Does anyone still read Henry Miller?

This is something I wrote a couple of days ago:

Does anyone read Henry Miller any more? I first read him when I was too young to appreciate or properly understand, along with my friends for the ‘naughty bits’. In those days the only salacious imagery was what we imagined (not very well) from what we read; this was before the internet, before sharing anything other than actual photos or actual books was all there was.

Miller was an American writer born in 1891 and lived until 1980… this is what Wikipedia says about his amazing and varied life:

Henry Valentine Miller… was an American writer, expatriated in Paris at his flourishing. He was known 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, surrealist free association, and mysticism. His most characteristic works of this kind are Tropic of Capricorn, The Colossus of Maroussi, The Time of the Assassins, and The Books in My Life, many of which are based on his experiences in New York and Paris (some of which were banned in the United States until 1961), adding Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch while finally residing in Big Sur, California. He also wrote travel memoirs and literary criticism, and painted watercolours.

His rules for writing may not be totally applicable for all of us – we are own writers and although we can learn from others and other great writers, we still have to find our best (and sometimes only) way of working which suits our own lives.

Anyway… here are Henry’s rules:

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

… and here are some observations…

  • other great writers juggled many writing balls in the air at the same time – not that we are necessarily great writers (yet) but maybe it suits us for different reasons to have different projects. However, dipping from one thing to another and never properly forming or  finishing anything probably isn’t a recipe for writing (or any other) success… unless you are extraordinary (which you probably are!)
  • working calmly… this isn’t always possible for everyone – if writing is squeezed into a busy life full of work and family commitments, calm might not e the way you feel – maybe focused is a word you could substitute?  Sometimes agonised writing produces great results – joy sometimes come when the page or piece is finished! … and recklessly – yes – go for it! Just write!
  • working to the programme… working to a timetable? It doesn’t suit all writers! Larks and owls, larks and owls…
  • ‘can’t create? then work‘ – if you come to a dead-end, the well of inspiration is dry, then go back to what you are writing, to what you have written and get into that. editing, checking, rewriting – it’s all part of the process and might start the tap running again!
  • Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilisers… a perfect metaphor
  • I’ve mentioned elsewhere the difficulty and sterility of working in a garret… even if your novel is some dystopian, futuristic fantasy you can still get inspiration and more from getting out into the real here and now world
  • sometimes you need draught-horses… but even draught horses work better if they have an occasional gallop round a field and paddle in a river
  • I don’t know the Programme Miller refers to – maybe it’s his own schedule, maybe he’s teaching and referring to the syllabus, maybe he and his audience were on a challenge like NaNo (see below) However, as with his other advice above, getting into the real work, having some playtime, restores and refuels!
  • You can’t be anything other than yourself when you write – even if you are writing as another character – you are essentially you, nor Miller, not Rowling, not Austen not whoever is your favourite writer – you write as you, be true!
  • you may not have a choice over this, commitments for ordinary people are commitments… however don’t let painting, music, friends, cinema, be an excuse for not writing

© Lois Elsden 2017

NaNO – the National Novel Writing Month – a November challenge to write 50,000 in thirty days

here is a link to my books:

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