My students recently finished The Crucible and I’ve had Henry Miller on my mind. Turns out, so do quite a few others as some of his writing advice was featured on a Huffington Post article just a few days ago. The quote concerning his “Commandments” of writing is from his book, “Henry Miller On Writing.” I understand he came up with these while living in Paris. Good advice is good advice regardless of who gives it, when it was given or where, thus I shouldn’t be surprised at how timely his tenets are, not only as they can be applied to writing but to any other creative focus oriented endeavor:
1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.
2. Start no more new books, add no more new material to “Black Spring.” (My oh my; how true did I find out these two, and number 10 below, to be!)
3. Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
4. Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!(-and “start at the appointed time” I would add as well.)
5. When you can’t create you can work.
6. Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.
7. Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
8. Don’t be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.
9. Discard the Program when you feel like it-but go back to it the next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.
10. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.
11. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.
Mornings: If groggy, type notes and allocate, as stimulus. If in fine fettle, write. Afternoons: Work on section in hand, following plan of section scrupulously. No intrusions, no diversions. Write to finish one section at a time, for good and all.
Evenings: See friends. Read in cafes. Explore unfamiliar sections–on foot if wet, on bicycle if dry. Write, if in mood, but only on Minor program. Paint if empty or tired. Make Notes. Make Charts, Plans. Make corrections of MS.
Note: Allow sufficient time during daylight to make an occasional visit to museums or an occasional sketch or an occasional bike ride. Sketch in cafes and trains and streets. Cut the movies! Library references once a week.
The term “Program” gave me pause. I assume it means whatever writing rhythm has been set up and works for the writer. I plan to order the book and find out for sure.
Some might blanch at number eleven, but in light of number seven, I think the message is clear—at least, that is, the message as I understand it me: edifying entertainments and worthy distractions must come second to writing. No doubt he’d have meant blogs too O_o.
I look forward to reading this book, particularly due to his “self-educated” writer’s perspective.
Originally posted in The Salamander’s Quill 1.0 now deleted.