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.
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