Haruki Murakami’s Writing Success Story

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Haruki Murakami is not a prolific author. He is a great author. His books will still be read 100 years from now. While getting tips from prolific authors is great, we want to learn more than how to write a pile of novels. We want to write interesting stories worth reading again and again. Murakami writes those kind of stories.

Haruki Murakami is one of those authors whose writing was a hit from the very first novel. He didn’t write anything until he was 29 and then decided he could write when inspiration hit him at a baseball game.

His books are best sellers and have been translated into 50 languages.

I’ve read most of his novels more than once. They are not copy-pastes of one another. This is not an author who gets the job done by imitating himself. He seems to be trying to give us something about culture and relationships within the context of mystery stories. When I say mystery, you think of a crime story and the search for the culprit. These are not that kind of mystery. You’ll need to read him to find out exactly what I mean, but I’ll try to explain.

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Imagination Comes from Within

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Every writer knows they need life experiences to write their stories. You never write a story completely from imagination. For example, consider the story of a squirrel who has an adventure in an abandoned building. You know what a squirrel looks like and have probably watched one or more at some time. You know what an abandoned building looks like because you’ve been in buildings. The story will be a combination of life experience and imagination.

Everything we write is based on life experience plus imagination. Even non-fiction works this way. We learned the subject before writing about it and we make what we write our own through our experiences with it and our imaginations. We write fiction based on our relationships, our work, our education, and our adventures.

We don’t need to have had every experience we put into our fiction. If we’ve worked in one trade, we know how all the trades work. If we can cook our own breakfast, we can write from the perspective of a cook. If we mowed lawns one summer, we understand what a person in a lawn care job does. Education is similar. Get a degree in one liberal art and you understand all liberal arts. Get a degree in one science and you understand all the sciences. Have enough relationships and you can understand what others are talking about when their relationship are going well or bad or weird. That goes into your fiction too. Where am I going with this?

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Prolific Writing Starts with Prolific Idea Generation

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I’ve always assumed the only thing standing in the way of most writers becoming prolific was getting their butt into the chair and writing. I was wrong. Many writers have trouble generating ideas. I can think of only one reason not to have new ideas for articles; a belief that you must write about ideas that have never been written about before.

You can spend hours working through different ideas in your head until you find something you don’t believe you’ve seen before, write it up, and publish. This is the long way to write an article. Ideas that come as inspiration will go much faster. But, either method will have the same result. Now that you’ve written the idea, you’ll notice it appear in someone else’s writing. That’s why people sometimes think their idea was plagiarized, sue, and find out the defendant wrote their article, book, or story first. There is nothing new beyond scientific discovery.

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Your Right to Write Wrong

Your Right to Write Wrong

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When you read writing books and blogs, and participate in writing forums, you find lots of rules for writing. There are shoulds and musts for everything from comma usage to major transitions. When you read a few “100 Best Books” of any era or genre, those rules go out the window.

The truth is, there is no one right way. Any way you want to write can be the right way. It would be nice if you could make your writing clearer, a faster read, or more entertaining. It would also be nice if your books would sell. For those reasons and because it’s no fun staring at a blank page, there are guidelines for how to write a book, an article, or anything in between.

In other words, it’s a good idea to learn what writing methods have worked in the past and then write what you want. The more you deviate from tradition the more likely your writing will fail. But if you don’t deviate from tradition you’re one of the crowd. It’s conformity versus deviance. Like most situations where there are two extremes, somewhere in the middle usually works out for the best.

I was inspired to write this article after reading a post about how important it was for a novel to have major changes that break it into thirds. Many of those commenting said they stopped reading books that didn’t have a major change at the 33% point. That’s some strict reading. What about the story arc novel structure that has rising action up to the halfway point, a major change, and falling action in the second half? It may have big upsets in any part of the story but only the one guaranteed upset in the middle. I guess those writers are out of luck with the three act readers.

What follows are a few examples of writing rules that were broken by great writers. It doesn’t show every broken writing rule, you have other things to do, but enough to make it clear that it’s your right to write wrong.

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Kyokutei Bakin’s Prolific Writing Method

Kyokutei Bakin's Prolific Writing Method

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Kyokutei Bakin wrote over 470 books, including a 106 book novel. The 106 volume novel took 28 years to complete. That’s about 4 books per year. His other books included 30 long novels. Possibly there are a couple of hundred novellas in there as well. Even if it were only 470 novellas he wrote, we’d still like to know the secret to his writing output. What do we know about him?

Bakin was born in 1767 Japan, so the qualifications for publication were a little different than today. It’s seems like before 1900, if you could write a novel it would get published. That doesn’t change his accomplishment. 470 books is a lot of writing. If he wasn’t good at the start, he would have been eventually. And he was. His novel Nans? Satomi hakkenden (“Satomi and the Eight Dogs”) is considered a classic.

There’s not a lot of information about Bakin, but among the biographical information there is a clue as to how he was able to write so much.

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A Good Story is Like a Good Bowl of Chili

A Good Story is Like a Good Bowl of Chili

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What’s the best chili? It’s chili that tastes like chili but has something different to it. A twist that makes it your chili. Chili is one of those dishes that can be made many ways. You can change the meats, the cheeses, the vegetables, the beans, and the spices. Stories are similar.

The best stories are ones not quite like any you’ve read before.

How do writers come up with this unique mix? They make changes to one or more of the five main elements of a story: theme, setting, characters, conflict, and plot.

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38 Character Personality Types

38 Character Personality Types

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It’s important to develop the personalities of the characters in your stories lest they all end up sounding like slight variations of the same person.

Before exploring personality types, we need to know the important character roles for an effective story. You won’t use them all. For example, you usually won’t need both a hero and anti-hero.

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3 Sets of Rules for Writing Short Stories

3 Sets of Rules for Writing Short Stories

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These are guidelines for writing short stories. For short story methods, see my article, Fourteen Methods for Writing Short Stories. The rules for writing short stories can be as much of a source of story ideas as the methods.

Since sets of rules for short story writing tend to overlap each other, I’ve only collected three. The first doesn’t even have it’s own special name.


Simple Short Story Rules

Use few characters and one point of view.

Limit the time frame.

Every line should advance the story or give insight into the character.

Follow a conventional story structure.

Know when to break the rules.

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Writer on Fire’s 10 Best Writing Tips

Writer on Fire's 10 Best Writing Tips

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Since 2010, I’ve written many writing tips. These are the ten best.

How to Take a Break While Writing is about writing more by using two writing projects as breaks from each other.

Write More By Reading Yourself is about how pieces you have written in the past can be written again if you’ve continued learning your subject.

Cut More and Improve Your Writing emphasizes the importance of cutting your writing to improve it.

What Are Your Writing Limits? is about pushing your limits by exploring different writing types and working on your skills in the various writing tasks.

Write What You Know discusses the full implications of this concept.

Are You Using Swipe Files? is about using examples of good writing to improve your work.

Create Tension in Your Writing discusses the importance of tension in fiction and suggests some ways to build it.

Fiction Genres looks at 14 movie genres to give you an idea of the many possibilities for a novel.

Great Start – Better Start Over is about recovering from a stalled writing project.

Stages of the Writing Process outlines the full 11 steps that can be used to complete a piece of writing.

These articles cover a variety of writing types. You’ll have to forgive me if fiction writing seems to predominate. It’s my favorite type of writing. I hope this helps.

Article by Ivan Izo.

Novel Report – The Third Draft of Book 5 is Complete

Writer on Fire

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As predicted, I finished the third draft of my novel on the weekend. Today, that is. It’s a local holiday here, so a long weekend. Now that I finally have the whole story written, I can’t wait to read it. I’ve always had to settle for bits and pieces… or outlines. I’ll let it rest for a month while I write blog articles and begin the outline for my next novel.

I try to give some “lessons learned” in these novel reports. The main lesson I’ve learned is that writing a full 100,000 word novel is a long job. It was about two years of effort over a three year period. For most of 2013 I was focused on other tasks. Now that it’s done, I wonder if there isn’t some way to concentrate the effort more. I’d like to cut the number of days to write even if I don’t cut the number of hours. I have a precedent to work from; my article writing blitzes.

Twice now, I’ve spent a month writing articles about writing. In 2011, I wrote 38 articles in one month. In March, I wrote 56 articles in one month and the total articles in the blitz were around 70. I need to invent a chapter writing and revising blitz. So, maybe I won’t be writing the outline of my next novel during my August article writing blitz. It should be more successful if I launch an outline blitz in September.

I hope you’re enjoying my many writing experiments. Writing is a combination of learning and doing. Learn in order to do it and then do it to learn more. When I read my novel at the start of September, I’m sure it really will be at the final draft. The outline is so complete that I know there are no major revisions left. The job will be typos, minor cuts, and a few additions.

The latest manuscript writing lesson I’ve learned is to narrate slow scenes fast and narrate fast scenes slowly. Can’t remember where I read it. The idea had to sink in. A slow scene needs to pass quickly so your readers don’t get bored. Fast scenes need to pass slowly so your readers don’t get lost in the action and to build the tension.

One last tip. The solution to getting stuck is not to do something else for a while. Okay. Yes. It is one solution, but not one that I find works. If I step away from writing to read, watch TV, or surf the net, two hours will pass and I’ll be back at the same place. Instead, stop writing and think, daydream if necessary. Your mind will wander and the name or plot point has a good chance of coming to you. There’s little chance of finding an answer in pre-programmed media that has nothing to do with your book.

August is going to be an easy writing month. During the four months of work on the third draft, my “writing article ideas” file has filled up. It should be a blast writing the articles. I hope you will enjoy reading them.

Article by Ivan Izo.