Haruki Murakami in his inspiring book about writing, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, describes writing novels as “basically a kind of manual labor.”
“Writing itself is mental labor,” he writes, “but finishing an entire book is closer to manual labor.”
I highlighted passage after passage in Murakami’s fascinating book, soaking in his wisdom, inspired by his sheer ambition. But it was also gratifying to know why after four or five hours of focused, deep writing at my desk, I’m drained, spent, punch-drunk.
Then a brisk walk to the park, or a sprint to the store, or a trip to the gym for weight lifting is restorative. Not a luxury.
Column McCann, in a recent mention in the New York Times Book Review, said he recommends his writing students join a gym:
“Very few people talk about it, but writers have to have the stamina of world-class athletes. The exhaustion of sitting in the one place…The dropping of the bucket down into the near empty well over and over again.”
As Flannery O’Connor put it in Mystery and Manners, writers must have the courage to take “long looks” at things, and that takes stamina: “Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay. I’m always highly irritated by people who imply the writing is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality, and it’s very shocking to the system.”
As Murakami notes, “a writer thinks with his entire being; and for the novelist that process requires putting into play all your physical reserve, often to the point of overexertion.”
Philipp Meyer, in the NYT’s By the Book shared such admirable insights about his own writing routine, I pinned a copy of his interview on my wall:
“You have to treat your mind the way an athlete treats her body; I’m always taking stock of my mental fitness, my creative battery, and my psychological state; you have to always be pushing yourself, always taking risks, but the recovery time is equally important.”
More from Murakami:
“The whole process—- sitting at your desk, focusing your mind like a laser beam, imagining something out of a blank horizon, creating a story, selecting the write words, one by one, keeping the whole flow of the story on track—- requires far more energy, over a long period, than most people ever imagine. You might not move your body around, but there’s grueling, dynamic labor going on inside you.”
ENDURANCE, of course, is linked to FOCUS.
Hitch those two together and you dig and dig and hit what Murakami calls a deep, secret “water vein” of talent:
“[Writers] are sweating, digging a hole a their feet with a shovel, when they run across a deep, secret water vein. It’s a lucky thing, but what made this good fortune possible was all the training they did that gave them the strength to keep on digging.”
FOCUS. Yep. That’s a whole other blog post.