Learning From Henry Miller.

I’m going to start out by saying that Henry Miller sounds like the exact kind of author (and person) that I try to avoid. I have no intention of familiarizing myself with his work or character beyond a quick Wikipedia scan. However, that’s not to say I’m not getting anything out of this. You don’t have to admire or agree with a person in order to learn from them, right?

First, I learned two interesting things about him. The first is that he was also an artist, so we have that in common. Hurrah. The second is that his first novel was never published, although he recycled parts of it in later work. He recalled it as being “a long book and probably a very bad one.” Again, a comforting reminder that everyone starts out bad.

Now for his quote. It’s actually a list of Eleven “Commandments” as published in his book, Henry Miller On Writing. This is understandably a bit long, so I’ll tackle the list items one by one and add my own commentary as I go.

  1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.
    Well. I suppose that’s good advice. I don’t want to take it though. It is good advice. It is, it is, it is.
  2. Start no more new books, add no more new material to “Black Spring.”
    Isn’t that basically the same commandment? I’ll just leave that one where it is. “Black Spring,” by the way, is one of his books.
  3. Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
    Very, very good advice. I am a nervous person, whether by nature or by nurture I haven’t quite figured out. Calmly, joyously, recklessly, are beautiful adverbs, and ones which should probably be taped to my wall.
  4. Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!
    Suuuch a good one. Suuuuuuuuuch a struggle. Right when I feel like I’m getting a handle on it, something comes along and knocks the props out from under me. But that’s the whole point of not letting mood interrupt you, isn’t it? 
  5. When you can’t create you can work.
    Simple truth, and nothing that needs my comments.
  6. Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.
    I’m not entirely sure what he means, unless he’s echoing the first two commandments. If anybody has further enlightenment on this one, please comment!
  7. Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
    I don’t feel like drinking, thanks. I’m a prudish teetotaler. But other than that, a good reminder. Keeping human is a good thing.
  8. Don’t be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.
    At first, I thought this one fought with number four, but when you think about it, they really go hand in hand. Emotions are controllable, believe it or not, so even if you aren’t “in the mood” (cue swanky music), you can absolutely approach your work with pleasure. After all, it’s a privilege to be able to work on things you enjoy, right? And if you don’t enjoy it, why are you doing something so thankless? Go be a CEO or something.
  9. Discard the Program when you feel like it—but go back to it next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.
    Again, I thought this fought with number four. But all the best healthy-lifestyle gurus say that you should strive for 80%. Nobody can be perfect. Some days, it just ain’t happening. But don’t let it happen two days in a row.
  10. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.
    Yep. Ha, I remember during NaNoWriMo last year, when I allowed myself to take writing seriously again after five years of denial, I had so many new ideas right in the middle of my daily writing, and sometimes it was all I could do not to open a fresh document right then and there. I’m glad I didn’t. Floppy and struggling as the product was, it was there, in completion, and almost a year later I still think there’s some merit in it. 
  11. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.
    Yes. Yes. This. Still working on it. Always with the disclaimer, of course, that God comes first, and writing second.

This post is the fourth in a series based on this article by James Clear, featuring quotes and reflections on the routines of twelve famous authors.

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