The plum blossoms bloomed under a cold blue sky, the cherry blossoms appeared for a few days before scattering like snow, and the peach blossoms are now showing their deep pink souls. Spring is passing. April is always a busy time of year in Japan as it’s the beginning of the academic and fiscal year. I’ve been busy with work, and study. I’m aiming to be a polyglot and have set myself the goal of 10 languages in 10 years. I already speak two of them – English and Japanese, so really I only have 8 to learn. I’ve been prioritizing language learning over writing because I am taking exams in French and Chinese in the next few months.
Well, that’s my excuse anyway. Another reason I’m not writing is that I don’t have long stretches of uninterrupted time during which I can focus and concentrate deeply. I can’t write for ten minutes here and there like some people can. I envy them. I wish I could enter the world of my work-in-progress with ease. Actually, I’m still at the planning stage, so I need to take my time and concentrate. Maybe now is not the right time. The right time will come. I hope it’s soon (and after my exams…)
The fiscal year and the academic year begin in April in Japan, just as the cherry blossoms are fading and the leaves are appearing on the trees. It’s a busy time for everyone, but particularly for those of us involved in education. It leaves little time for writing.
When I came to Japan, starting the new academic year in April felt strange to me. Being from the UK, I always associated September with new beginnings – new shoes, new uniform, new textbooks, new pencil case, walking to school a year older as the leaves turn brown and start to fall.
Even though I’ve been in Japan for 21 years, I still feel like there is a kind of renewal when September comes around. The autumn breeze carries the scent of new beginnings, and I feel invigorated. I don’t feel that in April. I just feel sleepy and stressed at this time of the year! Fortunately, we have Golden Week (a week of consecutive holidays) coming up at the end of April and the beginning of May. I hope to get some writing in then, in between going to the gym (which I haven’t been to for 3 days!) and having a good rest.
I joined a new gym the other week. In the past, I sometimes used the municipal gym, but it’s quite small, and doesn’t have many machines. It also doesn’t require a membership fee – you just pay 300 yen when you go. It’s fine for short workouts during lunch or in the afternoon, but it isn’t a place you can stay at for hours.
I want to spend a few hours at a time in the gym, so, I took out a membership at one that opened up about a year ago. I’m satisfied with it so far. I do an hour of cardio, an hour of weights and about 15 minutes stretching. I also join a Zumba class when it’s on.
I work from home, so I tend to spend a lot of time in my house alone. Going to the gym gets me out and around other people (there is a no talking policy because of covid, so no one at the gym talks), and exercising makes me feel good. It has become like my second home. I’ve been going 5 times a week. It was a rainy Sunday today. Normally, I’d spend the afternoon in the house alone reading, and feeling, well, a bit depressed. I spent the afternoon in the gym, and I feel great. I’m going to get busier in the next few weeks, so I’ll only be able to go 3 or 4 times a week, but I can see it becoming a habit, and slightly addictive.
I also need to work on my second novel, and I am aware that going to the gym take time away from that pursuit, but it makes me feel good both mentally and physically, which in turn puts me in the mood to write. Now I just have to schedule the writing in….
The novel I’m currently planning takes place in a Philosophy department in a university. Although it’s going to be light on actual philosophical thought (because I don’t want to alienate the average reader), I still need to know what I’m writing about. So, I dug out some of my old philosophy books. I did a Master’s degree in Philosophy about ten years ago. I got rid of a lot of books, but luckily, I kept around 50 of them. I must have known they’d come in useful one day!
It’s good to get back into the books. It reminds me of a stressful, yet eye-opening and fulfilling time of my life. During the two years of study, I learnt so much about myself, my thought processes and the culture into which I was born. I’ve been doing karate since I was nine, and l’ve been living in Japan for 21 years, so I’ve kind of been immersed in Eastern thought and ways of living. It was good to study Western thought, and discover thinkers and philosophy which I had overlooked in my attempt to understand the East.
I’m doing the reading in my writing time. The books are definitely not light reading, which I do for an hour to relax before I sleep. I need to be alert, otherwise my mind drifts. I feel that I can’t begin the actual writing until I have the philosophy sorted out. So, on I read…..starting with Sartre’s The Imaginary. It’s like being back at school, and I love it!
I finished planning my second novel today. Now all there is left to do is open a Word document and start. But that’s the hard part. I’m in the moment between picking up a pen and putting it to paper. Placing my hands over the computer keyboard and starting to type. I always find this moment uncomfortable. So why do I prolong it? What am I scared of?
I’m concerned that I might not have planned enough. That I might not be ready. That a lot of translation work will come in and I’ll lose momentum (something I need when writing a book). That the words won’t flow, and I’ll waste time staring at a blank screen. That I’ll get stuck halfway and give up (again).
Once I start writing, these worries melt away. I guess I just have to get on with it. I’ve done it before, I can do it again. Still, it’s a bit scary.
I spent the morning planning my new novel. The planning process raised a number of questions, to which I had no answer. Rather than sitting at my desk, staring out at the beautiful early spring sun, I decided to go for a run. The answers to questions often present themselves when I’m running. I did a 10K along the lake in the centre of the city. The sky and lake were a deep blue, the breeze was chilly, but not overly so, and the answers, well, they came.
My second novel is slowly, but surely, coming into being. Well, in my head, if not on paper. It’s a novel I started and gave up on five years ago. I now know why I gave up. I was going in the wrong direction. Now, the pieces are falling into place, which is a sign I am heading in the right direction. At last.
This novel involves philosophy, so it will require quite a lot of research. I have a Master’s degree in Philosophy, but it is around 10 years since I got that. I have forgotten a lot of what I learnt, and I have given many books away, but fortunately, I kept hold of the ones I’m going to need.
The main issue is going to be weaving the story together. It goes back and forth between the past and the present. My first novel was set in the present day, in the present tense, so it was quite easy to structure. This one is going to be a bit more difficult. I need a good chunk of time to sit down and plan it out thoroughly before I start writing. I work better if I have a plan and know where I’m heading. Maybe that is part of the reason why the book floundered five years ago – I didn’t really have a plan.
Unfortunately, right now, I don’t have the chunks of time that I need, as my publishing and translation businesses are keeping me busy. Still, I add to the story in my mind as I’m running, or driving. I’m building the world that I will eventually bring to life. One could say that having no time is just an excuse, and there is some validity in that. However, my publishing and translation activities involve constant writing, so by the time I’m through with them, I have no creative energy left. I seem to only have a certain amount each day, and once it’s used up, it’s gone. I’m also studying for some exams in my translation fields which takes up time.
Being self-employed, I do most things in my business myself. I am terrible with numbers, but today, I battled through and completed my tax return. The paperwork is all in Japanese, but that is not the problem – the numbers are the problem. I eventually finished it, but it took me the best part of the day. Tired, I absent-mindedly opened Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet and landed on the following passage. It made me smile! On today of all days!
“To need to dominate others is to need others. The commander is dependent.
Enlarge your personality without including anything from the outside – asking nothing from others and imposing nothing on others, but being others when you need them.
Reduce your necessities to a minimum, so as not to depend on anyone for anything.
It’s true that such a life is impossible in the absolute. But it’s not impossible relatively.
Let’s consider a man who owns and runs an office. He should be able to do without his employees; he should be able to type, to balance the books, to sweep the office. He should depend on others because it saves him time, not because he’s incompetent. Let him tell the office boy to put a letter in the post because he doesn’t want to lose time going to the post office, not because he doesn’t know where the post office is. Let him tell a clerk to take care of a certain matter because he doesn’t want to waste time on it, not because he doesn’t know how to take care of it.”
I’ve spent the weekend studying. I should be writing, as I already have most of my next novel worked out, but I’ve set myself a tough exam schedule this year. I am a Japanese/English translator, and I specialize in skincare and cosmetics, in addition to general business and tourism. The way to learn more about my specialist fields (and to get more work) is to get qualifications in them. I already have a few business, tourism, skincare and cosmetics qualifications, but this year, I’m going to take two more. I also want to add pharmacology to my specialisms, so I am planning to take three exams in that subject. All these exams are in Japanese.
As if that wasn’t enough, a passion of mine is learning languages. So I’m going to take level 3, then pre-level 2 on the French exam administered in Japan, and also the Chinese HSK level 3.
This leaves little time for writing, but I figure if I can get most of the qualifications I want this year, I can get more work next year, and also devote more time to writing. Once I have the qualifications, they are mine. No one can take them away. Work has been a bit thin on the ground because of covid, so I need to focus on building up my portfolio of clients. As much as I want to write, work has to come first.
I may not be writing physically, but the story is going around in my head, and I am adding bits to it and taking bits away. I’m making notes in my notebook. So when I do actually come to sit down and write it, it should just all come out more or less in one piece. Anyway, back to the study!
I usually go running as the sun is setting. The other day, though, I got up early. It was a national holiday, and the weather was unseasonably warm and sunny, so I thought why not make the most of it?
I’m lucky enough to live in a traditional castle town. The castle is just a short drive away, and is surrounded by woodland, parkland and a moat. It’s the perfect place for a morning run.
I do a lot of writing while I run. Not physical writing of course, but mental writing. I get so many ideas for my latest novel or story. Things that seemed impossible to work out when sat at my desk suddenly make sense while I’m running. It must be a mixture of the physical movement, rhythm and fresh air. Sometimes I compose haiku as I run. They tend to just pop up in my head more or less complete.
I’m currently in the planning stages of my second novel. I got some good ideas for it the other day. Now that spring is on its way, I’m going to try and get out in the mornings more. Running at sunset has its benefits (beautiful views for one), but there is something special about a morning run, especially through woodland. The scent of the trees, the cool air, the light, the quietness before the day wakes – they all add up to create a special moment, and put me in a positive and creative mood for the rest of the day.