10 June 2008

Murakami's ten percent rule

I still remember reading an interview with John Irving in which someone asked him about all those hours he spent writing while his children were small. I believe the question had been about whether he felt any guilt about that time (was the interview a mother, perhaps?). His reply was stunning to me: Irving said he never considered not writing during that time. (Or during any other phase of his life, I would venture to guess.)

I felt that same earthquakey sensation in my psyche when I read about Haruki Murakami's decision to write a novel (and become a runner) in this week's issue of The New Yorker. I was intrigued by his story of how he applied to his literary work the expertise he had gained by running a jazz club, another venture everyone told him was nigh on impossible to succeed at. He said that when he decided to write a novel he also decided to devote more of his time to working for his readers. Also, he figured out that in his club, success depended on having ten percent of his customers to become repeat visitors. If he could do that, he didn't have to worry so much about the other 90 percent of the people, he said. He applied the same principle to his growing group of readers and wrote with the idea of attracting ten percent more readers with every book. That's the kind of thing entire self-help books are based on -- so simple and apparently modest, yet so apparently doable.

I don't know that they ever came up with a similar formula, but I presume bands like Gomez and The Old '97s and Elbow have similar philosophies -- and a similar understanding that hard work on behalf of building your audience is part of the deal. (My first thought is about the dangers inherent in the rock-and-roll lifestyle, like the heavy drinking that is part of Gomez' and Elbow's culture, especially in some of its members, but then I think, those people would be heavy drinkers no matter what they did for a living. Like I said, it's part of their culture.) All the creative folks I've written about here appear to have an artistic gift to share and a grasp on reaching out to and trying to actively cultivate and grow their audiences.

I do get so inspired when I think this way. It's that frisson of recognition. That inner Aha! I have always been fascinated by how people develop audiences, maybe from going to concerts large and small over the years and seeing firsthand how some people are able to connect with their audiences and the others tend to disappear from the circuits. Same is true for the stories and books and music I've immersed myself in that many others have loved as well (from Laura Ingalls Wilder's frontier stories to the Tao te Ching, from John Irving's eccentrically perverse World According to Garp (I hadn't known you could write novels like that, until I read it and saw how popular it was), from Mario Puzo's and Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather to The Grateful Dead, from Agatha Christie's mysteries to the Oprah show.

But I also feel that in my personal life I have shown almost zero gift for that -- I didn't recognize what it took. I know people who get it, who write the perfect notes at the perfect times and say the right things and stay open, but I feel so much more awkward than that, so inept at maintaining certain friendships, even though I do have a fairly wide network of friends and extended family (both the literal and figurative kind). But I've felt a lack of something in my own life and hence been stingy with myself toward my dearest people on the planet up to now, I feel; that is one of the things that is motivating me to write here and to put my thoughts out there for all to see at last.

I was channel surfing one night recently and PBS guru Wayne Dyer was talking about how he "manifests" all sorts of things in his life. He was talking about "source" and how "source doesn't understand 'not enough' -- it just reflects back what you ask of it." That was another little lightbulb: for so long I've thought something was missing in me or in my abilities, or that I had some lack that others didn't suffer, and lo, it was so. Now, I am seeing my glass as mostly full. I am feeling the gift of this flow of words I can simply turn on when I have feelings and ideas to work through. I am perceiving the value of sharing my truths with others who need to hear them or recognize themselves in them. There's nothing missing at all, it turns out. Surprise, surprise, surprise!

1 comment:

Charlotte said...

that was just lovely. i can see the definite talent you have with words that i aspire to, but will never possess as you have. keep it up!