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Haruki Murakami’s advice on how to be a great writer: Be born with talent

29 Comments
By RocketNews24

Among contemporary writers, there’s no Japanese author with a bigger international following than Haruki Murakami. The novelist and translator is also highly respected within his home country, as Japan holds an especially deep respect for any of its citizens who succeed in making a name for themselves on the international stage.

As such, we imagine one young graduate student was hoping for some sage advice when she contacted Murakami and asked him for pointers on how to become a better writer. The response she got was as surprising, unique, and challenging as Murakami’s books themselves.

Despite the exalted status he enjoys both in his industry and Japanese society as a whole, Murakami is open to engaging with his audience and admirers. The award-winning writer regularly takes questions from visitors and personally answers them on his personal website.

Recently, a 23-year-old woman with the family name Sakurai wrote in with a special request.

“Hello, Mr Murakami. I’ve always enjoyed reading your books. Currently I’m a graduate student, so I’ve got to deal with reports, presentation planning, and emails and letters to professors, and anyway I have to write a lot of compositions. But the fact is, I’m really not good at writing composition. But be that as it may, if I can’t write I can’t graduate and I’m in a tough position, so since it can’t be helped I do my writing while struggling and groaning. Is there nothing I can do to make writing easier? If you have any advice, like what you’d find in a composition primer, I would be most grateful for it.”

Considering that getting into graduate school in the first place is no mean feat, we’re going to give Ms Sakurai the benefit of the doubt and assume she has a decent head on her shoulders, problems with the pen notwithstanding. Also, having shown the wherewithal to recognize her own academic shortcomings, plus the initiative in reaching out to someone who appears to be a more-than-qualified mentor, we’d also say she’s got the commitment and work ethic necessary to overcome her difficulties.

So how did the famous author respond?

“The act of writing is the same as sweet-talking a woman, in that you can get better, to an extent, with practice. Fundamentally, though, your abilities are determined by the talents you’ve been born with. Well, anyway, do your best.”

You could argue that the troubled graduate student should have seen this coming. Despite now having decades as a successful writer under his belt, Murakami doesn’t come from a particularly literary background. After studying theater in college, he ran a cafe and then a jazz club before suddenly getting it in his head that he could write a book. That idea became his debut work, Hear the Wind Sing, which met with immediate success upon being published when Murakami was already 30.

Hmm…you know, as we reread the author’s response, we’re not entirely sure whether or not the 66-year-old Murakami is subtly implying that he could charm the pants off the 23-year-old Sakurai, if he so chose. What we are certain of, though, is that his “advice” isn’t really any help at all.

Source: Jin

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29 Comments
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It wasn't advice. It was an opinion based on percieved facts.

One can learn a sport and improve, but the pure genious does not worry about that. They just do it, and strive at it to the max.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Craftsman vs. artist. The latter can hone his/her craft until great skill is achieved. This is true of many gifted academic writers and journalists. Outstanding literary authors--such exquisite talent is there from the word go. Personally, I've never seen Murakami as being among their company but at least he told the truth.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

"Considering that getting into graduate school in the first place is no mean feat...."

I know plenty of morons with master's degrees.

Indeed, one particularly loud-mouthed eejit just got a PhD.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

"you can get better, to an extent, with practice. Fundamentally, though, your abilities are determined by the talents you’ve been born with"

I agree but that's true with anything really, music, sports, acting and running a business etc

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Wow!! That's a bit arrogant!! i was hoping for "hard work" or something similar.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

@Kaerimashita

Isn't it the opposite of arrogant? He's saying that he was lucky enough to be born with talent, not claiming any kind of virtue.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

I can see Murakami's point of view, but I disagree in this case. There is creative writing and then there is mechanistic writing. Anyone can draw Snoopy, regardless of how meager their artistic talent is, by following a formula. To create something original you need talent. This grad student can hammer out a decent mechanistic piece with practice, but it will never in a Nobel prize. But frankly neither will many talented artists.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Fundamentally, though, your abilities are determined by the talents you’ve been born with.

I only wonder if, when the world finally sees Murakami as the mediocre writer he really is, he'll turn around and blame his parents. (Looks like a foot just stuck into one very glib mouth.)

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

So, he was born with more talent than most people? Hogwash. Just because you are an award winning so and so doesn't mean you are born with talent. Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration is the quote from someone far more talented than this guy. Murakami isn't really very bright - sales, degrees and accolades notwithstanding. Don't need to read any of his writing to see that.

-4 ( +3 / -7 )

What we are certain of, though, is that his “advice” isn’t really any help at all.

Murakami wasn't born with the talent to be an agony aunt.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

@Mocheake

"Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration"

Then why aren't you a professional athlete or successful business owner making millions of $ ?

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

I remember someone said inside every person there is a book, but in the majority of cases that is where it should stay.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Sometimes reality bites and it hurts. Murakami sounds like some doctors I've met, self-powered by their own greatness but not too big on bedside manners.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

we’re not entirely sure whether or not the 66-year-old Murakami is subtly implying that he could charm the pants off the 23-year-old Sakurai, if he so chose.

YUK!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Clearly haruki did pretty well for being born without talent.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

No-one is born a novelist or even a writer, but we are all gifted with imagination. All we need is the ability to put down (on paper or screen) those ideas in a coherent format that people want to read. It's also down to having contacts in the business and a good agent lol

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Being born with a talent is not not so special or enough for you to succeed. Having the drive and desire to use that talent to the best of you abilities is what's more important. I could name quite a few people who have a 'talent' but never used it

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I remember someone said inside every person there is a book, but in the majority of cases that is where it should stay.

"I am sitting in the smallest room of my house. I have your review before me. In a moment it will be behind me!" -- Max Reger

1 ( +1 / -0 )

All the big name writers have a team of staff writers assigned to help them by the publishing company.

Most of the content of the major bestselling novels is written by junior staff writers, but they've all signed NDAs so the credit goes to the big name writer.

It's a standard technique to build a persona and sell more books

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

So how does Murakami explain his success then?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I have to agree with Murakami. Not everyone can do anything. We all have some strengths and weaknesses in our abilities. With the highly competitive field of book writing, only a small number of people can make money off writing (though ebooks have increased that number). Some people without the base fundamental skills may be able to work at it long enough, and get lucky enough, to support themselves off their writing. But those with the inherent writing abilities will be much more likely to be successful.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Talent is a fictional thing. Especially when it comes to writing. What matters is perseverance and practice. I can bet you no writer who is/was successful had an easy time, just sitting down and putting words to paper.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Interesting as one could argue, at least with regard to his work in translation, that Murakami didn't have really any when first published, Norwegian Wood's massive popularity notwithstanding.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

I think he may feel like... if you have to ask for advice.... then you're not an individual that already fully believes their work is great. Quite often the really gifted are very arrogant... which, of course, is good and bad.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Burning BushJAN. 23, 2015 - 08:24PM JST All the big name writers have a team of staff writers assigned to help them by the publishing company.

What nonsense. While it's true most great novelists have or have had great editors, literary work is not a team effort. I think you are confusing this with the people who help pimp crap written by famous people who style themselves as authors. The process of bringing a Murakami or even a Jonathan Franzen novel to the public is not the same as the publicity machine behind something written by the late Nora Ephron or Tom Clancy.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Well, if he knows.... what made him decide to become awriter anyway?

His books are an excellent choice for putting even the worst insomniac to sleep, but other than that?

An please do not tell me, that the number of people who like Murakami says anything about "quality", that would make McDonalds Haute Cuisine. (For those who like Murakami: "Haute Cuisine" means restaurants with at least four stars)

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Ah, Norwegian Wood... One of the silliest mistranslations ever. the Beatles' song is about timber "She showed me her room, isn't it good, Norwegian wood?"

The Japanese title is " Norwegian Forest".

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

@Hide Suzuki - How do you know I'm not? By the way, not every person who is talented is successful. Also,, many untalented people are hugely successful. Don't believe me? Just watch Japanese TV for a few minutes. Timing and luck also play key parts in one's success. Talent is very often secondary and always subjective.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

lucabrasiJAN. 24, 2015 - 09:14AM JST Ah, Norwegian Wood... One of the silliest mistranslations ever. the Beatles' song is about timber (sic) "She showed me her room, isn't it good, Norwegian wood?" The Japanese title is " Norwegian Forest".

Your post is unclear. Since the novel does take it's name from the Beatles' song, who's done the mistranslation - Murakami, because he named the novel, according to you, "Norway no Mori" or . . . ?

And you do realize the song really isn't about wood? "So I lit a fire, isn't it good, Norwegian wood?" So, John set this woman's apartment on fire?

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

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