Why do YOU write, I asked last month. To which more than a few of you replied. Two thirds of the respondents quoted began their journey as students of Drawing on the Writer Within and Proprioceptive Writing in Japan. As to the rest, some write professionally; others are otherwise employed. What they all share is a proven passion to communicate via the written word.
Twenty-four years in Japan, documentary filmmaker, recording engineer and cross-cultural communication specialist Jeffrey Jouson lives in Ibaraki, north of Tokyo. Born in New Jersey, he was halfway through level 3 of DOTWW (and among the first non-Japanese volunteers to start work in Tohoku) after the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdowns of March 3, 2011.
I write to try to make better sense of myself and the world. To work through intense emotional times and conflict. I write with the hope to capture fleeting moments of insight to help us navigate this ongoing journey that is life.
Margaret Grant is halfway through her second novel. Visiting Scotland from Eire last month after travelling and teaching in Portugal, Japan, Brazil and India, and beginning a Masters in Creative Writing in Corsham, England this autumn, she offers up this one-line nugget in her inimitable succinct style:
I write because I have an urge to do so, and I’m happier when I do than when I don’t.
By contrast, Sarah Oba who having moved 20 times in as many years is currently based in Tokyo, writes at length and with great nostalgia for her childhood in Atlanta, Georgia, which is where and how her writing journey began. What follows is an edited version:
There is a journey in the written word which I encountered from a young age. I remember my first writing project was conducted under my father’s careful supervision – he provided notecards for me to write thank you notes to relatives and we put those in the mail.
Writing was important and my responsibility. The letter needed to be in my voice and not my father expressing gratitude on my behalf. I had no idea that I was discovering a craft in the process.
A later discovery was exploring my father’s wardrobe that had an antique key to its mirrored door and behind it finding the handwritten love letters written by my mother to my father during their courtship and their wedding photos. Her writing opened an unknown world for me, and made me aware of the unspoken stories.
Writing has always been an affirmation of life in the midst of loss, sadness and emptiness.
When life detoured from my dreams, I found myself proofreading for others in Japan – rather than creating my own body of work. I dedicated myself to career and family. Approaching a celebration of two decades in Japan, I signed up for for a writing programme – Drawing on the Writer Within – for which there were simple rules and guidelines but no critiques and no outlines or agendas.
After the structured background of my school years, this class provided the freedom to create and explore in a safe environment with other persons looking to write in order to discover and explore an unknown area.
This class brought me full circle to discovering the power, truth, and beauty of the written word.
Kathryn Matsumura (who has lived 45 years central Tokyo with no plans to ever leave) also returns to her American roots for reasons as to why she loves to write.
I don’t know why I write, but I have always done so. Before I could actually spell, I wrote stories in my head.
I suppose the logical answer is because I grew up in a family with a rich tradition of oral storytelling and a lot of interest in everyone else’s business. Family and community history were kept alive with these oft-repeated stories.
Growing up, I realized through the stories that life was by turns hilarious, sad, traumatic, dramatic, filled with times of unexpected good fortune and misfortune and too, but somehow it was all beautiful and worth remembering.
People tell me I think of the past too much, but I don’t care. As Faulkner said, “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.”
Having been born in north of the Mason-Dixon Line, technically I am a Yankee and I just keep doing what I was brought up to do. I just keep telling stories.
Ruthie Iida, also American but living south of Tokyo, is a storyteller whose writings flow with little apparent effort. This is not only because she puts in the hours to hone scribing skills; she is also unstoppable!
I write to stay connected.
I write to give shape to my dreams.
At the end of the day, I think I write just because I can’t imagine a life without writing, any more than I can imagine a life without growing things, or moving between languages, or the smell of rising dough. Sure, I could live without it; but why would I choose to?
American-born James Howard, who lives in the western suburbs of Tokyo, works at Amazon, Japan, where he analyses customer service data. He also teaches at Meiji University. The book he began in 2010 on his African-American family and ancestry is currently on a back-burner.
Netherlander Jacinta Hin divides her working life between Tokyo and Shanghai but is based in Japan. While acting as a prison visitor, anti-nuclear activist and enthusiastic kick boxer, she is also editor-in-chief of a website (http://embrace-transition.com/) which seeks to help people deal with change in their lives.
To write means to be in an intimate space with my self, a bubble of some sorts in which the whole of me is engaged, and the outside world does not exist. As I am writing these words, I am sitting in a local coffeehouse in my village, a public space, where I write best. I am here, yet not here. People around me talk, but their words don’t reach me.
I write to make sense of what I feel. And to help others make sense of what they feel.
I write to find myself and to help others find themselves.
Above all, I write to connect so that I can find my truth, and inspire others to find their own.
When I write and get into flow, I feel timeless and capable of anything, in sync with myself and the world. Perhaps that’s also why I write. Because, when I do so, I am truly happy and present.
Always an active member of the UK’s National Union of Journalists, Humphrey Evans has lived in London all his working life, writing freelance for publications such as The Observor and the Radio Times. Describing himself now as “retired”, he is still putting together pieces such as the introduction to his Kindle ebook “Edit: 23 Guidances for Editors, Subeditors, Copyeditors”.
I like to try to make words work and I like to try to entertain and inform.
Duncan McLaren from Blairgowrie, Perthshire, Scotland has written books about contemporary art (Personal Delivery), John Ruskin (The Strangled Cry of the Writer-in-Residence), Enid Blyton (Looking For Enid). All reflect his interest in creativity, especially the literary and visual arts. He’s currently working on websites reflecting his interest in Evelyn Waugh (www.evelynwaugh.org.uk) and Kate Clayton (www.strangebundle.co.uk).
I write because I like to think about my own stuff. And once I’ve thought about it – or even as I’m thinking about it – I like to write it down. That is, create patterns with words, patterns that deal with the emotional experience being thought about and which are aesthetically pleasing.
So it’s all self-indulgence, then? Absolutely. Luckily, one person’s self-indulgence can tickle another person’s fancy. Witness the case of Evelyn Waugh and me, reader turned writer.
Another Scot born and bred, Marion Duffy, who lives in Meigle, Perthshire, is one half of Mirren Jones (http://www.mirrenjones.co.uk/) whose novel Eight of Cups was self-published in 2013. She and her writing partner (who lives in Wales) have just completed the first draft of a second work of fiction, Never Do Harm. Marion is also moving towards writing under her own name.
I have always enjoyed the writing aspect of any job I have had – and I’ve had loads of different jobs in education, research, and management. But writing fiction is something else. It’s private time, in secluded personal space, with no chattering critic on my shoulder and no fears in my mind.
A genuine version of myself is the one that writes – with some gentle humour, and hopefully a perspicacity on what goes on in the heads of my characters.
And it really is a lifelong journey – with so much scope for development of style, broadening of ideas, expansion of imagination. I feel I am only just starting and that the process will continue to energise and please me till the day I am no longer able to engage in it.