Freelance writer, novelist, award-winning screenwriter, poker player, poet, biker, roustabout, Travis Heermann is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and the author of The Wild Boys, the Ronin Trilogy and Rogues of the Black Fury, plus short fiction pieces in anthologies and magazines such as Weird Tales, Historical Lovecraft, and Shivers VII. As a freelance writer, he has produced a metric ton of role-playing game work both in print and online, including Legend of Five Rings, d20 System, and the MMORPG, EVE Online.
They are masters of stealth. You never know they’re there, but they’re right behind you every single time you sit down in front of a computer screen or a blank page.
They are masters of deception. Things are never really as they seem.
They are masters of disruption. They throw all your best efforts into complete disarray. Without breaking a sweat, they’ll set fire to your meticulously constructed castle and throw your ideas, your schedule, and your psyche into chaos.
They are masters of psychology and asymmetrical warfare. They know exactly what makes you tick, how to press your deepest, most sensitive buttons, and they know precisely how to strike at those weaknesses for greatest damage.
They are, without question, the writer’s arch nemesis. Even worse than the literati who thinks your beloved genre of fiction is utter crap, or the editor who ignores your queries for 18 months, or the agent who won’t give you the time of day, or the book reviewer who is so clueless that his capacity for perception and insight rivals that of a paramecium, there is one enemy who stands in the way of your dreams more staunchly, steadfastly, implacably than all others.
As a quick For-Instance, since I sat down to write this article about procrastination, I have gone off to surf Facebook, email, and Twitter no less than three times each. Mix that in with running a Kickstarter campaign right now, which is its own special mix of terror and elation, and I’m getting mighty little accomplished.
Because it’s so easy! And I want to hear about stuff! And I’m organizing for cons this year! It’s work! And I have to tweet!
And then I get sucked into cat photos and clever memes, or fly into a spasmodic, spittle-flecked rage about some asinine political story and have to spend the next several hours blasting Enya into my skull, kicking the heavy bag, and breathing incense in a sensory deprivation chamber with half a bottle of Lagavulin 16 to feel like a human being again.
But I digress.
Oh, and there’s laundry.
And the kids!
And oh! Dishes!
And that magazine I haven’t read.
And the cat needs a perm.
You don’t need me to give it all a name. You know it already. You know it just like you know the ninjas in the dark, the ones that your mind creates to fill the emptiness of shadows. Ninjas resist names; they are shadow itself.
And they come from the places that are already inside our defenses. From our own internal resistance. I’ll go out on a limb and say that all writers possess an innate fear of success. We yearn for validation, for publication, for having created some work of art that sets readers on fire with emotion and inspiration. We just don’t want to work on it right now.
Because if we don’t work on it right now, it will never be finished.
If it’s never finished, then we don’t have to worry about whether it’s any good.
No one will ever be able to tell us, “Wow, this is awful. Are you a native English speaker? Did you steal this plot from Twilight?”
No editor or agent will ever be able to send us an empty, soulless rejection.
If we never finish this project, we don’t have to worry about how it will be received, or how hard it is to get it published, or whether our mothers will lose sleep over what they did to make us so sick and twisted.
For these reasons and others, we get in our own way when it comes to bringing to screaming life these critters within us we call stories and books. No one knows you better than your subconscious mind; therefore, the ninjas lurking in those depth are preternaturally adept at bringing your work to a crashing halt.
But here’s the most important thing to remember. The stronger your internal resistance, the more important this project is for your career or creative well-being. The greater the multitude of ninjas that emerge from the shadows to stand in your way, lead you astray, the more vital it is for you to fight your way through them, wrap your fingers around the pen or keyboard, and get busy. If you have reached the point where you just cannot make yourself work on that novel again, ask yourself, “Could this be the most important thing I have ever done?”
And listen to the little voice for the answer, not the big one.
If the answer is “Yes, this is important!” how do put the ninjas to rout?
First, you must identify where the time is going. I just spent thirty minutes on e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter without even trying. Just now, and you didn’t even see it go.
Hmm, perhaps a theme is emerging…
If the internet is your biggest procrastination tool, and you recognize it as such, do you have the internal fortitude to disconnect? How about just for a little while? And this includes smart phones. If have even 30 or 45 minutes to write, then make that time sacrosanct. Turn off the phone, and disconnect your Wi-Fi. If even that is not enough, there are tons of simple programs out there that will disconnect your computer from the internet for a set period of time. Or put the computer away, loosen up your wrist and try writing in a notebook. Besides, you look more like a writer carrying around a tattered leather journal. It’s cool, trust me.
Some fascinating new research from Harvard professor Dr. Shelly Gardner also shows that the more pressure you are under to produce, the more your brain’s creativity centers kick in. People are often just as productive when they have only fifteen minutes to write (or five!) as those who have two hours to stare at a screen. So find little blocks of time to bang out a couple of paragraphs.
Another key ingredient to a little bit of self-care. Don’t get too down on yourself for getting your ass kicked by the ninjas again. Just get up, dust yourself off, and say, “Yeah, you guys got me this time, but hey, you’re trained for it, and you’ve had my whole lifetime to practice. I’m just a writer. And now I’m going to do that. Next time, you might not get me.”
Thank you for coming along, dear reader. All writers, even the pros, and creative people in general, struggle with these things, so you’re not alone. You’ll never kill all your personal ninjas, but you can learn to circumvent them. That’s what successful writers have to learn to do.
I’m running a Kickstarter campaign until February 4, 2013, to fund the publication of the second novel of my RoninTrilogy. There are plenty of ninjas over there, along with samurai, demons, Mongols, magic swords, and talking animals. If this sounds like your kind of thing, or even if you enjoy supporting independent artists, please give it a look by clicking here.