“I didn’t want to be a writer, but I became one. And now I have many readers, in many countries. I think that’s a miracle. So I think I have to be humble regarding this ability. I’m proud of it and I enjoy it, and it is strange to say it this way, but I respect it.”
Every writer is utterly fascinated by writing routines, the creative process, and where writers find their inspiration. Haruki Murakami is no stranger to these questions. After writing his first book, he recalls two epiphanic moments that propelled him toward becoming a professional novelist.
As a result, he traded his jazz bar for a sheaf of writing paper and a fountain pen and his smoking habit for running shoes. He now runs one marathon a year and averages six miles a day, never taking more than two days off in a row.
Murakami combines healthy life choices with a systematic routine that creates a kind of mesmerism in his writing process.
When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at four a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for fifteen hundred meters (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at nine p.m. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind. But to hold to such repetition for so long—six months to a year—requires a good amount of mental and physical strength. In that sense, writing a long novel is like survival training. Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity.”
While completely admirable, this is not the kind of routine that is often emulated by novice writers. To that end, Murakami has very different advice. Murakami’s advises novice writers to read, observe, reflect, focus, and of course, throw in some magic.
You can read how he elaborates on each of these points in the excerpts below from his essay, “So What Should I Write About?”
“I think the first task for the aspiring novelist is to read tons of novels. Sorry to start with such a commonplace observation, but no training is more crucial. To write a novel, you must first understand at a physical level how one is put together…It is especially important to plow through as many novels as you can while you are still young. Everything you can get your hands on—great novels, not-so-great novels, crappy novels, it doesn’t matter (at all!) as long as you keep reading. Absorb as many stories as you physically can. Introduce yourself to lots of great writing. To lots of mediocre writing too. This is your most important task.”
“Next, before you start writing your own stuff, make a habit of looking at things and events in more detail. Observe what is going on around you and the people you encounter as closely and as deeply as you can.”
“Reflect on what you see. Remember, though, that to reflect is not to rush to determine the rights and wrongs or merits and demerits of what and whom you are observing. Try to consciously refrain from value judgments — don’t rush to conclusions. What’s important is not arriving at clear conclusions but retaining the specifics of a certain situation… I strive to retain as complete an image as possible of the scene I have observed, the person I have met, the experience I have undergone, regarding it as a singular “sample,” a kind of test case as it were. I can go back and look at it again later, when my feelings have settled down and there is less urgency, this time inspecting it from a variety of angles. Finally, if and when it seems called for, I can draw my own conclusions.”
“Although I compose essays as well as works of fiction, unless circumstances dictate otherwise, I avoid working on anything else when I am writing a novel… Of course, there is no rule that says that the same material can’t be used in an essay and a story, but I have found that doubling up like that somehow weakens my fiction.”
“The key component is not the quality of the materials — what’s needed is magic. If that magic is present, the most basic daily matters and the plainest language can be turned into a device of surprising sophistication. First and foremost, though, is what’s packed away in your garage. Magic can’t work if your garage is empty.”
Be sure to tell me what you would add to his tips in the comments – what kind of advice would you give to young writers?
Join our newsletter to find out more about our Reading Beyond Murakami courses and reading group. When you join, we’ll send you a list of 10 Haruki Murakami Books you won’t be able to put down.
Sign up for our newsletter and we'll send you a list of 10 Haruki Murakami Books you won't be able to put down.