Speaking at Japan Writer’s Conference Sat Oct 17, Doshisha Women’s Univ. On how to write quickly, concisely, & with panache


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Hi Blog.  This weekend I will be speaking in Kyoto at Doshisha Women’s University at the Japan Writer’s Conference.  Saturday afternoon, October 17, to be exact.

All the details you need for who’s speaking and how to get there here:


My schedule and agenda:

16:00 ARUDOU Debito “Essaywriting: How I get something out quickly, concisely, and with panache” (short lecture with Q&A)

Summary: Want to write essays but suffer from “Writer’s Block”? No joy in writing exposition? Come listen to Arudou Debito, an essayist who writes a couple hundred per year, give some tips on how to become prolific.

Abstract: I’ve heard people say writing expository essays is a drag. Like the childhood injections that put us off needles for a lifetime, the first book reports for English class were likewise off-putting for many people. I will describe how I overcome that, to the point of becoming prolific. It’s not rocket science, but getting over a few bad habits will make your writing fun, not drudgery — because if you’re having fun writing, your reader will more likely have fun reading. This talk is geared towards more elementary-level nonfiction writers who experience “Writers’ Block” (I never do), but the seasoned writer is welcome to attend and share strategies as well.

Bio: ARUDOU Debito, 44, is a Japan Times columnist and an author of several books. He maintains a daily blog on life in Japan and human rights issues at www.debito.org. He cannot imagine a day without writing something.

Now, for those who cannot make it, here is my handout.  And for those who can, I will provide step-by-step writing procedures I used for three essays I wrote (outline, first draft, final draft), so you can see how the sausages are made.

If you prefer, download the following presentation handout as a 2-page formatted Word file here:


This is how writing works for me, FYI.  Hope it helps other people too.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo



By ARUDOU Debito, Columnist, Japan Times and Sapporo Source

Japan Writers Conference Oct 17, 2009, Doshisha Women’s College Kyoto

I write a lot.  Five books, umpteen academic essays and chapters, a daily diary for more than a decade, and a blog entry basically every day for more than three years.  In addition to thousands of essays (all archived online at Debito.org), I write two columns a month for newspapers plus exposition for other venues upon request.  I pound out a good 1500 words every day, never suffering from “Writer’s Block”.

Howcum?  Here are my tricks for writing QUICKLY:

1) Allow yourself to sketch.  When I have an essay rolling around in my head (sometimes for years), I just jot down ideas in no particular order on a piece of paper (or a bound notebook).  You’ll find time for it:  stoplights, mass transit, boring meetings, standing in line, waking up first thing in the morning.  But before you start typing, always outline (I prefer longhand), because it will free up your mind (you won’t have to hold the points in your head).  Once down you can order your bullets in importance; you can also add additional thoughts to the list that occur to you when typing.

2) Cut yourself some slack.  Don’t expect perfection the first time:  All artists sketch before they paint.  Nobody has to see your essay until you’re good and ready to show it, so don’t worry about mistakes, grammar, structure, flow, or anything that would make you want to go back and reread what you’ve just written.  Revisions will come later.  Just get the skeleton of your essay down from beginning to end.  It’s a lot easier to snip out words than it is to create them anew when editing.

3) Have confidence in yourself that it’ll all work out in the edit.  Just pound it down.  Generally speaking, it takes me about an hour to type down a typical 800- to 1000-word column.  Why?  Because I’m all “damn the torpedoes full speed ahead” until I have converted my entire outline to a rough essay.  Don’t expect the flow or even the conclusion to click yet.  But have faith that it will click later.

Now for writing CONCISELY:

4) Print the first draft up and leave it alone for a little while.  You’ve earned a break, so take it and come back afresh (I recommend at least an hour off, and suggest you allow a total of three days from start to submission; plan ahead so you’ll have that much time).   Be your own third-person editor.  With new eyes, you’ll be surprised how sapient you were at the start, and what you forgot to add back then.  Moreover, you can relax:  with a hard copy fresh out of the printer, you have no matter what something concrete in case of a computer crash.

5) After your break, begin the revisions.  If everything you want to say is already down at least skeletally, you can add a bit here, subtract a bit there, and move things around as your essay’s tack becomes clearer.  (It’s not usually clear from the start, mind; very often I have no idea how the essay will come out until I finish it.)  In fact, the essaywriting process is an excellent way to firm up your future opinions.  Feel free to scribble all over the hard copy — mine usually gets covered with red ink as time goes by in boring meetings or breadlines.

6) Be prepared to go through several drafts over a few days.  A typical 1500-word Japan Times article for me goes through at least 17 drafts before I submit.  Save each one if you want (I don’t; I might print them, however).  If you’re in a bind about whether or not to drop a paragraph or go down a certain rhetorical avenue, save both alternative paths as separate files and come back to them later.  Know your word limit and find ways to shorten sentences (tricks:  active voice takes fewer words than passive; use a big one-word instead of five colloquials — your audience has access to a dictionary; use online thesauruses and dictionaries to save time (Google “define: (word)”).


Panache is the spice that makes that article mine.  As frequent readers of my essays know, I have a rather “know-it-all”, slightly hectoring and scolding, tone (sorry:  I blame my US East-Coast college training and too much studying under Chalmers Johnson).  When I’m not pontificating on the state of the world, however, I take an avuncular, advisory tone.  Either way, panache comes through; people have picked my essays out as mine even when I write under a pseudonym.

But panache is the last thing I garnish the essay with, when I’m a good 95% done and I’m really “getting into” the points I’ve made.  I put a jibe here, bury a needle there, spray a whiff of sarcasm everywhere.  But matters of style (as opposed to structure or flow) come last for me, and I say don’t sweat them.  By Day Three or Draft Seventeen or so (especially after lots of breaks, meals, and online chat forums collecting potential counterarguments on the subject you’re writing), you’ll have the moxie to say, “Hey, this is what I think.  Dammit.  And it ain’t half-baked, neither!”

Finally, I suggest that writers maintain a number of good personal habits:  1) Avoid writing under the influence of anything (except maybe caffeine), or else you’ll feel dependent on it to write if, say, you were drunk and came out with a humdinger of an essay.  2) Allow enough time to write without undue stress (deadlines should help you organize, but work backwards schedulewise to allow for sufficient “cud-chewing” essaywriting over a few days).  And if possible, 3) try to write about something you’re interested in.  Tough, but steer yourself towards those subjects you enjoy.

And — I can’t stress this enough except through bigger fonts — ENJOY the act and the process of writing.  While typing and editing, don’t assume the character of your shredding sarky faculty advisor in high school or college (they’re very often stuck in their own cobwebby intellectual ruts and know-it-all Ivory Towerdom, defensively bashing you for not knowing as much, by definition, as they do):  Be the guy who likes reading what you wrote, amazed with how much you know and how clearly you said it (I very often go back and read what I wrote years ago — and, yes, enjoy it!)  In other words, during the editing process, try to make the conversation within yourself a partnership, not an adversarial relationship.  Because if you’re not enjoying your own writing, I bet that will also come across to the reader and reduce their enjoyment of reading. If writing is drudgery, it’s not sustainable.  And then Writer’s Block will set in and render your typing fingers immobile.

There you go.  Now go write something.  And have fun doing it, dammit.

RECOMMENDED READ:  Stephen King, On Writing, Pocket Books, 2002.  Now there’s a man who never has Writer’s Block! ENDS

1 comment on “Speaking at Japan Writer’s Conference Sat Oct 17, Doshisha Women’s Univ. On how to write quickly, concisely, & with panache

  • I might just take some of this advice myself. Goodness only knows, there’s so much I’d like to express in written pieces, but I can never get the confidence to do so. I hope this goes down well with the ladies at Doshisha.


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