I’ve just finished reading the insightful book by the Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, about his entwined passions of writing and running. I would not embellish my own efforts in either of these realms to compare myself to him, but as a writer and a runner, this book was like reading about my inner thoughts. The pain, the relentless slog, the dark lonely steps – and that’s just the writing. His description of those last 5 miles of a marathon made me feel human – even those who accomplish one a year felt as bad as I did at the end of my one! He describes the three things he believes are essential for a writer – and a runner.
Talent. As he puts it “If you don’t have any fuel, even the best car won’t run.”
Secondly, he sites Focus. “The ability to concentrate all your limited talents on whatever’s critical at the moment. Without that you can’t accomplish anything of value, while, if you can focus effectively, you’ll be able to compensate for an erratic talent or even a shortage of it.”
And finally – and as I have learnt from both writing a book, and running a marathon, probably the difference between success and failure is Endurance. “What’s needed for a writer.. at least one who hopes to write a novel – is the energy to focus every day for half a year, or a year, two years.”
Like running and training though he suggests that unlike talent, with constant practise you can fine tune your skills in focus and endurance. It just takes hard work and commitment. (I would add, pain, chocolate, cold baths, and gin.)
He calls writing ‘manual labour’ – “Writing itself is mental labour, but finishing an entire book is is closer to manual labour”.
I wrote an earlier article for the writing resource http://www.writing.ie about my comparison with writing a book and running a marathon, and so reading this book spoke to me. He writes, “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? How far can I take something?”
For anyone who likes any form of exercise and is also wanting to write, this book is a little gem of wisdom. Because of a recent car crash I’m not up for running at the moment, my body needs to rest. And because of a recent personal loss, I’m not up for writing at the moment, my brain and my heart need to rest. But I know that soon I will need to start pounding the ground, and pounding the keys – like Murakami, they are essential for my life. I’ll end with my favourite lines from his book, which will keep me going until I am physically and mentally ready to get going again.
“Most runners run not because they want to live longer, but because they want to live life to the fullest. If you’re going to while away the years, it’s far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive than in a fog, and I believe running helps you do that. Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that’s the essence of running, and a metaphor for life – and for me, for writing as well.”