Writing’s great. It’s a great example of easy to start, hard to master. Almost any device has some amount of capability to write on it. If you need a lower bar then you can go to paper and pen1. Then dropping even lower you can use the bar itself and write in the dirt. But I don’t have any credibility to “talk about writing”. I’ve read a couple of books about it and I’m going to be echo some thoughts from those with random bits from my own experience. I don’t actually know what I’m doing when it comes to writing. But the fun part about blogging is that I can do it because I feel like it2.

Evening Tide in Kanagawa.
Evening Tide in Kanagawa.

I’ve been living in Japan for about 3 years now. Just before corona picked up; I landed here. About a month ago it was the day of my flight for my first trip back to the States since living abroad. Japanese government had been going back and forth on restrictions with each new strain of the virus. And finally they had started to settle down. Knocked out a lot of requirements for testing and made it much easier to travel back and forth3 if you ignore the ticket prices. My flight was that afternoon. S and I have a moment of realizing that we’re about to be apart for the longest since I’ve moved to Japan. That particular lunch break was a very sweet intimate moment between us as we talked about it. And as I’m on the express train to the international terminal, I just had that urge to write that moment down. Looking back on it I get this feeling of: Why aren’t we capturing more moments like this. As a general practice of remembering those moments with your loved ones. Not a writing to be passed around and shared, but just writing what you love for yourself.

Foot notes are fun.

I wonder how much things like the 5 paragraph intro-3-points-conclusion pattern ruined writing for students. It was basically the one pattern used for several years. Almost to the point that you might forget other forms of writing exist.

“Writing is rewriting” is something you hear a bit when you start diving into the “how do I write well”, but I was not ever convinced to write revisions when I was younger. In school it was simply making sure sentences made sense, swapping out reused words for synonyms to sound like you have a large vocabulary, and adding fluff when I was below word count. The way that most writing courses I had would handle drafts would be: “turn in the first X words of your paper”. And it’d just increase the number of words until the final paper was finally due. This was more about poking the students to see that they were making progress on their paper. Then I started learning about how real writers do their drafts. I learned that drafts can be absolutely incoherent messes of words. Characters might change genders midway through the story; names might change; the characters might start really sarcastic and have little depth; and it’s with revisions that you refine that. I love reading George Saunders on what happens when he's revising:

When I write, “Bob was an asshole,” and then, feeling this perhaps somewhat lacking in specificity, revise it to read, “Bob snapped impatiently at the barista,” then ask myself, seeking yet more specificity, why Bob might have done that, and revise to, “Bob snapped impatiently at the young barista, who reminded him of his dead wife,” and then pause and add, “who he missed so much, especially now, at Christmas,” – I didn’t make that series of changes because I wanted the story to be more compassionate. I did it because I wanted it to be less lame. But it is more compassionate. - George

As you get more specific your stories, characters, etc become less lame, less boring, more depth, compassionate. He also goes on to talk about how when you really refine your writing it becomes much smarter than you actually are. Thoughts and ideas are polished and clear. Your jokes can get that precision timing to land better. This is one of those things that feel obvious but never clicked for me when I was going through all my classes. Was I just too lazy? Too busy4? So many things seemed to make sense for me two weeks too late in school and then by then I was buried under the mountain of the next thing to learn.

Write more. It’ll help you process things. If you think you can type “fast”, use a pen. Slow yourself down.

Write in public if it helps.

  1. I’ve semi-recently bought a fountain pen, and I’ve actually been doing more pocket notebooks than typing. It’s great. You should try it. ↩︎

  2. And you really should keep the bar low on that because otherwise you don’t write publicly for months. ↩︎

  3. Mostly. I actually had a lot of trouble getting my luggage checked in despite having the “Show THIS at the airport”. Luckily, I had a separate app with additional information that they did accept. ↩︎

  4. I spent a lot of time prioritizing what homework I needed to do. Sometimes considering the weight of the assignment on my final grade on how much time I allow myself to give it. What a terrible way to try and be learning. ↩︎