Writing the KAIZEN Way

Over the past eight years or so, I have tutored thousands of writing students. They come in all flavours: retirees who at last have time to satisfy a dream; young mothers who want a job they can do at home; bored workers who feel their creativity is being stifled by their existing careers.

Most of them start out with great enthusiasm and high expectations. Some are naturally talented and sail through the course; I know beyond doubt that if they just stick with it they will get published eventually. Others are surprised by how hard it is to actually sit down and write, day after day. They had thought writing a book would be easy - just a few pages a day. The reality is a shock. Quite a number give up after only a few assignments, and look for hobby that's more fun.

Then there are those who really, really want to be published. They may have been praised during their school years for their writing skills. They may have had people say "You write such great letters - you should have been a writer!" or "You're doing a terrific job on the club newsletter - why don't you write for magazines?"

All enthused, they enrol in a course - then reality hits. There's so much to learn! Rather than just sitting down at the computer and bashing out page after page of a gripping story, they find that they need to have some idea of where the story is going. (Plotting? Aarrgh!) And why aren't those characters coming to life on the page? They find themselves hitting the 'delete' key more than anything else. A whole day goes by and there's half a page to show for it. And what's more, they wail, "it's all junk!!"

Those who just 'have to write' usually keep going. But quite often, they go through weeks or months of depression and get very little done. They swing back and forth between "I give up. I'm never going to get published; who am I fooling?" and "I've just GOT to write. I'm going to have another shot at it!"

So what's the problem here? Is writing really that hard? Or are people's expectations set too high to start with?

A large part of the problem is that most people expect to 'master' writing in a short time. Why is this? After all, if you undertake a training course in different field you know you'll have to invest a large chunk of time. Nobody expects to become an engineer without years of study. Architects, teachers, IT specialists, nurses, journalists and top sports professionals all put in years of training and hours each week perfecting skills.

Well... why should writing be any different?

A New Principle: Writing The Kaizen Way

Perhaps what you need to do is take a different perspective on writing.

The Japanese have a concept known as Kaizen, which means "gradual continual improvements over time".

  • Don't try to master everything in a course that lasts six months.

  • Don't let yourself be overwhelmed by the idea of having to write an entire 100,000 word novel.

  • Don't impose unrealistic time constraints ("If I can't get a novel finished and accepted in a year I'll toss it in.")
Instead, work on gradual improvements. Over the course of weeks, months and years, this will add up to a substantial level of improvement. Start with the aspect of writing that is frustrating you most, and work on it until you can see a difference.

You now have a new tool in your writer's toolkit! Then tackle the next problem.

Let's take this scenario: You have started writing a novel, but you've stopped because you have no idea what is going to come next. You know plotting is your weak point. What do you do?

Say to yourself: OK, I'm going to learn as much as I can about plotting in the next four/six/eight weeks. At the end of that time I'm going to have a workable outline for my novel.

Then sit down and work out how you're going to do it. Will you surf the internet and look for relevant advice/articles? Will you buy a couple of good books on plotting? Will you arrange to meet with other writers and find out how they plot their books?

Once you have your plan of action, stick to it. And DO make note of what you're learning. Remember, the Kaizen principle is all about gradual, continual improvements over time. Every time you learn something new, that's a small advance on where you were before.

What if it takes longer than you'd planned? Fine. Just KEEP GOING. Your aim is to master one thing, then move on to the next. When you're feeling a lot more comfortable with plotting, it's time to advance to the next challenge.

Need to know more about creating believable characters? Want to write more convincing dialogue? Work on whatever it is... add the new skill to your toolkit... then move on.

As you can see, the secret to gradual improvement is simple: effort applied consistently over time.

This will make an enormous difference to your development as a writer. Start using the "Kaizen principle" today, record every improvement, and you'll be elated at how much you've grown at the end of a year.

(c) Marg McAlister

Marg McAlister has published magazine articles, short stories, books for children, ezines, promotional material, sales letters and web content. She has written 5 distance education courses on writing, and her online help for writers is popular all over the world. Sign up for her regular writers' tipsheet at http://www.writing4success.com/

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