What Haruki Murakami keeps prattling on about

Published on: 9 Ebrill 2009 Author: Patrick Ness

Patrick NessFor this blog, I thought I'd take a momentary diversion that will lead back to writing.

I write this on Sunday afternoon, 5 April 2009. In three weeks, all things being well, I'll be running the London Marathon. This morning, I did the last of my long, long training runs. 20 miles, before lunch. I'll start tapering my training soon and then just hope for good health and a favourable race day.

I bring this up not to somehow shame whatever you did on your Sunday morning (you lazy thing), but to raise an important point for a writer. Which is: Do you have anything else important to just you in your life besides your writing?

I'm not talking the obvious important things like family or children, I mean something for you in particular. A hobby, maybe, a private passion or pleasurable oddity. Do you play football with your mates on the weekend? Do you take particular pride in your garden? Do you sing at church? Are you a philatelist (shame on you)?

I run. I love to run. It appeals to me mentally, not only because I can set goals and measure my progress, but because it's absolutely freaking fantastic for the brain. It's like especially rigorous meditation. Rhythmic steps matched by rhythmic breathing for long stretches of time. It can be trancelike, dreamlike even. And what a great state of mind to think about writing. I've said it before, I solve all of my knottiest plotting problems while out running.

I'm not the only writer who runs. Michael Collins (Booker-shortlisted for the brilliant The Keepers of Truth) runs ultra-marathons of 100 miles or more. And Haruki Murakami, of course, went and wrote a whole book about it, thereby beating the rest of us who wished we thought of it first.

But it doesn't have to be running. Nabokov was obsessed with butterflies. Enid Blyton had her naturism and her lawn tennis. An author I know runs a whole music festival.

My point – and I do have one – is this: You'll be a better writer if writing isn't your whole life. Because what is your writing except a reflection of that life? If all that's in it is writing, how interesting is that going be?

Now, yes, I hear you, there are exceptions, Emily Dickinson in her attic, the Brontes tearing strips out of each other on the moors, but are you Emily Dickinson or Charlotte Bronte? Neither am I.

I was on a panel recently with the gracious and wonderful children's writer Elizabeth Laird. It was an audience of mainly teenagers and one of them asked what you need to do to become a writer. I proffered the Three Most Important Things A Writer Must Do, which are 1) Write (most people say they want to write when they really mean they want to have written), 2) Read (writers must always be reading, always) and 3) Rewrite (which I've already discussed here).

When the question got to Elizabeth, she said she agreed with me but would add a fourth to the list, 4) Live. And she's 100% right. Live your life, have other secrets to it, have at least something else completely non-writing-oriented (which is the American version of orientated, by the way) that gives you nothing but unexpurgated pleasure.

Your writing will improve. Running has helped mine no end. Would knitting help yours? Don't laugh, it might. Maybe even especially if you're a man.

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Patrick Ness

 'Haven't you ever felt like there has to be more? Like there's more out there somewhere, just beyond your grasp, and if you could only get to it?'

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