Haruki Murakami is a Japanese author, best-known for his novels, essays and short stories that have become best-selling works in Japan and internationally.
I have to pound away at a rock with a chisel and dig out a deep hole before I can locate the source of my creativity.The Running Novelist | The New Yorker
Before Haruki Murakami became one of the most famous Japanese authors of all time, he was the owner of a small jazz bar called Peter Cat in Tokyo with his wife, Yoko. It was during this time that he had the desire to write a novel — inspiration struck him, of all places, when he was watching a baseball game.
It wasn’t long before Murakami began working on his first novel, Hear the Wind Sing. In between “keeping the accounts, checking the inventory, scheduling my staff, standing behind the counter mixing cocktails and cooking,” the Japanese writer would close up the jazz bar in the early morning hours then go home to write at his kitchen table.
Murakami was able to publish his first two novels like this, but he knew the approach wasn’t sustainable. “I was able to write only in spurts, snatching bits of time—a half hour here, an hour there—and, because I was always tired and felt as if I were competing against the clock, I was never able to concentrate very well,” he recalled in an interview with The New Yorker.
In 1981, Murakami and his wife closed down the jazz bar and moved out to the rural Narashino, in the Chiba prefecture, so he could dedicate all his time to writing. He also took up running, at 33 years old, as a way to stay fit while spending long hours at his desk.
“Once I was sitting at a desk writing all day I started putting on the pounds,” he said. “I was also smoking too much—sixty cigarettes a day. My fingers were yellow, and my body reeked of smoke. This couldn’t be good for me, I decided. If I wanted to have a long life as a novelist, I needed to find a way to stay in shape.”
A couple of years after Murakami took up running, he started taking part in marathons — his first one was a 5K run in 1983, then a 15K race after that. Over the years, he has competed in over twenty marathons and an ultramarathon. In his mind, the physical endurance and strength required for being a long-distance runner has a direct correlation to the mental stamina needed to be a full-time novelist.
You can write a book or two easily, but if you want to keep on writing for 10 years, for 20 years, you have to be practical, you have to be strong, physically.The loneliness of the long-distance writer | Globe and Mail
Haruki Murakami’s daily writing routine
After his lifestyle overhaul, Murakami began following a regimented daily schedule. “Once I began my life as a novelist, my wife and I decided that we’d go to bed soon after it got dark and wake up with the sun,” he told The New Yorker.
In a 2004 interview with The Paris Review, the author described his new writing routine.
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.Haruki Murakami, The Art of Fiction No. 182 | The Paris Review
Murakami typically spends six months writing the first draft of his novel, and an additional seven to eight months rewriting it, with each book going through nine or ten revisions. Yoko, his wife, is always his first reader.
“I pass the draft to Yoko at the third or fourth revision and she reads it and she tells me her opinion,” he said. “And we discuss it for a couple of days. Then I start to rewrite again. When I have rewritten it, I pass it to her again and she tells me her opinion again. This happens three or four times.”
For Murakami and his wife, living an (almost) solitary lifestyle to focus on writing doesn’t come without sacrifices. The couple decided to not have children — Murakami told the Financial Times in a 2006 interview that “books are more important to me” — and frequently turn down invitations to social events. For the Japanese author, the relationship with his readers is a priority in his life.
People are offended when you repeatedly turn down their invitations. But, at that point, I felt that the indispensable relationship I should build in my life was not with a specific person but with an unspecified number of readers. My readers would welcome whatever lifestyle I chose, as long as I made sure that each new work was an improvement over the last. And shouldn’t that be my duty—and my top priority—as a novelist? I don’t see my readers’ faces, so in a sense my relationship with them is a conceptual one, but I’ve consistently considered it the most important thing in my life.The Running Novelist | The New Yorker
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