This Japanese Writing Style Will Make You a Better Writer

Image for postPicture by Tom & Jerry

All beginnings are hard, especially when it comes to writing. To be honest, I had to copy the word Zuihitsu about six times already. I can’t spell it correctly. Nevertheless, I am writing about it. That’s the essence of Zuihitzu. The Japanese literary technique roughly translates into “following the brush.” The first author that fully embraced the writing style was the Japanese author Sei Shōnagon. She was the personal assistant of the ruling Empress Teishi. For her services, she was granted accommodation and food at the Imperial Palace in Kyoto.

What made er writing style so special was that she wrote only for herself. Her most famous manuscript, “The Pillow Book,” was nothing more than her diary. In it, she wrote about all the gossip and scandals that occurred at the royal palace. Because her notes were personal, she often started writing without knowing where it will take her. She would even change her opinion on a subject/person mid-text. It is against everything those self-help guides might tell you.

Contrary to other old-school literary styles, Zuihitzu does not give the writer any specific structure. It allows you to take a shortcut, only to lose yourself in your thoughts before you circle back to the main road. I understand that a good article needs to be polished and well structured, but the most crucial aspect of a text is to enrich someone’s day with a new perspective or insight on a topic.

Providing a new piece of information means thinking about it. As a writer, it has always been my ambition not to copy news. Looking back at my earlier medium days, I must admit that I failed at it many times. I would scan the news and hope that I am the first who reports about a viral topic. But in the end, I was never quite satisfied with the results. Too often, I would spend my time reading news articles or opinion pieces from other authors, collect them, and add an Unsplash picture.

I did not follow the brush. I did not look at my topics from a different perspective. I had a clear structure in my head and was simply looking for pieces of information aligned with the pre-drafted structure in my head. When I first started sending my articles to publications, I was rejected by nearly all of them. Back then, I could not figure out why. Now I know that a commentary is only as good as the amount of new information that it contains.

Having a co-editor helped me tremendously (big shoutout to you, Tom!), and he told me, again and again, to bring in my own spice. But I did not know how to do it. I grew angry at all those authors that published in high-profile publications with stories that were already old. I needed to spend more time thinking than researching.

During the last sixteen days, me and my co-author have committed to write an article every day. By increasing the volume of my essays, I hoped to accelerate my writing to the point that I could incorporate it into my daily routine. As the days passed, I realized that something else was happening. I allowed thoughts to wander, not only inside my head but also on paper.

Author Issac Asimov once said:

“Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers.”

As I was starting to follow the brush, I once changed my opinion on a subject after writing one-thousand words about it. As I continue to practice more Zuihitsu, I start to notice that my essays get more personal. Finally, I begin to consider different perspectives of existing problems and what it means to follow your thoughts. These are by no means perfect, but I feel that I am making progress.

Image for postPhoto by Bernie Almanzar on Unsplash

Now you might ask yourself how the hell I want to connect this topic to my area of expertise. Writing is, on many levels, similar to sports. Many people in this world are passionate (both professionally and non-professionally) about these two things. Both need a lot of hard work and discipline to be mastered. Both are also hard to start with.

It is right around this time when new year’s resolutions like “I want to exercise 4 times a week” are broken. People want their workout routine to be perfect. If it is not, it becomes non-existent. Practicing Zuihitsu in sports means going for a run and see where it leads you. It is also important to push through at some point but allow yourself to follow your feet.

If you are exhausted after a five-kilometer run or twenty-minute workout, pause a little until you feel better. It is not about being perfect. It is about performing your task. If your goal is to write, then write. If it’s running, then run. Life is messy, and it constantly breaks the structures you are trying to build around it. Zuihitsu allows you to follow the chaos life gives you and thrive in it.

If that is not enough to convince you to venture off the linear writing path, listen to the French philosopher Michel de Montaigne, founder of the essay. Every article on Medium is an essay. But what is an essay? The word stems from the French infinitive essayer, which means trying.

That begs the question:

What am I trying to achieve when writing an article on medium?

For me, writing is not about getting published or earning money (Sure, these things would be nice too). It’s about honing my skill, looking at a problem from different angles, but also about bringing my thoughts on paper. Ultimately I write to generate new pieces of information that might enrich someone’s mind.

Next time you are staring at that empty piece of paper or your running shoes, trying to come up with a structure, stop your train of thoughts and ‘Just do it.’ There must be a reason that Nike’s slogan is so famous around the world.

  • Allow yourself to wander while you write. It will give you new perspectives.
  • The goal of any essay should be to offer your readers new insights.
  • Ask yourself what you are writing for?

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