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Murakami on endurance and focus

I’m constantly drawn to writer’s talking about writing. I think it’s got something to do with the elusive ‘art-making’ process and that innate desire humans seem to have for finding the methodology of things (no matter how inapplicable it might be).

If there is some fibonacci sequence for writing, some part of it would likely be found gleaming in each drop of perspiration from great writers like Haruki Murakami. The 99 Percent recently highlighted Murakami’s thoughts on the subject of endurance and focus:

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.

Murakami, the author of no less than 12 novels, wrote in his memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running on the links between learning to run long distance and the rigour required to write a novel:

Most of what I know about writing I’ve learned through running every day. These are practical, physical lessons. How much can I push myself? How much rest is appropriate—and how much is too much?

You’ll naturally learn both concentration and endurance when you sit down every day at your desk and train yourself to focus on one point. And gradually you’ll expand the limits of what you’re able to do. Almost imperceptibly you’ll make the bar rise. This involves the same process as jogging every day to strengthen your muscles and develop a runner’s physique.

I really like this idea of a writer’s physique. Putting the topic of talent aside for a moment, a physique is something you build over time, the result of ongoing training rituals that may not always be just about ‘being creative’.

Often when things aren’t working for me creatively, my writing grinds to a halt. And perhaps this is akin to an athlete stopping further training after one lost race. There is plenty else I could be doing that would fall into the bucket of ‘creative training’ (like reading, practicing discipline, doing writing exercises), rituals that would stand me in better stead for facing such challenges in the future.

While I go and create my own mental exercise list, would love to know any suggestions others might have for a building a creative workout regime. Drop me a comment below.

You can read the full article on Murakami over at the always useful 99 Percent blog.



  • Good article Mark. Any thoughts of starting marathon training?

    • Karlos
    • August 26, 2011
    • None at this stage dear brother. I have however, upped my treadmill run from 3 to 4km.

      • Mark
      • August 26, 2011
  • Loved this Mark. I also love reading about writers’ processes and disciplines. Murakami’s running analogy works for me. To be an elite athlete you need to train hard for years. Same with being a writer. It takes years of daily practice. And yet every race (or novel) still feels like a new challenge.
    A big lesson for me has been to really give myself time to let stories rest and refuel my creative tank. I suppose this is like a runner visiting a sports physio and getting a massage – learning to relax those muscles and stop pushing so hard, because that’s when injuries (and huge plot chliches) happen!

    • Edwina Shaw
    • August 26, 2011
    • Hi Edwina, thanks for stopping by. Yeah I think all writer’s get some guilty pleasure reading about other writers, even those who say it’s a waste of time. I think what I like about Murakami’s approach is that he’s not really revealing any “secret trick” he’s just re-positioning how we think about the craft – suggesting that getting stuff to the page is not about one thing that you have or don’t have, but about many interrelated characteristics that can be worked on and improved over time. It’s always about creative outcomes, but how you get to that output is often more about the application of effort – which is a much broader skill that we can all learn and get better at.

      • Mark
      • August 26, 2011
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