The writing skill is certainly one of the most (if not the most) difficult competence to improve. Especially in Japanese, where kanjis are to be taken into account. Let’s try to find some methods to practice writing.
No one to correct you? No matter!
The first discouraging argument is: “if what I write is full of mistakes, no one will correct me and I will end up getting used to my mistakes”.
First, you can find a pen pal on internet or even pay someone to correct your writings but sincerely, I think that it doesn’t matter that much if nobody is here to correct you. Why?
- The most important thing is to write, write and write. Not to be corrected. It’s the same for speaking, everybody will tell you that it is much better to speak with grammar mistakes than to stay silent. And I would rather discuss with someone who can say at a natural speed a lot of things in French even if it’s full of mistakes than with someone who will spend 5 minutes to finally spit out a perfect phrase.
- Not getting correction is just a pretext to not start writing. Sincerely, when you received a correction at school for every writing you made, did you really re-read your composition with the correction, did you even look at the teacher’s annotation and did you study them? As for me, sometimes I did, but most of the time I didn’t. And I can tell you, because I taught languages twice in my life, that most of the students don’t. Even if I were to receive a correction for everything I write in Japanese, it would bother me to go through it I think.
- Trust yourself: you can auto-correct yourself much more than you think. With internet, it is much easier to auto-correct oneself. You can easily search for expressions to see if two words are used together (searching expressions in google gives immediate answers: full of results: colloquial; no results: weird). There are several forums where you can ask for help, too. And you can also trust the future you to be better than the actual you. Reading your own writing months later is a good way to see the mistakes you were doing, the writing tics you may have and so on.
- No one knows what the future will be, maybe you will make some Japanese friends one day. If you keep all your writings, you can ask them to correct you then. But don’t wait to actually know Japanese people to start writing.
- I don’t have a native English speaker to correct what I write on this blog, I am sure that it is full of mistakes – and I apologize 😅 – but I can tell you that I am very glad to write this blog, it makes me happy and rewards me a lot. So, go for it, too!
Choose your support
You could start writing here and there, one day on this notebook that was actually used to your work projects, another day on a Word page you will save in a newly created file lost nobody knows where, another day on a loose page you will eventually throw away. That’s fine but if you need some motivation boost from time to time, I recommend to choose a notebook. Go and buy a beautiful notebook that you will use only for writing.
I didn’t understand much of the novel “火花” that I started to read in Japanese, but I know that the protagonist is asked to write the biography of his newly encountered friend and he buys a notebook and a pen that are better and more expensive than the other ones. That’s exactly what we must do as apprentice Japanese writers. Investing some money on a beautiful notebook adds value to what we do, so if you want to spend a disgraceful amount of money in a Moleskine, today’s the day!
I recommend to choose a thin notebook, very thin indeed. Because, when you realize you have already written 10 whole pages in Japanese (which is a lot!) from your 400 pages notebook (hardly noticeable), it may be discouraging.
Having a thin notebook will allow you to feel rewarded much sooner. When you reach the middle of the notebook I am pretty sure that the pride and self-satisfaction will be powerful factors that encourage you to continue writing. When you finish your notebook, just start a new one and put the finished one on your shelf. I dream of the day when I have several notebooks lining up near my Japanese books.
An alternative would be to write a blog. It’s free and you don’t have to make it public. It keeps a history of when and what you wrote and you can even organize your posts with categories. The only obvious disadvantage is that you don’t need to write the kanjis.
Define your goals
You can read my posts about defining one’s goals if you want, but the main idea is to avoid that any feeling of failure should interfere with your goal. You could decide to write 10 lines or even a page everyday but if you fail to stick to it, you will associate your goal with failure and eventually lose interest in it (and remember that you may have spent 20 dollars in a simple ruled notebook).
We are not talking about becoming a writer and force ourselves to write everyday. Writing in a foreign language (and with kanjis!) is a task that requires continuous efforts, time and concentration. Deciding to write everyday or every other day doesn’t take into account the efforts that have to be made to write in Japanese. Sometimes we just don’t feel like making that effort. That’s why your goal should stay as simple as possible. I would suggest to write in your goals notebook: “reach the middle of my notebook” or even “fill entirely my notebook with Japanese”.
If you use a goals notebook like I suggested, every time you write a page or reflect on a particular subject, write it down to prove to yourself that you are getting closer to your goal.
What should I write?
People usually suggest to write a diary, exactly like what you would do in your own language. But if you are not the diary type of person like me, you still can find a lot of things to write about.
- Write about a film. You have been to the movies or to the theatre, you can summarize the story, present the characters or even recall some of the dialogues. You can of course give your impression on what you saw, why you like it or dislike it.
- Write about a book you are reading in Japanese. Every time you read, just summarize what you just read. The big advantage is that you can re-use some of the expressions you found in your book and moreover, the kanjis you will need are surely in the book itself and you can easily check them.
- Translate. If you really don’t have any inspiration, you can take anything in your language and try to translate it in Japanese. According to your level, you can of course simplify the original text.
- Use the WordPress daily prompt. You will find every day on The daily post site a word called the “daily prompt”. It helps blog writers to find inspiration. Why not use it as a trigger to your Japanese writings? Reading what other bloggers write can also be a source of inspiration.
Those are just suggestions. In fact, possibilities are infinite.
I hope all these can encourage you to write in Japanese 😊 To be honest I don’t write regularly in Japanese because I am more focused on reading and listening comprehension. But, having a writing goal in my goals notebook reminds me that I should write from time to time. One thing is certain: using a word or an expression in my writings engraves it in my head much better than Anki does!