The Truth About Writing

  The biggest misconception about writing is that it is sustained by inspiration. In reality, writers who seem to live a casual life have a high degree of self-discipline.
  A genius like Marquez was still in a very difficult state when he wrote One Hundred Years of Solitude. He called his writing room “the cave of the mafia”, about 3 square meters, connected to a small bathroom, a door and window to the outside courtyard, the room has a sofa, an electric heater, a few cabinets, a small and simple table.
  He takes his two children to school early in the morning, sits at his desk before 8:30 a.m., and writes until the children return home from school at 2:30 p.m. He spends the afternoon working on his novel. In the afternoon, he spends his time researching materials for his novel.
  He only sees his children briefly at meal times, and his attitude toward them is basically one of affection. The child remembered his father best by the sight of his back bent over a smoke-filled room.
  Graham Greene was a writer who lived an extraordinarily rich life, working as a journalist, spying, going to war, trekking through Africa with his cousin, falling in love with a married woman, and stretching the capacity of one’s life to the maximum.
  The seemingly uninhibited Greene worked as hard as a student preparing for a college entrance exam. On the eve of war, he was about to be recruited, leaving his family behind. The work he wanted to write at the time was the not at all lucrative “Power and Glory,” which he knew would not earn enough to support his family’s expenses during his enlistment, so he decided to write another best-seller.
  With six weeks to go before his enlistment, he decided to continue working hard and slow on Power and Glory in the afternoons, while writing the bestseller in the mornings. He set up his studio in a factory so that there would be no distractions from phones or children.
  He began taking a central nervous stimulant called amphetamine, taking one pill early in the morning and one at noon every day for six weeks. Because of the effects of the drug, every day his hands shook, he was depressed, and would storm out for no apparent reason.
  He later recalled that his marriage with his wife broke up mostly because of the amphetamines he took during those weeks, not because of the separation caused by the war.
  If writers can have a happy and quiet life without creating, can writers choose?
  They can, but they can’t.
  Jonathan Franzen, the author of the novel Freedom, is one of the most important contemporary American writers. When he was writing his second book, his marriage was very strained and his parents were ill, yet he spent every week, every day, even every hour thinking about how he was going to revise the novel, which eventually led to divorce.
  He says, “It was obvious to me that my marriage could have continued if I had stopped being a writer. It wasn’t just my marriage, but my relationship with my parents as well. Every time I went back home for four days, I wouldn’t go back again for about six months to eight months because I had to maintain my emotional equilibrium in order to continue the writing at hand. It’s in my nature to create a source of conflict; I’m a novelist.”
  It is the destiny of those who practice art that there is no balance between an exuberant creative state and a happy family life. It is the god of art that chooses you, not you who choose to serve it. There is a line in Wordsworth’s poem that says, “I wait for poets who move their pens young and happy and end up depressed and mad.”
  For example, when I need to finish something almost impossible in a short period of time, I go to watch the documentary “The Last Picture Show” by Yukihiko Inoue.
  The Last Picture Show” is about Yohiko Inoue’s experience of organizing an exhibition of “The Ramblers”, where he had to complete 101 paintings independently in 21 days, many of which were huge panel paintings. Yohiko Inoue painted from 10:00 am to 3:00 or 4:00 am every day, sleeping in a tent. With only five days left before the opening of the exhibition, he still had 30 paintings left to paint. The night before the opening, he even painted all night long and finally finished all the paintings with high quality.
  I have watched this documentary more than a dozen times, and the motivation and emotion I got from it has not diminished at all. Every time I would think with a surge of emotion: such a terrible task can be accomplished by human beings, and I have nothing to be afraid of.
  I’m especially ashamed to say that I’m really a bit lazy now. Compared to my own past, I’ve really slacked off a lot.
  The hardest I worked was in junior high school, when I didn’t have the time to focus on creating a novel and had to write the usual drafts and wait for the summer to finish and revise. When I was too sleepy to write until 3am, I started doing sit-ups to refresh myself, doing 100 sit-ups a day, and I built up a belly of muscles in a month.
  I did not have the ability to summarize myself at that time, or I could have written a book like Haruki Murakami, “What I think when I do sit-ups”. Haruki Murakami started writing at 5 a.m., wrote for four or five hours, and then went out for a morning run. He said, “Writing itself may be mental work, but to write a complete book is closer to physical work.”
  Indeed, physical strength is far more important to a writer than onlookers can imagine. I have heard more than one writer say, “When I was young I could write 2,000 words a day, but now I can only write 500.” The most important reason is not the depletion of inspiration, but the decline of physical strength, which makes it impossible to concentrate for a long time.
  But creators exercise their bodies, or in more fashionable terms – “physical training” – it’s really about exercising control over themselves.
  It must be admitted that writing requires far more talent than it does sweat, and it would be an unethical thing to encourage someone with no talent to spend 10,000 hours practicing at it.