Henry Miller’s 11 Commandments for Writers

Henry V. Miller was born December 26, 1891 in Yorkville, NYC. His parents were from Germany, his mother from the north, his father from Bavaria.  He lived in Brooklyn during his school years. Tried working in his father’s tailor shop, here he developed his love of fine clothes. He was always a dapper dresser. His life is chronicled both by himself through his books & by his fellow authors. I think his life was remarkable in so many ways. He had to fight mediocrity and poverty, working at many mundane jobs. He started to write in his 30’s, late for a writer. When he discovered Europe, particularly Paris, he became friends with writers like Anais Nin, Alfred Perles, Lawrence Durrell. In the 1930’s he wrote & published Tropic of Cancer, Black Spring, Aller Retour New York, & Tropic of Capricorn. The floodgates were open, he was a WRITER…

Those are the words of Valentine Miller, his daughter when asked about her fathers early life.

Arthur Miller‘s work shocked the English-speaking world in his time although by today’s standards the material lacks anything truly salacious.  Many of his books were banned in America and Great Britain.  But by today’s standards they were hardly as shocking as 50 Shades of Gray.

Along with a steady regimen of writing he worked by and refered to as the “Program,” he advised himself and other writers to live by his eleven commandments.  They were good advice in the 1930s and remain good advice today.

The 11 Commandments of Writing

  1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.
  2. Start no more new books, add no more new material to finished work.
  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!
  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.

What commandments do you live by in your writing life?


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