Friday 18 August 2017

The Ninja Art of Writing

by Paula Harrison 

At this moment, around the country, writers are creeping ninja-like to their desks. They sneak downstairs early in the morning before anyone else is awake. They lurk at the computer late at night when the house is quiet. They smuggle notebooks into hand bags and rucksacks and hide them in bedroom drawers ready for that moment at 1 am when a really great plot idea will burst into their brain.

I should know. I've done most of the above and more.

There's no doubt that writing fiction is a little bit addictive. Maybe it's the experience of being in control of a fictional world the way we're never really in control of our real lives. Maybe it's the pull of trying to produce something beautiful or powerful or completely hilarious. Most of us pursuing these dreams need to create as much as we need to breathe. During times when I've taken a break from writing I've found myself *trying* to make music, throw pottery or paint pictures instead. The muse never sleeps.

Where does this urge to create come from? I've no idea but to me it feels like it's something divine. Before I wrote I felt as if something was missing from life. Once I began it was hard to understand why I hadn't started sooner! Since then I've been writing pretty consistently and only tried to give up once in 2010. The Undiscovered Voices competition (run by SCBWI) is an amazing thing and hats off to all those involved in running it. But for me as an unpublished writer, 2010 was the second time I'd failed to get anywhere and when the results came out I made a serious effort to give up writing entirely.
I was tired. I was fed up with form rejections and frustrated with not knowing whether I was any closer to getting published than I'd been ten years before. I was working mornings with young children who had just started school and I'd been spending every afternoon writing. Suddenly I had so much time! Housework was done. Phone calls got returned. Family members were fed new and delicious meals. I lasted two weeks until the itch to write became overwhelming and I gave up on giving up. I'm so glad I didn't succeed!

Why must we be ninja in our writing? When we're unpublished, people  - especially people who don't know us well - may cast doubt on our identity as a writer. Well you can't be a writer if you haven't got a book out, can you? Of course you can. If you're writing then you are a writer and no one can take that away from you. However, to avoid doubtful looks and comments of "So you want to be the next J.K. Rowling" it's good to be a bit ninja. Our nearest and dearest will usually be supportive but occasionally that's not the case. Most people have no idea how long it takes to hone our writing skills and get published. (For most people, including myself, it takes a really long time.) Also, if you keep your writer identity a secret from more casual acquaintances, it becomes easier to listen in on conversations and pinch snippets for your story. All the better to improve your dialogue with, my dear!

But how much time should we steal for writing? This can be an incredibly tricky judgement. Many of us have children or other family commitments. Many of us have day jobs. How can we take time away from our loved ones to write? I've struggled with this for many years. I think in the end, if we listen to our internal voice, we'll know whether we're either short changing our loved ones by writing too much or short-changing ourselves by not prioritising our own needs.

Ninja writing has many advantages.  If all you have is half an hour writing time during a baby's nap or an office lunch break, this can make you extremely focussed in your writing. Being able to pick up where you left off is a great skill and one I'm not so good at now that I have more time to write. Ninjas are masters of the surprise attack. This was very much my writing style in the early days when I had no more than a handful of minutes to scribble at a time. There was a definite thrill to it. Being able to write anywhere is also a skill to be nurtured. Train and car trips turn into an opportunity for scribbling and being out of the house can be very freeing. Stories that seemed stuck can be given a kick start by simply going somewhere else to write. New sights and sounds stimulate the imagination.

Various places I have written:
In a field, in a car park by a lake, in an airport, in a shopping centre, inside numerous cafes, on trains, in soft play venues (until the laptop battery ran out), on a ferry, on a hay bale, inside an ice sculpture (chilly) and in a royal palace.

So consider being ninja in your writing. You never know where it may lead. Now, if you'll excuse me, there's a computer I'd like to sneak off to.

Paula Harrison has published 25 books including the Robyn Silver series, the Tiara Friends mysteries, the Red Moon Rising trilogy and The Rescue Princesses.


  1. Amazing how much you can get done on the train to or from work! My trusty iPad has become my notebook, plus I can stop to do research.

    A Visit From The Local Member

  2. I find trains really productive places to work too. There's something about only having a short space of time that makes me crack on!

  3. It is so true that you are a better ninja when you have less time. I did a LOT of writing in the car while waiting in a carpark during my son's junior rugby days. Sometimes I wonder (now that I write full time) whether a new baby in my life would be just the tonic for efficient ninja writing.


Comments are the heart and soul of the Slushpile community, thank you! We may periodically turn on comments approval when trolls appear.

Share buttons bottom