Murakami on writing, business, and the one-in-ten rule

There was a great Haruki Murakami essay in The New Yorker a few weeks ago, but it’s not online, so it’s taken me until now to find the time to type up the passage I liked the best.

Basically Murakami writes about how for a while he owned a jazz club, then at about age 29 decided out of the blue to write a novel. When he transitioned to the writing life full-time, it meant he had to lose some friends because of the way his lifestyle changed.

But at that point, I felt that the indispensable relationship I should build in my life was not with a specific person but with an unspecified number of readers. My readers would welcome whatever life style I chose, as long as I made sure that each new work was an improvement over the last. And shouldn’t that be my duty — and my top priority — as a novelist?

I liked that a lot. And I have a feeling you could just substitute the word “customers” or “clients” for “readers” and this passage work for all kinds of people.

But I thought this, which followed soon after, was even better:

Even when I ran the club, I understood [that you can't please everybody]. A lot of customers came to the club. If one out of ten enjoyed the place and decided to come again, that was enough. If one out of ten was a repeat customer, then the business would survive. To put it another way, it didn’t matter if nine out of ten people didn’t like the club.

Realizing this lifted a weight of my shoulders. Still, I had to make sure the one person who did like the place really liked it. In order to do that, I had make my philosophy absolutely clear, and patiently maintain that philosophy no matter what. This is what I learned from running a business.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. The tricky party is the “really liked it” part.

Writing, of course, is a business. (At least for someone like me; maybe it’s differnt for a novelist.) It’s more of a business than it was when I started, actually. And it will get more that way in the future.

Like everybody else, I’m thinking about how I’ll ultimately survive in my business, which happens to be writing.

Am I doing what Murakami suggests needs to be done? I’m not always sure I am.

It’s a question that probably applies in every business.

It’s something to think about.