Broke Ninjas: Origins

 

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There’s a long and a less-long story behind the ninja cartoons that appear with some of my posts. I figure I’d try to share the less-long story here, in the standard 800 to 1,000-word blog post.

Back in 2014, I went to an SCBWI conference in New York and attended the illustrators’ workshop they offered. Mind you, I’m a writer rather than an artist. But I’ve always loved drawing, so I figured seeing how the illustrators did things would be fun.

Before the conference, the workshop attendees were told to illustrate a scene from the classic Snow White fairy tale in our own style. As a non-artist, I don’t have an “artsy” style. My stuff always ends up cartoony.

So to shake things up, I changed the story and placed Snow White in feudal Japan, where she escapes from her evil stepmother the Empress and ends up crossing paths with seven little ninjas. They were thinking of killing her too, because she found their hide-out, but decided against it since they didn’t like the Empress either.

The scene I drew (and finished about five hours before I had to board the plane for said conference) was at the end, featuring Snow White (whom I called Shirayuki), a young samurai (instead of a prince), and the seven ninjas.

In summary, the workshop sucked. The AD who reviewed my work didn’t give me any helpful feedback. Not even a, “I don’t really like this because of …” She had just said, “I don’t know enough about this [cartoon] style to make a comment.”

Waste of an air ticket and conference fee. Did I mention I was unemployed at the time?

Anyway, I started my little eBay gig later, so I forgot about the ninjas for a while. I’d sketch some of them on the paper table covers at restaurants with crayons while waiting for food, but that was about it.

Fast-forward to 2016, and I was feeling like a failure. It’d been nearly two years since I’d lost my full-time job, and I’d gotten another rejection on a book (I’d stopped counting after I’d gotten rejection letter No. 300 a few years back). But I’d been reading Start. by Jon Acuff and several articles on Forbes and Entrepreneur. And I had a crazy idea that maybe I was still a little hirable.

So, for the first time in over a year, I started looking for a job again. The funny thing about looking for editing and writing jobs is that you need to have writing samples. I didn’t want to send potential employers stuff I did for my old employer. For one, I have a much wider and creative range than the mostly bone-dry material I was paid to do in the past. Also, I’d never been paid to write about topics that interested me, like personal finance, professional growth, movies, history, travel, creative processes, and so on.

So, I started writing about things that interested me in my own style here, on this blog. My goal was to post something consistently once a week and build up to more if I could. I figured that if an employer could understand and appreciate my raw writing, then it would be the kind place I’d like to work for.

But of course, with blog posts, I needed some kind of visual. And rather than pull the same stock photos that appear on every other blog on Planet Earth, I thought it’d be fun to draw a cartoon instead. The first post I needed a cartoon for was 3 Reasons You Need a Side Hustle, and I thought it would be funny to resurrect one of my ninjas from years ago and pretend that he needed a job. I gave him a bigger head, a blue mask, and named him Sam. I thought he was cute.

As I wrote more posts, I drew comics with Sam attending job interviews. I sketched more ninjas and found that Sam had three younger brothers—all unemployed and broke just like him. They had left their village together to find work in the city. And they had to share a tiny apartment and take whatever jobs they could get to get by.

One of them, Chris in the green mask, started blogging about their experiences. The younger two are Red (red mask–original I know) and Mackie (orange mask), and their capacity for making trouble is endless. Naturally, being ninjas, they approach things differently. Sharp things don’t scare them, but their landlord on rent day does.

I started posting some of the comics on Instagram. A few people like them, so I think I’ll keep making more. I’ve looked into what it takes to be a syndicated cartoonist, but the rejection rates are high—even higher than trying to publish a book.

Considering my history with rejection, I doubt the ninjas will get picked up. Still, I suppose it doesn’t hurt to try.

Interestingly enough, my blog posts with the ninjas did help me get a couple of job interviews. Fingers crossed that I’ll start work soon.

Anyway, that’s a little bit about my four little broke ninjas. If you want to follow their escapades, follow me on Instagram @brokeninjascomics or visit www.brokeninjas.com. I hope to post a new comic every Tuesday—possibly more frequently once I get more drawn.

Ways You Are Hurting Your Own Creativity

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Whenever I hear someone say, “I’m not creative,” I call BS.

“But I don’t [draw, write, play a musical instrument, make red-carpet clothes out of used water bottles].”

The word “creative” isn’t limited to the arts. Everyone is creative. The medium of expressing it is just different. Some use pigment and textile. Others use food. Some use code and strategy.

Creativity does not discriminate. But you can hinder it with habits you may not have thought about before.

You’re Not Making Restful Sleep Your BFF

Working too much and not getting enough sleep? You’re only doing yourself harm, as sleep deprivation can lead to a host of health problems.

You may think you’re hustling it by riding the adrenaline of a caffeine boost or sheer force of will. But just like all living (and even non-living) systems, continued and heightened activity without rest will only lead to a system failure. Your body is a system of systems that need time to rest and reboot to operate well.

A couple years ago, I attended a writing workshop led by Delacorte Press’ Krista Marino, who has edited such books as The Maze Runner series. She mentioned that when she ran into a challenge and couldn’t figure a way around it, she noticed it helped if she stepped away from the problem for a day and slept on it. More often then not, when she came back to the same problem the next day, the answer would just suddenly “click.”

“So, I’m a big believer in naps,” she said.

Sometimes the best thing to boost your creativity is to do—wait for it—nothing. Take a short rest instead.

You Are Not Eating Enough Nourishing Food

You know the old saying, “Garbage in, garbage out”? Researchers have suggested a correlation between junk food and kids’ lower scores in math, science, and reading.

It logically follows that the same goes for adults. If you’re taking in food that is void of the nutrients that your body needs to work, then (surprise) your body—including your brain—won’t function optimally. Your creativity will suffer as the lack of nutrients makes your body go into survival mode.

So, the solution is to eat better, right? But how?

Everyone has different requirements. You can check with a trusted nutritional counselor, but solutions don’t have to be drastic or huge, depending on your current state of health.

A pretty common sense start can be to cut out a serving of junk food (like a dessert or chips) each day and replace it with a serving of a healthier alternative (like a piece of fruit or some lightly salted nuts). Do it for a week, and if you like how you feel, swap out something else.

Small and manageable victories are better than going all out and risking withdrawal symptoms that would just lead back to problematic habits.

Your Space Is Sucking the Inspiration Out of the Air

Research has suggested that bland architecture can have a negative affect on the health of humans, including increased stress levels.

Is it any wonder why some of the best companies to work for have really interesting office designs? Headquarters like Google’s and Intuit‘s popularly sport unique and inspiring spaces designed for cultivating creative thinking.

Take a look at your space. Is it boring to you? Maybe something as simple as adding an interesting piece of wall art, opening a window, or cleaning out clutter will help make your space more welcoming to creative thought.

You Are Working in a Bubble

I do a lot of writing, so I understand needing quiet (or the white nose at a café or hotel lounge) to concentrate on the physical work of getting the words onto the page. But as I mentioned before, creativity does not turn off. It’s always on, gathering experiences and working out problems in the back of my mind as I go about doing non-writing things.

Last year, I spent five weeks in the UK, France, and Italy. I did a few touristy things, but most days I spent simply walking around and watching people. I snapped a lot of pictures and jotted down some notes of what I thought about the things I saw and how they made me feel.

Everything I absorbed in those five weeks may not materialize into any future projects. But some of it might. One thing that’s for sure is that I wouldn’t have had those experiences at all if I’d stayed locked up in my house with just the Internet as my window to the outer world.

You don’t have to fly across the ocean to get out of a bubble. Even just going for a jog in the park or having coffee with a friend can be enough. If you’re under deadline, then yes, shutting the door and turning off the phone until the task is done is effective. But the inspiration that builds creativity muscles lives out in the wild, and you have to be willing to get off your duff and find it.

You Are Being Too Harsh on Yourself and Your Work

“Art is never finished, only abandoned” is a popular quote of unclear origin (sometimes it’s attributed to Pablo Picasso and sometimes to Leonardo Da Vinci). Regardless of who said it, it’s a good one to remember.

If you do any type of creative work, then you know that your work is never actually finished. You can tweak and edit and redo a piece to death and it will never be exactly perfect.

And that’s okay.

At some point, you’ll either hit a deadline or a dead end, and you will have to let that project go. No, it will never be perfect. Nothing you ever do will be perfect. But if it gets the message across clearly and it does it with flair, then you’ve done your job. Time to turn your creative energy to something new.