An undisciplined writer attempts to find a steady routine by following the routines of well-known authors, no matter how ridiculous they may be.
I set three alarms. One next to my bed that I could reach over and turn off, one at the foot of my bed that I had to sit up to reach, and one in the far corner of my room that I had to get out of bed to turn off. I turned off the first alarm at 3:56 AM. The second alarm went off at 3:58 AM. I sat up, turned it off, and went back to sleep. The third alarm went off at 4:00 AM. I pretended I was still asleep, that the alarm was in my dream, and if I just turned it off in my dream it would turn off in real life too. This logic made perfect sense at four in the morning, but unfortunately didn’t work. So, I rolled on to the floor, continued rolling over to the phone, and turned off the alarm. After dry sobbing for a few minutes, I crawled to the kitchen, made myself a pot of coffee, and got to work for Haruki Murakami’s prescribed “five to six hours.” I eked out a few lousy pages, but spent most of the time trying not to fall asleep.
Yet, it was not until the second part of Murakami’s regimen did I fully realize what I’d gotten myself into. In a Paris Review interview, he describes his afternoons: “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 really like the second half of that sentence, but the whole running six miles part… no thank you.
Still, I figured it couldn’t be that bad. Sure, my time was second-to-last in every cross-country meet in junior high, but this wasn’t a race. I pulled on the closest thing I have to running shoes, a “Get Lit” t-shirt from Printer’s Row Lit Fest that I only use to dye my hair because way too many stoners approach me if I wear it in public, and some ill-fitting sweatpants. This would be my running outfit for the next three days, and by the end of three days it would smell like the dumpster behind a Wrigleyville bar. Since I didn’t feel sufficiently pumped up for the six-mile run, I also made some makeshift eye black out of 24-hour liquid eyeliner. It looked pretty cute, but did not make me a better athlete.
I ran to the end of my block before I bent over, wheezing, and gasped, “Nope!” I’ve always thought power walking was super creepy, but it was my best option at that point, so I did it. I stooped to that level. And it was just as embarrassing as it sounds. I don’t know what Murakami thinks about when he runs or swims. Maybe he gets his mind off the novel and reflects on nature. Maybe he has little conversations with his characters in his head. My thoughts were something along the lines of, “Oh my god, I think I just scared that small child. What the hell did I get myself into? Power walking is weird. I feel like my legs are walking but my arms are doing the robot.” It was a very profound experience.
I jelly-walked home, showered, and listened to music because I couldn’t keep my eyes open long enough to read anything. I thought I would have trouble with Murakami’s nine o’clock bedtime, but I was out by 8:45 all three nights.
Murakami eliminated variation from his routine, stating, “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.”
I didn’t achieve this form of mesmerism in three days, and my physical strength certainly wasn’t much improved. In the long term, I feel like my ideal routine involves way more silk pajamas and champagne grapes than Murakami’s. However, I did feel like I forced myself to do a few things I wouldn’t normally do, and was surprised when I was able to do them. Maybe that’s the lesson to be learned from this routine; Murakami’s kind of discipline comes from forcing yourself to do difficult things often enough that they become routine, that you’re mesmerized. Well, that and don’t wear 24-hour liquid eyeliner as eye black, because it will not come off your face for way longer than 24-hours, and people will keep asking what that is on your cheek.