By Laura P. Valtorta
It seems that every successful writer has written a short book about writing. Two of the most useful ones I’ve read are How to Write a Movie in 21 Days, by Viki King, and What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, by Haruki Murakami. These books are different from the others because they entertain as well as instruct. Murakami’s book also reveals his philosophy on living life well.
How to Write a Movie in 21 Days is written in short, choppy, ungrammatical sentences, like a movie script. King sets down a method for writing a screenplay that is neither the formula for a plot nor the necessary elements of a hit film, but, rather, how the writer can extract the movie’s story from within herself. She never proposes that a writer quit her day job. A screenplay, she says, will never pay the rent. She talks about honing a message and telling the difference between a play, a film, and a song lyric. (I would call that last one a poem).
The back of the book reveals that King writes for television and works as a script consultant.
Murakami’s book, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, has a head-oscillating title but a simple premise: physical exercise helps him to write. The locale shifts from Tokyo to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Hawaii. He talks about American pop music and jazz. He used to own a jazz club. He runs marathons and triathlons. He eats a special diet. Sometimes we hear about his wife. But What I Talk About is essentially a book about writing and how exercise fuels the brain. It’s a book about happiness. I want to be Murakami.
Murakami’s short stories are existential masterpieces. My favorite, “Where I’m Likely to Find It,” is part of the excellent collection Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman. A guy gets lost on his way down a staircase from his mother’s apartment to his own, where he lives with his wife, in Tokyo. Phenomenal. I think the story is about arranging your sock drawer and losing 15 pounds by giving up pancakes. It’s about the meaning of life. I want to know the person who wrote this story. I want to invade his mind. What I Talk About allows me to do that. It’s an homage to clean living. It’s a story about loving life.