Three things all novelists need (according to Haruki Murakami)

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Photo by Rick Pushinsky for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH
Photo by Rick Pushinsky for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH

The celebrated and prolific novelist Haruki Murakami also happens to be an ultra-marathon runner, and in his collection of essays What I Talk About When I Talk About Running he talks about… well, running (and writing, of course).

So what three qualities, according to Murakami, do all good novelists share?

1. Talent

The web resource OpenCulture.com gives a nice summary of the author’s thoughts:

Murakami frames talent as an attribute that can’t be taught or bought. For the writer, talent is “more of a prerequisite than a necessary quality […] No matter how much enthusiasm and effort you put into writing, if you totally lack literary talent you can forget about being a novelist.” One feels this should go without saying, but for whatever reason, it seems that more people entertain the idea of becoming a writer longer in life than that of becoming, say, a musician or a painter. Maybe this is why Murakami then makes an analogy to music as a pursuit in which, ideally, natural aptitude is indispensable. But in mentioning two of his favorite composers, Schubert and Mozart, Murakami makes the point that these are examples of artists “whose genius went out in a blaze of glory.” He is quick to point out that “for the vast majority of us this isn’t the model we follow.” The novelist as runner, we might say, should train for a career running marathons.

2. Focus

With 27 marathons and more than a dozen novels behind him, Murakami has clearly demonstrated focus. Focus, according to the author, is “the ability to concentrate all your limited talents on whatever’s critical at the moment. Without that you can’t accomplish anything of value.”

So how does Murakami focus on his writing? Simple: he makes a habit of concentrating on his work for three or fours hours each morning. “I sit at my desk and focus totally on what I’m writing. I don’t see anything else, I don’t think about anything else.”

3. Endurance

As OpenCulture.com says, if you consider yourself more of a sprinter then maybe you should stick to short stories. You need endurance to finish a novel. Murakami says, “if you concentrate on writing three or four hours a day and feel tired after a week of this, you’re not going to be able to write a long work. What’s needed of the writer of fiction—at least one who hopes to write a novel—is the energy to focus every day for half a year, or a year, or two years. Fortunately, these two disciplines—focus and endurance—are different from talent, since they can be acquired and sharpened through training.”

In other words, sit down and do it every day regardless of the quality of your daily work. Eventually your writing muscles will get into tip-top shape.

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Do you agree or disagree with Murakami? What attributes do you think great writers must possess? Let me know in the comments below.

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Chris Robley
is an award-winning poet, songwriter, performer, and music producer who now lives in Portland, Maine after more than a decade in Portland, Oregon. His music has been praised by NPR, the LA Times, the Boston Globe, and others. Skyscraper Magazine said he is “one of the best short-story musicians to come along in quite some time.” Robley’s poetry has been published or is forthcoming in POETRY, Prairie Schooner, Poetry Northwest, Beloit Poetry Journal, RHINO, Magma Poetry, and more. He is the 2013 winner of Boulevard's Poetry Prize for Emerging Writers and the 2014 recipient of a Maine Literary Award in the category of "Short Works Poetry."

3 COMMENTS

  1. >>Do you agree or disagree with Murakami?<<

    Not sure you'll get too many people disagreeing with this author… additionally, S. King has said (On Writing) the exact same thing about the necessity of talent.

  2. I agree on the last two points but not on the first. I have written more than a dozen novels, however I wouldn’t consider myself to have much talent. I think writing is a skill that can be learnt. Writing well comes with practice, millions of words put down, thousands of plots day-dreamed, and reading as many books as you can get your hands on.

    I am not a good writer as of yet, but I am determined. I do believe whatever you put your mind to in life, you can become good at or perhaps even great. Perhaps Haruki would do well to read The Talent Code.

    Personally I think the idea of talent being a necessary requirement to creating good art, is a form of snobbery created by insecure people who are afraid of there being too many artists who will crowd them out of the “market”.

    • I see your point.

      It’s really difficult to define “talent” anyway. Does “talent” mean you’re good with metaphor, character, or description? Does it mean you write quickly and often?

      Basically, if one person writes a good story in three days and another person writes a great story in 3 years, who’s more “talented?”

      @ChrisRobley

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