For more than thirty years, Haruki Murakami has dazzled the world with his beautifully crafted words, most often in the form of novels and short stories. But his book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (2008) opens a rare window into his life and process, revealing an obsession with running and how it fuels his creative process.
An excerpt from a 2004 interview with Murakami in The Paris Review brings home the connection between physical strength and creating extraordinary work:
When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at 4:00 a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for fifteen hundred meters (or do both), then I read a bit, and listen to some music. I go to bed at 9:00 p.m. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind. 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.
Murakami is guided by what the great scholars, writers, thinkers, and creators of ancient Greece knew yet so many modern-day creators have abandoned.
The physical state of our bodies can either serve or subvert the quest to create genius. We all know this intuitively. But with rare exceptions, because life seems to value output over the humanity of the process and the ability to sustain genius, attention to health, fitness, and exercise almost always take a back seat.That’s tragic. Choosing art over health rather than art fueled by health kills you faster; it also makes the process so much more miserable and leads to poorer, slower, less innovative, and shallower creative output.
As Dr. John Ratey noted in his seminal work Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain (2008), exercise isn’t just about physical health and appearance. It also has a profound effect on your brain chemistry, physiology, and neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain to literally rewire itself). It affects not only your ability to think, create, and solve, but your mood and ability to lean into uncertainty, risk, judgment, and anxiety in a substantial, measurable way, even though until very recently it’s been consistently cast out as the therapeutic bastard child in lists of commonly accepted treatments for anxiety and depression.