WHAT ATTRIBUTES DOES A NOVELIST REQUIRE?
TALENT, FOCUS, AND ENDURANCE—ACCORDING TO HARUKI MURAKAMI
This is a decidedly derivative blog because I’m both inspired by, and quoting, Chris Robley, who is quoting from Openculture.com, which is quoting Murakami himself. I guess there is a ‘who’ behind the ‘which’ where the latter is concerned, but I don’t know who the ‘which’ is.
If you get my drift! Such a lineage is almost creative in itself.
Chris Robley, by the way, writes a consistently ‘on-message’ blog (if you are a writer) for Bookbaby.com Good guy!
I’m glad I’ve got that off my chest. Sometimes, this business can get quite convoluted. Of course it’s derivative. We largely learn to write by reading other people’s books. Then we mix everything up, throw in some real life, add a bit of this and that—and call ourselves Shakespeare, (which we can’t even spell consistently) and “produce original works of literary genius.”
Genius? Yes. Original? Ho and hum! The truth is that writing is even more derivative than banking (we’re much nicer people).
I’m in a strange business.
The guy who wrote the first book has a lot to answer for (and he was probably a girl).
Murakami frames talent as an attribute that can’t be taught or bought. For the writer, talent is “more of a prerequisite than a necessary quality […] No matter how much enthusiasm and effort you put into writing, if you totally lack literary talent you can forget about being a novelist.” One feels this should go without saying, but for whatever reason, it seems that more people entertain the idea of becoming a writer longer in life than that of becoming, say, a musician or a painter.
With 27 marathons and more than a dozen novels behind him, Murakami has clearly demonstrated focus. Focus, according to the author, is “the ability to concentrate all your limited talents on whatever’s critical at the moment. Without that you can’t accomplish anything of value.”
So how does Murakami focus on his writing? Simple: he makes a habit of concentrating on his work for three or fours hours each 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.”
As OpenCulture.com says, if you consider yourself more of a sprinter then maybe you should stick to short stories. You need endurance to finish a novel. Murakami says, “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.”
In other words, sit down and do it every day regardless of the quality of your daily work. Eventually your writing muscles will get into tip-top shape.
What other qualities does a novelist require? Well, talent covers such a multitude that it is scarcely necessary to add anything else. Still, it is scarcely specific, so let me add several qualities—perhaps under the talent label—that strike me as making no small contribution.
- AN ORIGINAL CAST OF MIND
- EXTENSIVE EXPERIENCE OF LIFE
- A ROBUST SENSE OF HUMOR (REGARDLESS OF CIRCUMSTANCES)
- KEEN POWERS OF OBSERVATION LINKED TO EMPATHY.
- CHARACTER (good is preferable)
It helps if you can spell.
Hmm! Contemplating this list—made up of both Murakami’s and mine—makes me appreciate, yet again, that being a writer is no small thing.
VOR words c.150