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Author: Scott

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)

Photo & Haiku Friday: Stegosaurus Shiba Dog

Every Friday I like to decorate desecrate a photo in Japan with a heavenly haiku. I bribe my wife to add her own as well, so we can get as many interpretations as possible, and sometimes a Japanese one happens to float in off a gentle breeze of inspiration.

Last week we composed haiku for a mama praying mantis. Here’s this week’s photo of a shiba dog in a stegosaurus costume for Halloween:


My English haiku:
Dog’s got his costume
Ready to go trick or treat
Hope they give out bones!

Abbey’s English haiku:
Howl-loween costume
I’m a stegosaurus, bitch
Wait, how do I poop?

My Japanese haiku:

(The heart of a dog)
(The soul of a)

W.T.F. Japan: Top 5 budget Japanese Halloween costumes 【Weird Top Five】

This week for my RocketNews24 W.T.F. Japan article, I wrote about the top budget Japanese Halloween costumes.

Halloween is becoming bigger in Japan every year. Even though trick-or-treating still isn’t really a thing, dressing up very much is, and there are some Japanese monsters that make for great costumes.

Unfortunately Japanese costumes can be a little hard to come by outside of Japan, so this week I worked together with my wife to show off how you can make your own for extremely cheap. Every costume is about $6 or less to make, and pretty much guaranteed to be unique.

So if you need a costume and you’re short on cash… I think you know what to do.

Read the article here.

Tips-y Tuesday: Wasted Time is not Wasted

Last week on Tips-y Tuesday we looked at how sharing our writing is scarier than Halloween but totally worth it. This week I’d like to talk about something I know I fear as a writer: wasting time.

Whenever I start a new writing project, one fear above all hovers over me: the fear that I’m wasting my time. Not that I’m wasting my time because the book might not get published (see Finding “The One” for more on that fear), but that I’m wasting my time because halfway into the book – or maybe when I reach the end – I might discover that I don’t like where it’s going and will have to scratch it.

And if that were to happen, months – perhaps years – of my life would have been wasted on something that didn’t matter.

Ugh, I could’ve spent all that time
watching YouTube instead!


But one thing I’ve realized after years of producing things that I’ve scrapped partway through is this: the time spent working on those projects was not wasted. I know it may sound like a coping mechanism (“I’d better tell myself it wasn’t wasted time or else I’ll go crazy!”), but that’s not the truth. It really was worthwhile.

Here’s a recent example. My wife is currently working on a book that she’s been wanting to write for a while. It’s her first attempt at writing anything longer than a few pages, so it’s quite a challenge. But I advised her to just keep writing at a half-page pace per day (half the speed I aim for) and to just see what happens.

Four months into the project, she hit a roadblock. About halfway through writing the book, her mind’s fuel display crashed hard onto Empty. She didn’t know where the story was going, wasn’t happy with a lot she’d written, and just felt like she’d wasted a lot of her time accomplishing nothing.

So I took a look. The first chapter was basically what you’d expect from a budding writer (needed to slow down and crack open her scenes with more details), but there were two things that stuck out: dragons and pizza. It may sound silly but the story kept going back to those two things, mostly because she just felt obligated to fill up half a page and wrote about one of her two favorite things.

“And then the dragon ordered a pizza and he was like, ‘Yeah I need to finish my half-page for today, so I’m writing about pizza.’ And then the pizza came and it was good but a little too spicy for him.”


But where she saw failure in the dragons and pizza, I saw promise. What if instead of dragons being distant and mythical, they were up-close and common. And what if instead of pizza being delivered in cars they were delivered… on dragons? And what if the story was about one such dragon pizza delivery girl?

That immediately set her off on a flood of inspiration. Within an hour, she had a new book outlined and ready to go based on the new idea. After looking it over, it sounded much more compelling and exciting than the last one (even if it was about a dragon pizza-delivery girl!), and she was so into it she wrote the first few pages right then and there.

I’m not saying you have to write about pizza and dragons (although honestly why do we bother writing about anything else?), but I will say that if she hadn’t spent those months “wasting” her time with the previous project, the new better one would have never come about.

So if you’re hesitant to start a new writing project because you think it will just end up being a waste of time… then maybe you’re right! And maybe that “waste of time” might end up inspiring something even better in the future.

Or maybe the thing you create will just be awesome in and of itself. If so, let me just say, I’m jealous.

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

Masterpiece Monday: Inside Jokes between Reader and Narrator

Last week on Masterpiece Monday we saw examples of good action scenes that build tension by subtracting things. This week I’d like to show off an awesome example of something more subtle: callbacks.

Callbacks happen when a detail in your story refers to something that happened earlier. They’re cool because they make the reader feel like they’re rewarded just for reading. It’s like a little inside joke between reader and narrator.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green has some excellent callbacks in it. Here’s one of my favorite ones from the very beginning, when the narrator Hazel talks about her cancer, her “depression,” and her support group:

“Whenever you read a cancer booklet or website or whatever, they always list depression among the side effects of cancer. But, in fact, depression is not a side effect of cancer. Depression is a side effect of dying. (Cancer is also a side effect of dying. Almost everything is, really.)”

Then just a few paragraphs later we get this:

“This Support Group featured a rotating cast of characters in various states of tumor-driven unwellness. Why did the cast rotate? A side effect of dying.”

The repeated “side effect of dying” bit is super effective here. It not only emphasizes how all-encompassing thinking about dying is for Hazel, but also her cynical and slightly macabre sense of humor.

The same kind of callback happens soon afterward:

“I didn’t want to take the elevator because taking the elevator is a Last Days kind of activity at Support Group, so I took the stairs.”

Then a little later:

“Michael was next. He was twelve. He had leukemia. He’d always had leukemia. He was okay. (Or so he said. He’d taken the elevator.)”

If you hadn’t read the part earlier about the elevator being for kids on their “last days,” then that final bit wouldn’t have made sense. But with that proper setup, we get a chilling reminder of Hazel’s reality and another peek into how she emotionally deals with it.

Though there are more callbacks through the rest of the book, I really like these ones in the first chapter for another reason: they help to establish a bond between the reader and Hazel. Right away it’s like we’re part of little (albeit grim) inside jokes with her. Such a powerful bond between reader and main character helps ensure that we care about them quickly and want to keep reading to see what happens to them.

Having trouble getting readers to relate to/care about your main character? Try adding in some callbacks in chapter one and see what happens. We can’t all write like John Green, but we can at least try to learn from the pieces that make his characters so awesome.

(Featured image via GAHAG, edited by me)


Photo & Haiku Friday: Mama Mantis

Every Friday I like to celebrate a photo in Japan with a freshly-formed haiku. I bribe my wife to add her own as well, so we can get as many interpretations as possible, and sometimes a Japanese one happens to float in off a gentle breeze of inspiration.

Last week we haiku-ed up a cat wall. Here’s this week’s photo of a pregnant praying mantis:


My English haiku:
Fingers can destroy
Infinite generations
Or help create them

Abbey’s English haiku:
Little bug I love you
Don’t climb up that wall just yet
Let’s take a selfie

My Japanese haiku:

(“Don’t take my picture!”)
(“I’m fat and have no make up.”)
(The pregnant insect)

W.T.F. Japan: Top 5 craziest Japanese certification exams 【Weird Top Five】

This week for my RocketNews24 W.T.F. Japan article, I wrote about the top five craziest Japanese certification exams.

When I worked as a Japanese tutor, I would often tell my students that Japan has a test for everything. They didn’t believe me when I told them about the “housewife certification exam,” so now was my chance to finally show them the hilarious truth!

Honestly, I’m not a fan of tests. A lot of my students expressed a desire to take the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Exam), but I advised against it. That may sound strange, hut here’s the truth: there’s nothing really to be gained from taking the test. Let’s say you pass Level 1… great! You’re exactly the same person with the same knowledge you were before you passed it! Let’s say you fail it instead… great! You’re still the same person!

I suppose the argument can be made that in studying for the exam you learned more about the subject, but most teachers agree that “teaching to the test” is horrible. I would have much preferred by students study manga, anime, books, or anything intended for native Japanese speakers, rather than the artificial Japanese created for the exam.

But hey, that’s just me. If you love tests, more power to you! Maybe you’ll find some great ones to take on this list.

Read the article here.