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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  • Caleb Pirtle

    One big blockbuster, and we could all live like Henry Miller and write on his schedule.

    • Huh. That’s the way I live and write. Didn’t realize I hadn’t invented it (okay, some of the details are different, but not THAT different).

      • Caleb Pirtle

        I envy you, Alicia. You have found the right way to get it done.

        • At my writing speed, and with my damaged brain, there would be NO output otherwise.

          I like having no particular angst that doesn’t turn out to be story-related. It did take years to transfer the angst from my personal failings and foibles to usable fiction, but the switch has been permanent – and very useful. Harnessed angst is a very productive source of conflict, and conflict is the life’s-blood of fiction.

          Most of us have a lifetime worth of angst in there somewhere – we’re alive, and we’ve survived somehow. Why not use it?

    • Darlene Jones

      Let’s go for the blockbuster.

  • Oh, I wouldn’t mind that schedule. It would be bliss. Alas, life right now would not allow for such a schedule. Maybe one day, if I make enough money to only focus on writing. Maybe then I can demand such a schedule, you know, because making art demands it.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Woelf: The great thing about Henry Miller’s schedule is that he always had a beautiful woman around to fill in the gaps.

      • If you told me this ten years ago I’d give a sly smile, but I’m married with three small kids. If I ever get the chance for that schedule I’d go for the solitude to write. Company be damned.

  • PavartiKTyler

    And fuck, don’t forget the fabulous amount of time he spent doing that 🙂 LOVE Miller!

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