On Murakami’s Writing Discipline

I recently finished re-reading Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood, the author’s homage to the classic Beatles’s song as it pervades his character’s lives–Japanese college students in 1960’s Tokyo.  The novel is a delightful read and a page-turner.  As it turns out, it was one of Murakami’s favorite novels to write.

But what makes the novel a page turner?  As Murakami points out in several interviews and talks, he writes his novels rather quickly and then spends a great deal of effort revising them.  What I want to draw attention to is his writerly discipline.  When he writes a novel, he follows a strict daily regimen–awaking at 4 AM, writing for several hours in the morning, then he runs, swims, and listens to music.

Here’s Murakami in his own words:

When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at four a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for fifteen hundred meters (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at nine p.m. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind. But to hold to such repetition for so long—six months to a year—requires a good amount of mental and physical strength. In that sense, writing a long novel is like survival training. Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity.

Strict discipline is important for any writer and so is an active exercise schedule that counters the necessity of being sedentary while writing.  Does Murakami operate according to a plan?  How does he figure out the characters and plot of his stories?

When I make up the characters in my books, I like to observe the real people in my life. I don’t like to talk much; I like to listen to other people’s stories. I don’t decide what kind of people they are; I just try to think about what they feel, where they are going. I gather some factors from him, some factors from her. I don’t know if this is “realistic” or “unrealistic,” but for me, my characters are more real than real people. In those six or seven months that I’m writing, those people are inside me. It’s a kind of cosmos.

And as Murakami readers know, there’s plenty of pop culture references in his writing.  He often cites his favorite jazz musicians and music groups, such as the Beatles and Miles Davis:

I like Stan Getz and Gerry Mulligan. When I was a teenager, they were the coolest musicians ever. I also like Miles Davis and Charlie Parker, of course. If you ask me who I actually put on the turntable most, then the answer would be Miles from the fifties through the sixties. Miles was always an innovator, a man who kept up with his own revolutions—I admire him greatly.

Murakami has been a Nobel Prize in Literature nominee for two consecutive years.  He’s a popular reader’s writer.  The details of his daily routines, hobbies, and interests make him the writer he is…

Norwegian Wood book trailer

Norwegian Wood film trailer

Paris Review Interview

99 Article

New York Times Magazine article

NYRB review

Guardian article

YouTube documentary on Murakami

YouTube interview with Murakami

Murakami’s short story printed in the New Yorker, “Town of Cats

Another Murakami short story printed in the New Yorker, “Samsa in Love

 

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