Haruki Murakami on Storytelling

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by Debbie Vance

Haruki Murakami is recognized as the most popular–and the most experimental–Japanese writer to have been translated into English. His fiction “inhabit[s] the liminal zone between realism and fable, whodunit and science fiction”–and expertly, at that.

In reading his 2004 Paris Review interview, The Art of Fiction No.182, I was struck time and time again by his unique vision for his writing–his goals and inspirations–as well as his view on fiction in general, how it functions in our current society. There are three main points I’d like to pull from his interview and share here.

The first is his basic process–how writing, for him, is the basic act of telling a story well:

I get some images and I connect one piece to another. That’s the story line. Then I explain the story line to the reader. You should be very kind when you explain something. If you think, It’s okay; I know that, it’s a very arrogant thing. Easy words and good metaphors; good allegory. So that’s what I do. I explain very carefully and clearly.

The second is his experience with revision–a practice which is not practiced often enough, I think:

INTERVIEWER

Is that one of the main purposes of revision, then—to take what you’ve learned from the end of the first draft and rework the earlier sections to give a certain feeling of inevitability?

MURAKAMI

That’s right. The first draft is messy; I have to revise and revise.

INTERVIEWER

How many drafts do you generally go through?

MURAKAMI

Four or five. I spend six months writing the first draft and then spend seven or eight months rewriting.

INTERVIEWER

That’s pretty fast.

MURAKAMI

I’m a hard worker. I concentrate on my work very hard. So, you know, it’s easy. And I don’t do anything but write my fiction when I write.

INTERVIEWER

How is your typical workday structured?

MURAKAMI

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.

And the third is how he, as the author, enters into his various stories by means of a quasi alter-ego:

Please think about it this way: I have a twin brother. And when I was two years old, one of us—the other one—was kidnapped. He was brought to a faraway place and we haven’t seen each other since. I think my protagonist is him. A part of myself, but not me, and we haven’t seen each other for a long time. It’s a kind of alternative form of myself. In terms of DNA, we are the same, but our environment has been different. So our way of thinking would be different. Every time I write a book I put my feet in different shoes. Because sometimes I am tired of being myself. This way I can escape. It’s a fantasy. If you can’t have a fantasy, what’s the point of writing a book?

We can learn a great deal about writing by reading books–novels, stories, poems, essays–but also by simply listening to writers talk. (By listening to anyone talk, really.) In this interview, Murakami gives us not only insight into his novels, but new ways of viewing, of approaching our own writing. What would it look like for me to step into the metaphorical shoes of my fantastical twin sister, lost at birth, and see the world from her perspective, acknowledging that I do indeed bring some of my own mental processes to the fictional world? I think it would look quite a bit different than the work I’m producing now, that’s for sure. Either way, I’d like to find out…

Follow the jump to read the full interview.

 

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