Henry Miller’s 11 Writing Commandments
1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.
2. Start no more new books, add no more new material to “Black Spring.”
3. Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is at hand.
4. Work according to program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!
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 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.
Of late, I’ve been posting mostly fiction-based pieces, so I wanted to get something out there that might be more conversational. I’m looking for opinions and input, so please don’t be afraid to weigh in.
I’m taking a class called “Writers on Writing.” It’s all about what different writers have said about the craft and process of writing. Last class we talked a bit about Henry Miller’s 11 Writing Commandments, which are displayed above.
At first glance, it’s all great advice (individually, all the commandments are helpful, in my opinion, upon the umpteenth glance). Miller obviously knew what he was talking about when it came to writing, so it’s no surprise that he has a few useful tidbits of advice to give.
Particularly, commandments three and seven resonated with me. Concerning number three, too often I think I get nervous about whether what I’m writing is good or acceptable instead of just relaxing and letting my fingers fly. One of my faults as a writer is thinking too much about what I should be writing instead of just writing. There’s a time and a place for thinking of course, but in the interest of getting out ideas, overthinking can cramp my style. Commandment seven, I think, is just about the best piece of advice any writer could get. Seclusion makes not fresh ideas. A night out with pals, however, has a knack for making sparks in the brain. Living life, in my experience, only helps put pen to paper.
A good set of writing commandments if I’ve ever seen one. On a closer look, though, there are some discrepancies.
For example, my beloved commandment seven and commandment eleven don’t seem to get along. Neither do commandments four and nine. I have my ideas on how to reconcile these discrepancies, but I’d like to hear from you. Thoughts on how to adhere to some of Miller’s commandments while not breaking others?
One thing I will offer is that maybe these commandments weren’t intended to be interpreted as individual rules on writing, but rather as a general guideline on how best to approach the writing craft and process. Maybe Miller knew damn well that it wasn’t possible to adhere to all commandments at all times, but he rather intended the entire body of the commandments to serve as a general guideline for writing in various situations. Maybe he wants us to consider the overarching idea of the commandments instead of trying to apply them as individual rules. Just a thought.
Our class was tasked with creating our own set of writing commandments. I haven’t given it much thought yet, but maybe I’ll follow this post up with my own set of rules.
Like I said, I just wanted to see if you had anything to offer on this subject. Got any writing rules or commandments that help you through the process? If you do, I’d love to hear about them. And also let me know what you think of Miller’s commandments. I have my own favorites, but I’d like to hear yours, too.
Looking forward to what you have to say.