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Month: November 2016

Photo & Haiku Friday: Hospital from Hell… in my Hometown

Every Friday I like to write an ode to a photo in Japan with a hot-off-the-keyboard haiku. Sometimes a Japanese one happens to float in off a gentle breeze of inspiration as well.

Last week we looked at a Shiba Inu in Halloween costume. Here’s this week’s photo that I took at my local train station, a lovely advertisement for a hospital:


My English haiku:

My Japanese haiku:

(Just relax)
(Let the robot do its thing)
(It might hurt a bit)

W.T.F. Japan: Top 5 most confusing Japanese counter words 【Weird Top Five】

This week for my RocketNews24 W.T.F. Japan article, I wrote about top five most confusing Japanese counter words.

Japanese is a hard language to learn, but not for the reasons most people think it is. I did a previous W.T.F. Japan about the top five myths about learning Japanese, and I stand by that kanji is definitely not the hardest part of Japanese.

Maybe someday I’ll do a W.T.F. on the top five reasons Japanese is actually hard, but for now I just wanted to focus on one of the harder aspects of the language: counter words.

In English we say a “head” of lettuce and a “loaf” of bread, but in Japanese they have counter words for everything. No matter what you’re counting – people, computers, books, sheep – there’s a counter word that must be used. You can’t just say “three sheep” and be understood, you have to say the equivalent of “three heads of sheep.”

In this W.T.F. I go over some of the more ridiculous counter words, which have tripped me and my students up for years. Even if you’ve never studied Japanese before, I think it will be a fun read just to see how linguistically different (and crazy) Japanese can be sometimes.

Read the article here.

Tips-y Tuesday: Keeping the Writing Train on Track

Last week on Tips-y Tuesday we talked about how wasted time is never wasted. This week I’d like to talk about one of the most difficult parts of writing: staying on track and writing consistently.

We’ve talked before about scheduling dates with writing in order to finish your project within the timeframe you want. For example, if you want to finish writing a book in four months, you can do it easily as long as you come up with a reasonable schedule.

But even if you come up with the greatest writing schedule in the world… it means nothing if you don’t stick to it.

Of course nobody is going to stick to their schedule 100%. Emergencies and unplanned events come up that force us to to retreat out of our writing caves and into the burning light of the real world (unfortunately).

“Ugh, god! What is that horrible light seeping
into my wonderfully cold and damp prison cell?”


But the vast majority of the time, we are able to write. Whether it’s at home after work, or on the weekends, or when we suddenly find ourselves with nothing to do, we are perfectly capable of starting/continuing that novel or short story, and yet, very often we don’t.

Why is that? I believe there are two reason: (1) we honestly just forget sometimes, and (2) writing is a lot harder to bring ourselves to do than watching TV/YouTube/Netflix/killing time doing nothing.

The way I get around both of these problems at once is by using a schedule book. At the beginning of each week, I write down everything I’m planning on doing each day for the upcoming week. Then, as I do things, I cross them off.

A week in my schedule book.
I really enjoy crossing things out.


I know this may seem old-fashioned in the era of smartphones, but honestly, there is just something so visceral about writing down your schedule and then crossing it out that you can’t get on a phone. When you write it down, it already feels like you’re one step of the way there, which you don’t really feel on the phone. And the mental satisfaction of crossing it out with a pen as opposed to deleting/striking-out is incomparable.

It probably sounds crazy to anyone who hasn’t tried it, but if you’re having trouble sticking to a writing schedule, then writing down every day in a schedule book to “write one page” might actually be helpful. So long as you don’t allow yourself to go to bed before that one page is complete, no matter how messy it may end up, you will stick to your schedule. And it’s a lot harder to ignore something you’ve written yourself in a book than just data on a screen.

For those who are worried that they might lose or forget to check their schedule book, try just leaving it in your writing area, or another place you sit at every day (kitchen table, living room chair, etc), that way you can’t miss it. And your schedule book doesn’t even have to be a “book,” it can be a printout you hang on the wall above your bed or desk or TV or whatever you want.

I know I personally would have never finished a novel if it weren’t for my paper-and-pen schedule book. It’s like having a nagging friend always by your side, asking you “did you write your one page yet?” And since there’s no better feeling in the world than shutting that friend up by crossing out your daily writing amount, it makes it even easier to reach your goal.

(Featured image via GAHAG, edited by me)
(Insert image via GAHAG)

Masterpiece Monday: Do You Need to Spice up “Said?”

Last week on Masterpiece Monday we saw how inside jokes between the reader and narrator can be effective at drawing us in. This week I’d like pull back and show off some examples of something that I know is hard for me to do: spice up the word “said.”

Whenever I’m writing, I want to get across in my reader’s head exactly how I’m visualizing the scene. So when two characters are having a conversation, I love to throw in “spiced-up versions” of the word “said.” Things like this:

“Oh you’re too much!” he laughed.
“Get down here right now!” she yelled.
“I hate you,” she spat.

But here’s the thing – most of the time, you don’t need to spice up the word “said.” Good writers, unlike myself, are able to convey how the characters speak without needing to resort to long verbs that could slow down the prose.

Here’s an example from John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. It takes place just after Hazel and her mother arrive in Amsterdam and they flag down a taxi.

After getting our bags and clearing customs, we all piled into a taxi driven by this doughy bald guy who spoke perfect English—like better English than I do. “The Hotel Filosoof?” I said.
And he said, “You are Americans?”
“Yes,” Mom said. “We’re from Indiana.”
“Indiana,” he said. “They steal the land from the Indians and leave the name, yes?”
“Something like that,” Mom said.

Did you notice while you were reading? Just that one scene uses the word “said” five times… in a row!

Many editors would slice through most of them with their red pen, but I’m not sure they’d be correct in doing so. Yes, the author technically repeats the same word over and over, but it flows so well. If the author had instead used different verbs like “mumbled” or “guffawed,” or decided to commit the ultimate literary sin and use adverbs like “Mom said quickly,” then the scene would’ve been bogged down by needless words and syllables.

But it’s just one syllable/word, right? How much of a difference can it make? Subconsciously, quite a bit. The scene is supposed to be fast-paced, and any excess letters on the page will slow it down. We saw before how a longer action scene can take something fast and fun and make it boring, and the same goes for snappy dialogue as well.

I know that I’m tempted all the time to use other words besides “said” in my writing. And while sometimes it can be correct to do so, a lot of the time I use fancier “said” verbs as a crutch. The words the characters use and their personalities should dictate how they say things, not unnecessary description.

So the next time you’re scratching your head wondering what word to use in place of “said,” just try using “said.” If the same emotion you’re aiming for isn’t coming through, then maybe it’d be better to change the words coming out of the character’s mouth instead.

(Featured image via GAHAG, edited by me)