Sunday, August 30, 2009

What Murakami Talks About

In his recent memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami offers readers a glimpse into the thought process of an accomplished runner and the writing process of a highly regarded novelist.

His insights may help you (even if you’re not a runner) better grasp the challenges that you face as you sit down at your desk each morning.

In these brief excerpts, he talks about the qualities a novelist needs in order to write the novels that he or she hopes to write:
In every interview I’m asked what’s the most important quality a novelist has to have. It’s pretty obvious: talent. No matter how much enthusiasm and effort you put into writing, if you totally lack literary talent you can forget about being a novelist. This is more of a pre-requisite than a necessary quality. If you don’t have any fuel, even the best car won’t run.

The next most important quality is... focus–the ability to concentrate all your limited talents on whatever’s critical at the moment. Without that you can’t accomplish anything of value, while, if you can focus effectively, you’ll be able to compensate for an erratic talent or even a shortage of it.

After focus, the next most important thing for a novelist is, hands down, endurance.... You can compare it to breathing. If concentration is the process of just holding your breath, endurance is the art of slowly, quietly breathing at the same time you’re storing air in your lungs.... Continuing to breathe while you hold your breath.
And he comments on a writer’s need for willpower in this note on Raymond Chandler:
In private correspondence the great mystery writer Raymond Chandler once confessed that even if he didn’t write anything, he made sure he sat down at his desk every single day and concentrated. I understand the purpose behind his doing this. This is the way Chandler gave himself the physical stamina a professional writer needs, quietly strengthening his willpower. This sort of daily training was indispensable to him.
And he offers readers a sense, too, of how he approaches rewriting and revising:
As I write, I arrange my thoughts. And rewriting and revising takes my thinking down even deeper paths. No matter how much I write, though, I never reach a conclusion. And no matter how much I rewrite, I never reach the destination. Even after decades of writing, the same still holds true.
These thoughts, which you’ll find sprinkled throughout Murakami’s reflections on his ambitions as a marathon runner and triathlon athlete, rise to the surface of this memoir, revealing how a writer like Murakami has succeeded in meeting the numerous challenges of the writing process over years of writing.

Visit Murakami’s website to learn more about his work, as well as to read a number of interviews with him:

If you’d like to read more about What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, take a look at these sites:


Jack said...

It was interesting to have Wordswimmer's discussion of a very different sort of author.

The only Japanese (-British) novel I recall reading is "When We Were Orphans," by Kazuo Ishigoro, and another I have strong recollections of but can't quite cite, plus numerous short stories by Japanese authors.

There's a strong sense, in some of the writing I've mentioned, of what Murakami describes as "No matter how much I write, though, I never reach a conclusion. And no matter how much I rewrite, I never reach the destination."

It's a little liberating to hear this from an acclaimed author, and to realize that it is possible to accomplish distinguished literary writing without the story resolution mandated by some critics.

Perhaps a little more hazardous, though, for writers less talented than Murakami.

I perused some of Murakami's reviews in the links you've given, and I shall have to sample a couple of his novels. Thanks.

galen said...

I read Murakami's memoir recently, and another thing I really connected to is the idea that writers have to develop muscles, just as runners do. A couple of years ago I found myself with a schedule that allowed me to run regularly, and in a year's time - it really took that long for me - I changed from someone who actually kind of hated running to someone who loved it. My body doesn't resist it anymore. I don't have the mental barrier to this type of exercise that I used to. I developed the muscles I needed to enjoy it. (I also started listening to audiobooks while I ran, and that makes a big difference for me.)

As a writer, I know that I am still in the stage of pushing myself to be consistent - sit in the chair every day, as Chandler did. After reading Murakami's memoir and reflecting on my own experience as a jogger, I know that the more regularly I write, the sooner it will become a pleasure, an activity I seek out, become protective of my time for, and feel healthier when I've engaged in it. I'm getting there!

And if Murakami is right, that endurance is necessary for a novelist, and if my running and writing lives prove to be connected, well, I'm going to have to start taking MUCH longer runs.