making the bar rise

Famed novelist Haruki Murakami wrote a book about his experience both writing and running, and how the disciplines compare in many ways. It is titled “What I Talk about when I Talk About Running.”  I was first exposed to an excerpt from in the New Yorker ages ago, I was struck by his thoughts on discipline.

Here’s an inspiring bit:

“Fortunately, these two disciplines—focus and endurance—are different from talent, since they can be acquired and sharpened through training. You’ll naturally learn both concentration and endurance when you sit down every day at your desk and train yourself to focus on one point. This is a lot like the training of muscles I wrote of a moment ago. You have to continually transmit the object of your focus to your entire body, and make sure it thoroughly assimilates the information necessary for you to write every single day and concentrate on the work at hand. And gradually you’ll expand the limits of what you’re able to do. Almost imperceptibly you’ll make the bar rise. This involves the same process as jogging every day to strengthen your muscles and develop a runner’s physique. Add a stimulus and keep it up. And repeat. Patience is a must in this process, but I guarantee results will come.

In private correspondence the great mystery writer Raymond Chandler once confessed that even if he didn’t write anything, he made sure he sat down at his desk every single day and concentrated. I understand the purpose behind his doing this. This is the way Chandler gave himself the physical stamina a professional writer needs, quietly strengthening his willpower. This sort of daily training was indispensable to him.

Most of what I know about writing I’ve learned through running every day. These are practical, physical lessons. How much can I push myself? How much rest is appropriate—and how much is too much? How far can I take something and still keep it decent and consistent? When does it become narrow-minded and inflexible? How much should I be aware of the world outside, and how much should I focus on my inner world? To what extent should I be confident in my abilities, and when should I start doubting myself? I know that if I hadn’t become a long-distance runner when I became a novelist, my work would have been vastly different. How different? Hard to say. But something would definitely have been different.”

-Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

I especially loved the question, “How much should I be aware of the world outside, and how much should I focus on my inner world? ” I often think about this and feel an overwhelming guilt for not seeing my friends more or not actually having more experiences in the world when I want to go home and read or work. It’s comforting when you realize it’s a question most writers struggle with.

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