Monday, 1 April 2013

Kaizen in Writing

I first came across kaizen over a decade ago, when I was at college and doing a Business Studies A level: it was described as a style of business management that involved continuously making small changes. This philosophy appealed to me. I have always tended to be goal-orientated and results-driven (often to my detriment!), so monitoring what works is something I do automatically. However, I also have a strong perfectionist streak that screams 'why make small changes when you can make big changes?'

Kaizen is much more effective when you overcome such perfectionism. The point of making small changes is that they are achievable, which is also motivating. The point of them being continuous is that you build momentum and the small changes accumulate into big changes.

Kaizen is also marvellously flexible. You can apply the principles to pretty much anything, in every area of your life. There are lots of ways writers can use kaizen; far too many for me to mention in one blog post. Besides, part of the fun is in adapting these ideas for yourself!

Here are some examples to get you started:

1/. Kaizen Editing
Focus on changing one tiny aspect of your draft at a time. This could be anything from flagging up clich├ęs to spotting spelling mistakes. Conveying a character's mean streak or checking punctuation. Finding plot holes or removing excess adverbs. You get the idea!

2/. Kaizen in your Routine
Think of small changes that will make it easier for you to write. Many people have a coffee before they think about writing to perk them up, for instance, whereas coffee gives me gastritis so I warm up my brain by checking emails, online banking, editing my Amazon wishlist, etc. if you feel tired mid-afternoon, would you benefit from a power nap or a power walk? How do certain foods affect you? A chocolate bar may sound like a good idea for a late morning energy boost, but not once the sugar high wears off. How could you make your writing area more comfortable or inspirational?

You may need to think a lot about what is preventing your routine from being more effective, but once you pinpoint the problem and make small changes, you can make a big difference to your productivity.

3/. Kaizen for your Submissions Process
Or, in my case, lack of submission process! Again, you might need to address some major issues, such as confidence, but kaizen is about making things generally easier - you don't necessarily need to tackle an issue head-on to yield results. So, you may be reluctant to submit short stories because you lack confidence, but making submitting easier and more convenient could lead to you submitting more stories. I find it hard to work up the confidence to submit to competitions, but most of the competitions I enter are ones I can pay for and enter online. Why? Because once I find that iota of confidence, it takes 2 minutes to submit! I don't have to sustain my confidence as I print the story, fill in an entry form, write a check, find an envelope, take it to the post office...

And just by writing this, I can think of many more things that would make it easier for me to submit: I could buy a load of stamps at the postage price of my average submission, make a list of free competitions and/or journals accepting online entries, get critique partners to tell me which stories are good enough to submit and which need work. Of course, I should also work on building my confidence, but I wanted to show that kaizen can offer simple solutions in complex situations!

And once you start making changes, continue...

Kaizen can be used in such a range of applications related to writing that it's impossible to mention them all in a single post. It's a topic I will experiment with and revisit in future. Meanwhile, have fun conducting your own experiments and let me know the results!



  1. I like your description of kaizen, and I agree that small changes are much easier to take on than big ones. It takes me a while to work up the confidence to send my stories out too. I found out about a literary magazine that was accepting submissions several weeks ago, but it wasn't until the night before the deadline that I finally got enough nerve to submit my story (thank goodness for online submissions).

    1. Thank you :-) I don't know how I'd cope without online submissions - probably submit about once a year!

  2. That's a fascinating post, Hayley - lots of good advice. Please do continue sending your work out - remember it's all anonymous to the readers/judges so it's not personal at this stage, and it's fun waiting to hear if you're mentioned!

    1. Thanks, Rosemary. I'll try to keep submitting!