Aug 1, 2010

Kaizen for Writers

By Cecily Markland

The Japanese named it, Toyota adopted it, and most writers seem to have it instinctively.

Called “kaizen,” it comes from the Japanese word for "improvement" or "change for the better."

This philosophy of focusing on continuous improvement has been referred to particularly in manufacturing, engineering, business and management practices. Companies, like Toyota, who have made kaizen a standard practice, use it as a way to improve production and simplify processes. Most of all, though, kaizen emphasizes people and their contributions. So, companies that apply this philosophy look for ways to continue to improve functions while involving all employees from the CEO to the assembly line workers—making their bottom line better, while maintaining the human side of their business.

When kaizen is applied, employees are to be on constant alert, looking for ways to improve and to help make others’ jobs easier. Front line workers are to watch for anything that doesn’t seem to be working right or flowing smoothly, and then, to suggest changes and modifications. Those on the shipping or packaging end of things are encouraged to consider the complete picture and recommend ways to help things move along better.

Okay, no need to belabor the industrial view of kaizen. My point is, it’s a philosophy that is deeply imbedded in most writers as well. It’s pretty obvious, don’t you think? Writers seem to have an instinct, a fundamental drive that pushes them to improve themselves and to contribute to the world around them.

As writers, we look, not for changes that simply get the job done, but ways to “change for the better,” by continually improving our plots, making our characters come to life, and struggling to find the exact word that conveys the meaning and emotion our stories need. Ultimately, our goal is writers is to make the process of communication, of conveying human emotions and resolutions, in ways that will flow most smoothly and elicit the most favorable responses from our end users.

Our internal kaizen instincts drive us to read others’ writing, to attend writers’ conferences (by the way, GREAT job to those who put together the ANWA Retreat) and to struggle to put ourselves in touch with the most effective muse we can find.

While every writer has those kernels of desire, some have revved up their drive and formalized their processes so they seem to be hitting on all cylinders, producing and publishing work that is better and more widely received all the time.
Unfortunately, looking at the Toyota’s among us, some get a bit discouraged and forget that a minor tune-up of even a paragraph or two a day will get them moving along on their own kaizen process.

Sometimes it’s a little thing that will get us regenerated and refocused. A critique that gives us new ideas, a manuscript sent to a publisher, or something completely non-writing related that spurs us on. Sometimes, it’s other people’s words that remind us to get back in there and find wonderful ways to use our own.
For me, Valerie Ipson’s keynote at the ANWA Retreat was that kind of catalyst, as were two other great quotes I read this week. In Red Means Go, Carl Taylor says “When you apply consistent daily practice, your life is going to change dramatically.”

And, a Scottish Proverb reminds us, “What may be done at any time, will be done at no time.”

With that, my own kaizen process now has a plan for the coming weeks, with specific writing times, a project goal…and, most of all, a desire to take a step or two forward in this process of continual improvement!


  1. Thank you for sharing what inspires you. It encourages me. Gradual continual improvement is a great method and goal.

  2. I like finding out about other words that mean so much. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Thanks for showing how we apply kaizen to writing. My husband has taught/been involved with it for years and I've never put it into this content before reading your essay. Thanks!

  4. Cecily, Thank you so much for your help on my WIP! I loved learning from you and will put more efforts to apply kaizen to my writing. I think after reading this I need to buckle-up and get going while my Toyota motor is still running!
    THANKS! Joyce S.


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