonight, I thought about what those of us pursuing a writing career can learn from the Ninja Warriors. We Ninja Novelists have different obstacles, but like the Ninja Warrior Course, they can be divided into four basic stages.

First Stage: First Draft

Second Stage: Editing and Revision

Third Stage: Market Research and Submission

Fourth Stage: Publication, Promotion, and Wild Success on a Par with Stephen King and James Patterson

Just as most Ninja Warriors are eliminated by the first stage, many people who begin novels never finish them. They are like the Ninja Warrior who falls off the Rolling Log or collapses in an exhausted heap at the Warped Wall. The writer who revises and polishes but never queries an agent or publisher is like the Warrior who makes it through level one only to give up at the Spider Walk. Many who make it as far as Stage Four will still never attain the highest levels of success.

Ninja Novelists, like Ninja Warriors, know that success isn't necessarily making it to the top. It's moving forward. Being a better writer than you were yesterday. Introducing a new reader to your work. Doing something to be a step farther along your desired path than you were before. It's scrapping 50,000 words of your novel and starting again with the scraps you have left, just because you know the book will be better for it. Ninja Novelists know that it all comes down to this:

And above all, enjoy the journey.

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