With a style that blends Japanese settings with Western pop culture references, novelist Haruki Murakami has developed a massive following, both at home and abroad.
His most popular work to date, Norwegian Wood, has sold over 10 million copies. And all of his major works have broken the one million mark. He’s also received countless awards, from the World Fantasy Award to the Franz Kafka Prize, and is considered one of, if not the, greatest living novelists.
But while Murakami’s works are famous for their surrealism, his work process is anything but. Let’s take a closer look at Haruki Murakami’s writing habits – and find out how you can apply them to your own life.
How Haruki Murakami Creates Art Through Repetition
In Norwegian Wood, the protagonist spends most of his time smoking cigarettes, reading, and listening to records.
Murakami, on the other hand, devotes his days to early morning work sessions, strenuous exercise, and spending time with his wife. In short, the author is a big believer in discipline and routine, channeling the white-collar industriousness and efficiency that the Japanese are known for.
Yet a repetitive and relatively mundane lifestyle doesn’t stifle his creativity. Quite the opposite.
“The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.”
While we may imagine a writer of his caliber perched over a mechanical typewriter as he pours out a torrent of creativity, Murakami’s description is a bit different.
“I have to pound away at a rock with a chisel and dig out a deep hole before I can locate the source of my creativity.”
And that pounding away at rock has allowed him to mesmerize readers with his imaginative dreamscapes for the past several decades. With than in mind, let’s take a closer look at the habits that have made him so successful.
How to Adopt Writing Habits Like Haruki Murakami
The main elements of Murakami’s routine include a set sleep schedule, prioritization of work, and regular exercise.
Are you interested in channeling your inner novelist? Do you want to increase your writing output?
Then try applying these simple but effective habits to your own life.
Establish a Consistent Sleep Schedule
Before his career as a writer took off, Murakami owned a small jazz club in Tokyo. After closing the club, he’d write, which often kept him up until dawn.
But after he sold his business to become a full-time novelist, he and his wife changed their schedule dramatically.
“When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at four A.M. and work for five to six hours…. I go to bed at nine P.M. I keep to this routine every day without variation.”
These days, Murakami is up before dawn – and he’s in bed shortly after dark. And he’s maintained this routine since the ‘80s.
Now, we’re not saying you have to wake up at 4am every morning. As Murakami points out, that’s simply when he works best.
“Different people are at their best at different times of day, but I’m definitely a morning person. That’s when I can focus.”
There have been other famous authors who woke up at 7, 9, or even noon.
What’s most important here is maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, day in and day out, at least on the days that you’re working.
Prioritize Work by Doing it First
Of course, it doesn’t matter what time you wake up if you spend your mornings goofing off on social media. And it’s going to be hard to stick to a bedtime if you’re putting off your work until the last minute.
That’s why Murakami makes it a point to get to work first thing in the morning, and to work for a set number of hours. As an earlier quote explains, he works for 5 or 6 hours each day when he wakes up.
And by “work”, he doesn’t mean check his emails or rearranging his desk. These are dedicated work hours – and they’re focused on his most important task: writing.
In his memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, he explains:
“I sit at my desk and focus totally on what I’m writing. I don’t see anything else, I don’t think about anything else.”
Are you this dedicated and efficient with your work flow?
Start today by putting your work first – and sticking to set work hours each day. Of course, if you’re not a morning person, you may need to drink a cup of coffee or something before getting down to it, but your work should always be at the top of your to-do list.
Create a Daily Exercise Routine
For Murakami, writing isn’t just a mental or an artistic task. It requires physical health, as well. Especially if you want to maintain the sort of routine he does.
“But to hold to such repetition for so long—six months to a year—requires a good amount of mental and physical strength. In that sense, writing a long novel is like survival training. Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity.”
To train his body, the writer spends each afternoon running 10km (about 6.2 miles) or swimming 1500m. Some days, he does both. And he’s even added cycling to the mix.
Not only does Murakami consider his daily running crucial to his writing, it’s also built the endurance necessary for him to complete over 25 marathons, a 62-mile ultramarathon, and even multiple triathlons.
Of course, he realizes as much as anybody that marathon-running isn’t for everyone.
“That’s why I’ve never recommended running to others…. Marathon running is not a sport for everyone, just as being a novelist isn’t a job for everyone.”
But we could all learn something from his dedication to exercise and physical activity, especially those of us who spend most of our day sitting at a desk.
Want to write better? Then adopt a daily exercise habit, whether it’s running or swimming like Murakami, playing a sport, weight training, or even just walking your dog.
Add these daily habits to your list:
- Maintain a consistent sleep schedule – harness the power of routine and repetition by waking up and going to bed at the same time each day
- Work at the same time and for the same number of hours each day – prioritize your work by tackling it first thing in the morning
- Exercise at least 30 minutes per day – strengthen your body with a daily exercise habit