Today we are talking about 5 life and writing lessons from a world famous author – Haruki Murakami.
Haruki Murakami’s latest book Novelist as a Vocation was recently released in English. It was originally published in Japan in 2015 and Murakami writes an introduction for the English edition also talking briefly about what has changed in the world in the last seven years for him, Japan, and the world at large.
For anyone who knows me, you would also know that I definitely had this book on preorder and read it within a week of it arriving on my doorstep. I have always been a lover of Murakami’s works. I love the worlds and characters he creates, they are strange and unsettling on the one hand, and yet so familiar on the other hand.
His latest work though is a very different kind of book. Instead of creating worlds in a well or alternate universes through tunnels, Murakami has released a book about his experiences as a career author, and in it, he details all the highs and lows of what it is really like to write books for over 35 years. In this book, he talks about each section being a speech rather than an essay or memoir, and I feel like that is perhaps the best way to think of this book. It does feel like Murakami is talking to you – delivering a speech at a graduation or event. Considering that Murakami rarely makes public appearances, he does this kind of speech writing well.
There are so many things to take away from Murakami’s book, but if you are an aspiring writer, then this is definitely an interesting take on what it means to be an author. So with that in mind – here are my 5 life and writing lessons from a world famous author – Novelist as a Vocation.
1 Novelist Should Have A Slow Moving Mind
Thinking slowly in our fast-pace world feels counterintuitive to a lot of people. We need to be thinking on our toes and adapting all the time. There is a whole genre of ‘agile workplace’ literature that makes me queasy just thinking about it. For Murakami, having a slow mind means to observe the world around you. He specifically talks about observing details and definitely not making assumptions. He talks about really drawing in every detail without judgement. I love this idea of a slow moving mind as a way to see the world and also help untangle the story lines we want to create.
2 Novel Writing is Uncool
“Writing novels is, to my way of thinking, basically a very uncool enterprise.”Murakami p. 13
The novelist as a vocation is often romanticised by many, when in reality it is about sitting in front of a computer and writing alone for hours on end. Murakami doesn’t want to deter people from being authors, but he also wants to be very upfront about what it truly entails. There is a lot of discipline, alone time, and persistence required to write a novel. It can be very rewarding, but it isn’t perhaps the rockstar life people might imagine.
3 Novelists Are Generally A Welcoming Bunch
Murakami talks about how many authors are happy to welcome new and upcoming writers into the ring. He talks about there being enough space for everyone to join, irrespective of their profession before writing. I like this idea of novelists being welcoming, although I’m not always sure if it is true.
4 Literary Prizes Aren’t the Be All End All
Murakami’s section “On Literary Prizes” was a bit of tea spilling! He talks about his experience winning the Gunzo prize and how this helped his career in writing and also not winning the Akutagawa prize and the controversy around him not winning. Murakami writes some interesting things about the novel writing and publishing world in this chapter and it is very interesting if you’re interested in what goes on in the background of the writing world.
Essentially though, literary prizes aren’t everything. They can help you in many ways – but you should always focus on your most important asset, your reader.
5 It’s Okay To Be Different
“To reach the source, you have to swim against the current. Only trash swims downstream.”Zbigniew Herbet quoted by Murakami p. 63
This by far was my biggest take away from Murakami’s book. It is something that will stay with me for a very long time, and also why I saved the best for last.
Murakami has always talked about doing things differently. Thinking differently and approaching writing and storytelling differently. He talks about reading a wide variety or books and texts to always keep expanding your mind. If you’re too comfortable in what you read – you need to get uncomfortable.
This idea of pushing for something different is at the core of Murakami’s beliefs as a novelist and why it gives him a particular edge to his writing. It is possibly also the reason why he has been able to sustain a long career in writing.
Swimming against the current is hard. But it is worth it.
I hope these 5 life and writing lessons have been inspiring for you. Please let me know if you are planning on reading Murakami’s Novelist as a Vocation. I cannot wait to hear what inspired you. As always, share the reading love.
For more Japanese literature reviews see here.
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