Saturday, June 1, 2013

Writing advice from the greats: Henry Miller

In my last two posts on writing advice from the greats, we looked at Kurt Vonnegut's 8 tips for writing great stories and 6 writing tips from John Steinbeck. These guidelines worked for Vonnegut and Steinbeck, and they'll work for you. I've been guilty of doing the opposite of what successful career writers do: I've worked on too many things simultaneously so I began to feel overwhelmed and could not focus on any; I've wasted time waiting for inspiration or the right 'mood' to get down to work; I've edited to death instead of finishing and starting a new book... My transgressions run the gamut, and some are an ongoing challenge, but re-reading proven advice from the masters always gets me back on the rails.

We'll wind up the series with some advice from Henry Miller. Enjoy!

Henry Miller's 11 Commandments

  1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.
  2. Start no more new books, add no more new material to ‘Black Spring.’ [Or, finish your WIP!]
  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.
There it is - the best writing advice I've found. You'll find many other authors repeating the tips in these three articles. My own advice is to take what works for you and dump the rest. Take Miller's #11, for example. You can't always write first; children, day jobs, illness, general vicissitudes of life can get in the way. But if we make our writing a priority and follow much of the advice at least some of the time, we'll stand a better chance of completing the stories we want to write.

Happy writing!

Liane Spicer


Charles Gramlich said...

forget the books you want to write. Now that is some good advice. I definitely need to keep that in mind.

Julie Luek said...

Great advice for focus. I always have this romanticized vision of the "greats" sitting down with serene purpose and writing their first drafts with ease and eloquence. The truth is, they had their learning curves too and had to set goals and agonized over their words too. It's reassuring.

Jewel Amethyst said...

You summed it up well Liane. Forget the advise that doesn't work for you and take the advise that does. There is no "one size fits all" writing advise for authors. We are all unique in our own way.

Liane Spicer said...

So do I, Charles. I have several WIPs and I need to focus on one at a time.

Liane Spicer said...

Julie, it is reassuring indeed to discover the greats were subject to all our trials. This is not an easy pursuit we've chosen.

Liane Spicer said...

Jewel, if there's one thing that I've learned along the way, that is it.