Sign at Cass Art, High Street Kensington, London.
On the flight from London to Dusseldorf last Friday night, I read novelist Haruki Murakami's book "What I Talk about When I Talk about Running." Murakami believes the focus, physical endurance and patience required in long-distance running are the same qualities needed in writing a novel.
Now in the thick of my own novel - along with rewrites and fierce deadlines - I don't disagree with Murakami's philosophy. Years ago I was a runner; these days, I prefer to walk or ride a bike around the perimeter of Hippodrome de Longchamp. Until I began working seriously on a novel, I didn't grasp how closely physical exercise is linked to one's mental and creative abilities. These days I find the task at hand can seem overwhelming - consequently my writing suffers - if time constraints force me to skip physical exercise. Spending hours and hours at the computer for days on end isn't necessarily productive. A mind-body connection is required for the stamina to keep going. One's best ideas and inspiration may come when away from the desk: movement and a change of scene allow fresh perspective.
"...Writing novels, to me, is basically a kind of manual labor. Writing itself is mental labor, but finishing an entire book is closer to manual labor. It doesn't involve heavy lifting, running fast or leaping high. Most people, though, only see the surface reality of writing and think of writers as involved in quiet, intellectual work done in their study...But once you try your hand at it, you soon find that it isn't as peaceful a job as it seems. The whole process - sitting at your desk, focusing your mind like a laser beam, imagining something out of a blank horizon, creating a story, selecting the right words, one by one, keeping the whole flow of the story on track - requires far more energy, over a long period, than most people ever imagine. You might not move your body around, but there's grueling, dynamic labor going on inside you.
"...A writer puts on an outfit called narrative and thinks with his entire being; and for the novelist that process requires putting into play all your physical reserve, often to the point of overexertion.
"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...consistent? ... 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.
"...People sometimes sneer at those who run every day, claiming they'll go to any length to live longer. But I don't think that's the reason most people run. Most run not because they want to live longer, but because they want to live life to the fullest. If you're going to while away the years, it's far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive than in a fog and I believe running helps you do that. Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that's the essence of running and a metaphor for life - and for me, for writing as well."
How do you manage to stay focused, while involved in creating any form of art? Is regular exercise an integral part of your routine?