The Importance of Self-Renewal

Japanese koi, or brocaded carp, are beloved around the world for their lovely colors and peaceful disposition. Most ornamental ponds in Japan have a resident koi population, and the most attractive specimens can sell for hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

0616 Koi at Iwaso

Breeders select the best-colored specimens for sale. The plainer fish are sold at significant discount or culled as fry.

Many people don’t realize that in the wild, painted koi revert to their species’ natural coloring–dull brown, orange, white, or black–within a few generations.

0609 Koi (Philosophers Path)


Koi are merely a species of carp, and the lovely colors we see in curated ponds are mostly the result of care and maintenance by attentive human breeders.

Writing is much the same.

Any human in possession of basic education can read and write. We make words, and tell stories, as a part of our daily lives. Ask any kindergarten child to tell you what (s)he did today, and you will get a story.

Yet only through careful, selective curation do our stories become an art–and only after “generations” of careful breeding do most of our words become a thing of beauty. It took me five full manuscripts to reach publication, and even though those earlier stories were not “ugly,” they bore far more resemblance to the muddy river carp than the painted koi.

Even now, I work on a daily basis to keep my stories sharp and my sentences honed. The longer the break, the more my “colors” fade and start to blur. A week, or even a couple of weeks, won’t make an enormous difference in the writing itself–and yet, a break of even a day or two can make it harder to return to the keys with discipline.

Just as a koi that escapes its pond swims off, and may not always want to return.

I’ve bred and raised enough fish (freshwater angels and seahorses, rather than koi, but the work is the same) to know the kind of diligence and daily effort it takes to create a lovely fish. I’ve written enough to know that lovely words require the same concentration and care.

Koi at Eikan-do

It’s easy to quit, or get lazy, when the words won’t flow and the sentences stumble. It’s difficult to keep yourself motivated when success feels as insubstantial as water flowing through your hands.

But there’s another curious aspect of koi that applies to writing, too. The dull-colored carp who have lost their lovely colors, spots and shimmering scales can always be bred in the other direction, too. Within a few more generations, the lovely colors and patterns will return. Similarly, it’s never too late to bring your fingers back to the keys and focus on the words. It may take a “generation or two” (in writing time, that’s measured in weeks or months–or, rarely, years–instead of lifetimes). But if you continue, and persevere, you’ll get there.

Today’s takeaway lesson from the lovely Japanese painted koi: a writer’s skill with beautiful words is something (s)he can strive to attain, not something we must be inherently born possessing. We can’t all reach the same level, perhaps, but each of us can work our way from mud-colored fish to brocaded carp (or slip in the other direction, if we’re not careful).

0616 Koi at Iwaso


If you have a story to tell, and words in your spirit, today is the day. Go put your fingers on the keys and swim–upstream if you have to. Each word, each sentence, each paragraph is another stroke toward the lovely brocaded writer you want to be.

2 thoughts on “The Importance of Self-Renewal

  • August 3, 2015 at 7:32 pm

    Your words never fail to inspire.
    Thank you for sharing!

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