[…Murakami came to writing later in life. After running a successful jazz bar in Tokyo for about ten years, he suddenly had the notion to write a novel. After his first two novels — both written in the wee hours of the morning after he closed the bar — were well-received, he decided to shut down his business and try his hand at writing full-time. To balance the sedentary nature of this new lifestyle, he also started running. It’s not surprising then that, for Murakami, the act of running and the act of creating are inextricably linked. As he writes about the evolution of his running career — from his first marathon to his first ultramarathon (62 miles) to his first triathlon — he constantly circles back to how his athletic experiences have impacted his writing practice, and vice versa. For Murakami, the creative process is a sport.
Here’s what he has to say about talent, focus, and endurance:
In every interview I’m asked what’s the most important quality a novelist has to have. It’s pretty obvious: talent. Now matter how much enthusiasm and effort you put into writing, if you totally lack literary talent you can forget about being a novelist. This is more of a prerequisite than a necessary quality. If you don’t have any fuel, even the best car won’t run.
The problem with talent, though, is that in most cases the person involved can’t control its amount or quality. You might find the amount isn’t enough and you want to increase it, or you might try to be frugal and make it last longer, but in neither case do things work out that easily. Talent has a mind of its own and wells up when it wants to, and once it dries up, that’s it. Of course, certain poets and rock singers whose genius went out in a blaze of glory—people like Schubert and Mozart, whose dramatic early deaths turned them into legends—have a certain appeal, but for the vast majority of us this isn’t the model we follow.
If I’m asked what the next most important quality is for a novelist, that’s easy too: 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. I generally concentrate on work for three or four hours every 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.
After focus, the next most important thing for a novelist is, hands down, endurance. 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. 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. This is a lot like the training of muscles I wrote of a moment ago. You have to continually transmit the object of your focus to your entire body, and make sure it thoroughly assimilates the information necessary for you to write every single day and concentrate on the work at hand. 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. Add a stimulus and keep it up. And repeat. Patience is a must in this process, but I guarantee results will come.
In private correspondence the great mystery writer Raymond Chandler once confessed that even if he didn’t write anything, he made sure he sat down at his desk every single day and concentrated. I understand the purpose behind his doing this. This is the way Chandler gave himself the physical stamina a professional writer needs, quietly strengthening his willpower. This sort of daily training was indispensable to him.
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 and still keep it decent and consistent? When does it become narrow-minded and inflexible? How much should I be aware of the world outside, and how much should I focus on my inner world? To what extent should I be confident in my abilities, and when should I start doubting myself? I know that if I hadn’t become a long-distance runner when I became a novelist, my work would have been vastly different. How different? Hard to say. But something would definitely have been different.][via]
Getting excited to start IQ84.
Then there’s the Edo Pop show going on at the MIA. 160 woodblock prints from the Edo period (1600-1868), which seems to have been a super fun time for artists in Japan, almost a secular Renaissance; suddenly stern portraits of your elderly uncle are out, and giggling geisha are in.
The amount of effects you can get with woodcuts and lino cuts is really amazing; check out the works of Mexican artist Artemio Rodríguez to see how it’s still relevant. I like that the MIA is including contemporary renditions of Edo pop in the show as well, because in some ways not too much has changed; the subjects may be wearing baggy jeans instead of kimonos, but the vibrancy and excitement about youth is the same.
I’m excited about a lot of Minneapolis museum stuff going on right now. Even though I’m in the same building, I’ve only seen about a tenth of everything going on in the Walker’s Graphic Design: Now in Production show. There’s books and posters and wood axes and t-shirts and chairs and they’re all extremely pretty. Between the exhibit and watching Helvetica this weekend, I’m all set to go back to school for another million years and start all over as a graphic designer.
In this footage from an interview with NBC’s Tom Brokaw in the 1970s, Joan Didion, who is shown with her late husband John Gregory Dunne, talks about the power of writing (“It’s the only aggressive act I have”) and her love of California (“I’m not sure I could work in a city”). Of course, Didion moved to New York City in 1988 and has lived there ever since. Near the end of the clip, watch Didion’s poignant response to Brokaw’s question about her optimism about the future.
-found on pw.org
I have an idea for the best and dorkiest pumpkin carving ever. First and foremost, the pumpkin is now a pun-kin, because it involves a pun. Secondly: intricately carve Raymond Carver’s face on one side of the pun-kin, and now he’s Raymond Pumpkin Carver. The other side of the punkin is up for your creative decision-carving; maybe a husband and wife viciously pulling on a baby, and below it you write, “In this manner, the issue was decided,” like in Carver’s story ‘Little Things’?
Congratulations. You now have the coolest pumpkin on the block. Thank me later.