Henry Miller’s 11 Commandments of Writing

Do you have a stringent work routine? The iconic and controversial author, Henry Miller, did. He stuck to his routine and even wrote eleven commandments for himself to follow:

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

Miller didn’t stop there. He also created what he called his “Daily Program.”

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.

I can’t help but wonder if Miller really stuck with this rigorous routine.
I doubt that I could.

Could you?


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Filed under Famous Authors, Writing Process

4 responses to “Henry Miller’s 11 Commandments of Writing

  1. nancyhvest

    I’d like to keep a schedule like that, but it’s not going to happen. I do like his advice to work on one piece at a time instead of having several going at once.


  2. I have a very erratic schedule, around 4 children who I also homeschool. So no rigid schedule for me! And I prefer to work on more than one project at a time, so I can keep productive even when stuck on another. Dennis Hensley says he used to have 4 typewriters around his office and he would work around the room to keep going.


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