Haruki Murakami is a best-selling and multi-award winning Japanese author, known for his surreal novels that combine elements of sci-fi, fantasy, and crime fiction. Aside from being a prolific and successful writer, he is also a dedicated long-distance runner, completing many marathons and triathlons over the past few decades.
Living in the Japanese countryside in my mid-20s was where I discovered my own love of running, as well as where I first read Murakami’s inspiring memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.
So, while you may not want to get up at the crack of dawn and run – or write – six days a week like Murakami, read on to learn what running could teach you about becoming a better writer.
Good writing is a marathon, not a sprint
“For me, writing a novel is like climbing a steep mountain, struggling up the face of the cliff, reaching the summit after a long and arduous ordeal […] I always keep that inner image with me as I write.”
Murakami didn’t race off the blocks like some literary sensations – in fact, he didn’t start writing fiction until he was 29. His approach to training towards marathons or writing a novel is the same; steady, consistent daily work over a long period, chipping away at his goals.
Whether you’re working on a long writing project over several days, weeks or months, the final piece is built from the seemingly inconsequential work done in each session. Motivation and inspiration are important, but so is patience in accepting that it may take time to finish your best work.
Talent is overrated, but focus and discipline can be sharpened through training
“The problem with talent, though, is that in most cases the person involved can’t control its amount or quality. […] Talent has a mind of its own and wells up when it wants to, and once it dries up, that’s it.”
If the most talented runner in the world suddenly decided to take three months off their training schedule to catch up on Netflix, they’d have a rude awakening when race season begins and they get obliterated by the competition who have been working hard in their absence. This is because no amount of talent can offset the importance of daily focus and discipline to maintain and build your fitness, skills or mindset.
So, rather than relying talent alone, Murakami advises that sitting down every day and training yourself to focus on your work will gradually expand the limits of what you’re able to do, and your writing will improve as a result.
A healthy body is a healthy mind
“Once I started sitting at my desk all day writing, my energy level gradually declined, and I started putting on the pounds. […] If I wanted to have a long life as a novelist, I needed to find a way to keep fit and maintain a healthy weight.”
Before Murakami got into running seriously, he used to smoke, drink and sit at his desk all day, which started to take a real toll on his physical health. He realised that maintaining a healthy body was essential for maintaining his focus, productivity and longevity as an author.
Movement is medicine, so whether you prefer to jog, walk the dog, garden or simply break up the day with some YouTube yoga, you should find that physical activity will hugely benefit your mental health, productivity and writing practice.
It’s important to balance solitude and community
“In certain areas of my life, I actively seek out solitude. […] Sometimes, however, this sense of isolation, like acid spilling out of a bottle, can unconsciously eat away at a person’s heart and dissolve it.”
While Murakami seems completely at ease running or writing alone for hours each day, even he realises that doing everything alone has its limits.
Firstly, this has a mental health component; doing things with other people is more fun and motivating and helps us enjoy a strong sense of community. That’s why so many runners enter the London marathon lottery each year to enjoy the incredible atmosphere, for example, or take part in ParkRun every weekend.
But secondly, we have a lot to learn from others. Running with more experienced runners can teach you all sorts of things about pacing, nutrition, or tactics to overcome mental barriers in hard races. Likewise, seeking feedback on your writing from experienced writers and editors can help you improve your work and achieve your goals.
Get in touch
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