Why not write the way Henry Miller did?


Henry Miller never went far without a lovely woman at his side. Photo: Oplid
Henry Miller never went far without a lovely woman at his side. Photo: Oplid

WRITERS IN THE EARLIER DAYS of publishing had it easy, provided they had an agent, a publisher, a book contract, and a best seller coming out every once in a while.

No pressure.

No worries.

Few deadlines.

Few disappointments.

No angst.

Life was good.

Work was steady.

Write a few words.

Pour a little wine.

Or bourbon.

Cash a few royalty checks.

And see where the story takes you.

Henry Miller had the right stuff. He was known, the critics said, for breaking with existing literary forms, developing a new sort of semi-autobiographical novel that blended character study, social criticism, philosophical reflection, explicit language, sex, and mysticism.

He was especially known for his language and sex scenes.

He didn’t break the mold of tradition.

He shattered it, turning out such controversial novels as Tropic of Capricorn, Tropic of Cancer, and the Rosy Crucifixion.

Like him.

Don’t like him.

It doesn’t matter.

Henry Miller sold a lot of books, and here are his thoughts on writing:

  • Work on one thing at a time until finished.
  • Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
  • Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time.
  • When you can’t create, you can work.
  • Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.
  • Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
  • Don’t be a draught-horse. Work with pleasure only.
  • Discard the Program when you feel like it – but go back to it the next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.
  • Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.
  • Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.

Those were the Ten Commandments of Henry Miller.

And, in his own words, this is how he spent his day.

If groggy, type notes and allocate, as stimulus.

If in fine fettle, write.


Work of section in hand, following plan of section scrupulously. No intrusions, no diversions. Write to finish one section at a time, for good and all.


See friends. Read in cafés.

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 cafés and trains and streets. Cut the movies! Library for references once a week.

For Henry Miller, it was a nice life.

A good life.

A leisurely life.

It was the kind of day-to-day living that all writers would love to experience.

But times have changed.

Times have been cruel to us all.

Henry Miller didn’t have to worry with blogs or Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn or Google Plus or promotion, or marketing,

All Henry Miller had to do was write.

To Hell with Henry Miller.

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