Writing & Sushi: The Way of the Shokunin

Sushi is one of my favourite foods.

Recently, Dave and I sat down to watch a documentary called Jiro Dreams of Sushi. If you haven’t seen it, you should try to find it. It’s about an elderly Japanese man who runs a small sushi restaurant in Japan. He’s considered to be the best sushi chef around. Why? He says it’s because of his dedication to his craft. He is always seeking to improve the way he makes and presents his sushi. He pays attention to detail. He selects only the highest quality fish and rice, from whom he considers to be the most knowledgeable. For example, he buys tuna from the guy at the market who only sells tuna. He has a special rice dealer that visits him and sells him the rice. Each person is specialized. The key to success, Jiro says, is to practice over and over again, and never accept that you know everything.

Artists who dedicate themselves to their craft and seek to better their technique are called shokunin in Japanese. Wannabe sushi masters who went to Jiro for an apprenticeship didn’t just study for two years and leave. Oh no. They study for ten years. Yes, you have to apprentice for ten years before you are considered a master. That’s a considerable about of time! But if you’re 100% sure you want to dedicate your life to something, ten years is just the beginning.

Jiro’s life lessons can be applied to writing. There’s only one way to practice writing, and that’s to write something every day. I used to believe that if I tapped the muse too much, I’d eventually run dry. Now I realize not only is that silly, but it limits your potential. You’re never going to “run dry.” You might feel “in the zone” some days, and “off” on others, but there are ways to make yourself sit down and get the words to flow.

Reading is another way to broaden your writing horizon. In the sushi documentary, Jiro says to make good food, you must eat good food. So to improve your writing, you must read good books. If you’re a book reviewer, this might be difficult–there are a lot of books out there that need to be picked apart–but recognizing when something could be improved, that is helping you not to make that mistake in your writing.

Accepting that you don’t know it all is tough. But publishing is a constantly evolving field. There’s always something going on. Connecting with other authors on Twitter or Facebook is one way to keep your finger on the pulse. Read book blogs to see what sub-genres are trending. Read writing and publishing magazines and periodicals to see what the experts are saying–and then form your own opinions. Getting involved starts now, not tomorrow.

Being a writer is a lifestyle choice. Don’t do it for the money–do it because you love it and you want to perfect your skills. Do it because it’s something you don’t mind doing over and over again. Once you become a shokunin, people will notice. And that’s when you become successful.

What do you think? Are you on your way to becoming a shokunin? Email your answers to aurora@faeryinkpress.com and I’ll feature them in the next issue.