The Wordsmith’s Craft

by Lynne E. Riggs

Some may have seen the New Year’s TV program showing the tsuikidoki craftsman who takes a flat sheet of copper and over three days to a week beats it into a gracefully shaped teapot, complete with spout, using only a hammer, a high-piled rack of toriguchi forming tools, and the accumulated experience of two or three decades (reference here). The completed work is functional, durable, beautiful to look at, and comfortable to hold in the hand. A work of polished craft is honest work indeed.

For those of us who think of ourselves as wordsmiths, the work of the tsuikidoki craftsmen strikes a recognizable chord. Like them, we have our “forming tools” (though they can’t be hung on a rack to show off to visitors), and we have our years of accumulated experience that tell us how to get a grip on our materials and how to aim our “hammers” to get the desired results. And yes, it can take a week to refine a manuscript from its original material to the polished, crafted work that we call our product, but the result will long communicate its message in print or on the Internet, quoted, paraphrased, and reforged by others for years to come.

Thinking about this model of craft and professionalism is encouraging as we return to our routines in the New Year.

In 2012, SWET starts its thirty-second year. SWET exists because many people who work with the English word in Japan wear more than one professional hat—we may translate, write, edit, proofread, develop copy or captions, compile indexes, offer advice about design, guide the layout of tables and charts. We are charged with getting a grip on words and shaping them in the desired form for a desired purpose, and are paid to do it skillfully. And beyond that, we build bridges between cultures.

Tasked to cover so much professional territory, we can benefit not only from collaboration with each other, but also from the experience of those who have done these things before us. SWET is a repository of that experience, both in its archives and in the living body of its membership, a valuable repository to tap and to build upon.

SWET’s website is in the process of being redesigned, but SWET has to redesign itself as well. The membership is shifting. SWET was founded by wordsmiths who worked predominantly with the printed word and who were accustomed to face-to-face interaction and networking. Today is an era of Internet-based communications and social media, e-books, websites, and “cloud” computing. What will SWET be in this era? Who wants and needs it? What will it do? How will it operate? These are questions that members with initiative and a sharing impulse will answer, and we hope that will include you.

A spirit of information sharing and mentoring has driven SWET and its activities since its founding. We hope that spirit will be carried on, giving what we do enduring value and a heightened presence in a world that needs the right words and good communication more than ever.

Lynne E. Riggs