Kaizen (Sort of) for Writers

Japan-tokyo-harajuku-2102798-hLast week we were at the beach.  Well, it was the bay, actually.  Which is why it was so quiet around this blog.  It was wonderful and relaxing, thanks in no small part to the house we stayed in, which is owned by my daughter's in-laws.  The house was roomy, clean, and organized.  Emphasis on the last two things.

I am by nature a creative type, not the best of housekeepers because I'd rather be writing.  Or at least that is what I have always blamed my messiness on.  

But let me tell you, it was an absolute pleasure to work in a well-organized kitchen and shower in a sparkling clean stall.  With a shower head that didn't shoot water at odd angles.  And it got me to thinking about how I could do a bit better in this department.

I'm not going to change overnight.  I'm not going to wake up tomorrow and decide to clean all day.  It's just not going to happen.  Ever.  But what I decided I can do is add on a little bit more every day.  Make the effort to put an extra load of wash in.  Put away the dirty dishes after lunch instead of accidentally waiting for my husband to do it.   Deal with a couple pieces of mail from the stack that gets piled up on the dining room table. 

Little things.

And then my friend Linda told me that what I was talking about was Kaizen.  I am by no stretch of the imagination an expert in Kaizen, so what follows is taken from what Linda told me and what I've managed to glean on the interwebs.  Kaizen grew out of the Toyota corporation's innovations on the factory floor.  They noticed that if their employees worked to improve themselves by just one percent, amazing gains in productivity occurred.

So the basic idea is to make little, incremental changes.  And then watch as those little changes add up. 

How does this apply to writing?  (Because, you know, everything applies to writing, at least in my world.) Well, most importantly, it's one of those baseline things that underlies everything else.  If you are gradually improving yourself and your world you're going to be a better person and a happier person.  And better, happier people make better, happier writers.  (Contrary to the popular image of the tortured writer.)

But also, let us look at the ways we could apply this to writing:

–By writing one extra word, sentence or paragraph a day. (I once knew a woman who committed to writing one sentence every day for a year.   She accomplished her goal and at the end of the year, was very satisfied with output because she met her goal.)

–By adding an extra five minutes to your allotted writing time.

–Learn a few new vocabulary words (strong verbs are especially good for your work).

–Commit to writing in your journal for five minutes a day.  (This kind of process writing has been shown to truly help your other writing.)

–Spend a minute or two a day keeping your work space organized–or beginning the process of getting it clean.

–Write a poem a day to keep the juices flowing.

–Even when you are at your crazy busiest, take out your WIP and look at it for a minute or so.

–Write three pages by hand on your WIP in your journal in the morning (my current practice).

–Send out one story or submission a week (or a month, or a day–whatever works for you).

What else?  Well, start thinking about what might work for you.  What do you struggle with currently in your writing practice?  How could you make a teeny tiny improvement to what you're doing?  I would love to hear more ideas for small ways to improve–please share in the comments below.

Photo of Japan by Shiny Things.

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12 Comments on "Kaizen (Sort of) for Writers"

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Beverly
Guest
08/15/2013 12:09

We’re on the same wave length! I wrote about this in You Have Time. One of the aspects of kaizen I employ is to create a list of different ways to solve a problem, and experiment. I love living in a state of experiment, exploration, what if!

Charlotte Dixon
Guest
08/15/2013 12:20

Your You Have Time class is wonderful, Beverly.  I was on vacation without wi-fi as the emails came in, so I skimmed them on my Iphone and carefully saved them all so I can go through the course day by day.  Now that I know you talk about Kaizen I'm even more excited about it!

Don Williams
Guest
08/15/2013 16:57
If messiness is a sign of great creativity then I’m a bloody genius! As far as Kaiszen goes, well it makes perfect sense. I’ve always found that if I can get in just a bit more I end up doing a lot more. Toyota is one of the world’s biggest and most successful companies and Kaiszen has apparently NOT done it any harm, and yes, I agree with you, everything can indeed be linked to writing. Kaiszen, according to your link, applies to manufacturing and that’s exactly, when you really thing about it, is what we writers are…… manufacturers. Just… Read more »
Charlotte Dixon
Guest
08/15/2013 20:33

Well, we writers are manufacturers or sorts, right?  I do believe, as you well know, that everything is connected to writing.  And I'm finding that applying the Kaizen approach really is useful for everything!

J.D.
Guest
J.D.
08/16/2013 05:04

Good stuff.

Charlotte Dixon
Guest
08/16/2013 06:19

Thanks, J.D.!  I hope you are well.

Zan Marie
Guest
08/17/2013 06:35

Thanks for this. I’m still getting my feet on the ground (literally and figuratively after my surgery) and working with all the notes after my reread of FF has been a bit intimidating. So, note to self, do one little bit at a time. ; )

Charlotte Dixon
Guest
08/17/2013 08:34

Your situation is perfect for doing one little bit a time, Zan Marie!  I hope you're being kind to yourself as you get back to it.  Sending you good thoughts.

Amber Hart
Guest
Amber Hart
08/17/2013 08:50

I just read further on this and found the phrase “kaizen blitz” ~ I’m going to strive for a blitz in my revision process! Thanks for this!!

Charlotte Dixon
Guest
08/17/2013 09:57

Ooh, I'm going to have to look that up, sounds wonderful!  Thanks for letting me know and glad the concept resonated with you.  I'm finding it very easy to keep up with, as opposed to my usual resolutions that have me trying to change everything over night.

Barbara Shallue
Guest
08/18/2013 21:35

We’re told to learn to ignore the dishes and laundry and focus on writing, but it can be carried too far, can’t it? I’ve found if the house gets to unorganized, it affects my writing. I’m still working to find the balance. My experience with Kaizen is a little different. My husband’s company uses it for reviews – and it’s totally wacky in that respect, paying no attention to the actual job the person did. But I’ll look into it for this. Thanks, Charlotte! (Glad you had fun!)

Charlotte Dixon
Guest
08/21/2013 09:08

Hi Barbara, I’m the exact same way–I can ignore the house up to a point, and then it starts to affect my mental state. That’s interesting that your husband’s work uses Kaizen for reviews. I’m probably looking at Kaizen in its absolute simplest aspect, which is doing just a little extra whenever I think of it. Thanks for coming by!

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