The most important thing I ever learned about writing

The most important thing I ever learned about writing came from a Tokyo sushi master.

In the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, we follow the singular passion of Jiro Ono, an 85-year-old chef and restaurant owner, whose premises in a Tokyo subway station seats only ten.

But the man himself attracts fans, chefs and food critics from all over the world to dine at his seated bar; some wait almost reverently as their food is prepared and served. And while the quality of the ingredients and preparation are paramount, it’s really all about Jiro’s lifelong approach to his craft.

Read the following words from Jiro, as he talks about his role as shokunin (meaning craftsman, artisan, and worker; but also “someone with technical skill and the right attitude; possessing social consciousness; having a deep-seated obligation to fulfil the requirement of their role”).

To me, the following reads like poetry, because it’s so damn simple and sincere:

Shokunin try to get the highest quality fish and apply their technique to it. We don’t care about money. All I want to do is make better sushi.

I do the same thing over and over, improving bit by bit. There is always a yearning to achieve more. I’ll continue to climb, trying to reach the top…

But no one knows where the top is. Even at my age, after decades of work… I don’t think I have achieved perfection. But I feel ecstatic all day. I love making sushi.

I’ve never once hated this job. I fell in love with my work and gave my life to it. Even though I’m 85 years old… I don’t feel like retiring. That’s how I feel.

– Jiro Ono –

In these locked-down days, there’s no shortage of distractions to take our mind off things – including those things that truly matter, and that even fulfill our richest purpose and potential in this life.

But when I read Jiro’s words, and think of writing in this way, I’m filled instantly with envy and passion and peace, and simplicity and perfectionism and instant inspiration to start work immediately. I know I’ll never reach the peak of this profession, but I have to try. This is the only work that matters to me, and suddenly all I want around me are the tools of my trade, and some coffee steaming in the sunlight.

And I’m compelled to throw all distractions away, because suddenly all I aspire to is endless hours of writing and rewriting, and choosing only the most perfect words and punctuation for each line. To create the best possible stories I can. All else becomes immaterial.

When we can do that, we feel that elusive flow. There will always be struggle and worry, and the call of those distractions is a never-ending racket around us. Until we get into our writing, and only that.

When I remember to, I like to make certain practices a part of my daily routine. I’ll often forget them, but with that comes the joy of rediscovery – like the time I first heard of Jiro.

Today, I’ve just remembered him again – so I had to write his thoughts down. His words just seem too important to forget, and they feel to me like the most important thing I’ve ever been taught about writing. (By someone who, sure, isn’t a writer… but a craftsman all the same.)

(Also, if you’d like to know more about my stories, you can find them here in the Kindle store.)

I just want to share these following words with you, in case they’re helpful in your practise. Even better if you can make note of them, and try to read them every day. I’ll try too.

I do the same thing over and over, improving bit by bit.

There is always a yearning to achieve more.

I’ll continue to climb, trying to reach the top…

But no one knows where the top is.

I may never achieve perfection,

But I feel ecstatic all day.

I love writing stories.

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