The great Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami never intended to be a writer. When he graduated from college, he took out a loan and started a jazz club. The club was a great success. He ran it for 10 years.
One night he was at a baseball game. An American player named Dave Hilton was up to bat. Hilton hit a ball deep into the outfield (it would end up being a double). As the ball sailed through the air, a thought, clear and unadorned, came into Murakami’s head – “I’m going to write a novel.”
He did, a novella called Hear the Wind Sing. It won a prestigious writer’s prize. His second novel was also a success, so he sold his jazz club in order to write full time. More than a dozen books later, with sales in the millions, translated into dozens of languages, Murakami is regularly mentioned as a candidate for the Nobel Prize.
A few weeks ago a somewhat lesser writer (me) was sitting at his writing desk in the basement. Sunlight was pouring in through the small window. My son was napping. I had two unclaimed hours ahead of me. It was time to start work on a new version of the play I’m writing for the Blue Coyote Commission Project.
Some ideas had been swimming around for a while, but thusfar I’d been unable to start the actual writing. That day appeared to be no different. I sat there, staring at the screen. I thought of a few things I could write, but nothing felt compelling.
I picked up my book and started to read. I always have a book with me when I write. Reading relaxes me, and lets me stay focused on words without having to focus the words I actually have to write. Barry Bonds said hitting is all about relaxed concentration, and that’s the place I try to find when writing.
As I was reading, I started to think about a story a friend had told me the day before. The subject of the story was so directly applicable to the subject of my Blue Coyote play that I knew I would use it in some way. What I didn’t know was how I would integrate it into the other things I wanted to write.Just to get myself going, I started to write a new scene, completely spontaneously, based loosely on that story.
That’s when it started.
As soon as I began writing, these “characters” started talking to each other. I put “characters” in quotes because I had no idea who these people were. They didn’t have names. They did, however, have a relationship, though not one I had given any conscious thought to. The rhythms of their speech, their in-jokes and points of contention, came out effortlessly. It was like I was taking dictation.
Then something even more extraordinary happened. As I was taking down what these people said to each other, vistas rolled out in front of me. I could see it all with crystalline clarity. Everything I wanted to talk about in this play fit effortlessly into this scene I had begun to write. This wasn’t a scene in my new play. It was my new play.
To give some background - I have spent months trying to write this play. I wrote fifty pages that were read publically and was deeply disappointed by the result. I decided to quit the commission, slowly came back to the idea of writing a new play, procrastinated for more months, and then, all of a sudden, here it was. A two-person play, in real time, on a single late night in an apartment in Queens.
I’ve never written a two person play. I’ve never written a play that takes place in real time (a full-length, anyway). It didn’t matter. This is the play that presented itself. This is the play I have to write.
I suppose that would be called a “Eureka!” moment, but I didn’t feel like shouting. It was much more mundane, though no less pleasurable for its simplicity. It was more like a, “Huh. Ok. I guess I’ll do that” moment. It wasn’t dramatic, but it was as clear as anything I’ve ever felt.
I can’t know for sure, but I suspect that’s what Murakami felt that day at the baseball stadium. Not a lightning bolt. No need to shout. Just clarity.
“Huh. Ok. I guess I’ll do that”.
Grace doesn’t always feel like we think it will.
- John Yearley
- John Yearley