11 Writing Tips from Henry Miller

Often I find myself pondering what has affected my ability to allocate specific time periods for my writing. After all, as much as I’d like to dedicate 24/7 to my writing, life has its other demands. Once I reach the point of sensing the tsunami-like after effects in my day, frustrations and emotions overwhelm any sense of remaining order in any so-called schedule.
Recently I’ve been reading about writing habits of some of our writing greats — Hemingway, Fitzgerald, King, Oates, and others.

Henry Miller, Author
Henry Miller, Author

Today I’m sharing the “Work Schedule, 1932-1933, –Henry Miller Miscellanea” I have strategically pinned above my computer.

His own writings in Henry Miller on Writing show Miller’s stringent writing schedule during the writing of the first of his many novels, Tropic of Cancer. Hoping to give momentum to his writing, Miller developed a writing schedule that included the following tenets:

(Image via Goodreads)

When I first came across this list of Miller’s “commandments,” I placed it in a prominent place near my computer hoping it would give similar forward progress for my writing. Most days, I glance at it more than once. Not all of Miller’s “commandments” are easily applied to my writing life, but some have made an impact on thoughts about my writing habits.

  • No. 1 — Write on one thing at a time until finished. I am notorious for beginning projects. If I grow bored, I’ll start another and another and another until I have several unfinished projects. This isn’t limited to writing. This proclivity for beginning multiple projects extends to quilting and knitting, and perhaps is the reason behind a habit of reading multiple books simultaneously. Note to self: Need to work on this!
  • No. 3 — Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand. Another of Mr. Miller’s commandments I need to heed. Often I sit down to write and it is not so much nervousness as fear that comes and sits on my shoulder. Like a harpie, fear sits there and taunts me with images of failure, mistakes, less than perfect work product and more. Another note to self: Stop it!
  • No. 9 — Discard the Program when you feel like it–but go back to it next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.I’ve pondered what Mr. Miller means in this “commandment,” and I’ve come to the conclusion that “Discard the Program” doesn’t necessarily mean to walk away from your work, but to allow yourself the freedom to write, write, write and then the next day return to the plan initially drawn out for your book. Self, remember this!
  • No. 11 – Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards. Mr. Miller did not have email and social media calling his name first thing each day, so perhaps this was easier for him. However, I find myself drawn to checking our personal emails, then our business emails, and lastly Sherrey’s emails. Then I move to doing a little sharing of what my good writing friends have posted and shared. All of this before I’ve written a single word. One more note to self: I need discipline in this area.

Bottom line: No one writer has all the answers. No matter how famous, how prolific, how stringent his or her work method was.

Your work style and scheduling method is yours and yours alone, as is mine. However, some gems can be found in Mr. Miller’s “commandments.” It isn’t lost on me how my eyes fall to the same ones on his list each day. Somehow, however, those daily glances and self-admonitions don’t seem to be changing how I write or who I am.

How about you? Do you have set ways in which your day must play out? A daily writing schedule? Are you easily distracted by interruptions or can you allow yourself to float in and out of your writing?

Share your own thoughts on Miller’s “commandments” and share your own work style with us below.

16 thoughts on “11 Writing Tips from Henry Miller

  1. I’m using Bloglovin as an alternative now for receiving posts from blogs I follow. “If you can’t go through a snag, you have to work around it,” the saying goes.


  2. I have never seen Miller’s list but agree it is a tool for managing time and monitoring creativity. Now I’m looking at my take-away from Hemingway’s Moveable Feast: “I always worked until I had something done and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next. That way I could be sure of going on the next day.” To me, that equates to never having to stare at a blinking cursor with an all-white background–ha!
    Sherrey, I notice I am still following your blog, but since your hiatus, I have not been receiving email notifications of new posts. Thus, I have missed some. Wonder why . . . .


    1. Marian, that is one of my favorite quotes from Hemingway’s Moveable Feast. There are several, but the one you use ranks very high on my list.
      Thanks for pointing out that you’re not receiving email notifications of new posts. I’ve been having problems myself with not receiving email notifications of new comments. I’ve been working with a WordPress rep for about three weeks now, maybe longer. I’ll mention to him that you’re not receiving email notices on your end.
      Glad you stopped by today!


  3. I’ve referenced Miller’s list from time to time, too, Sherrey. The one that I’m often focused on is #5 When you can’t create you can work. That’s where the marketing side of things comes into play for me. Particularly as I move toward launching my novel in July.


    1. Good point, Carol, and you are in the midst of marketing right now. That too is somewhat creative. Looking forward to your launch and all the excitement that goes with it.


  4. “Cement a little everyday”…makes me realize it is one step or one word at a time…seems less daunting that way…and I don’t have a great schedule set out bc life happens but I do try to write a little or a lot each morning, which is when I am the freshest but if that fails, then I make do and write at night 🙂


    1. I like those words too … they help me at least put one foot forward at a time. And life does happen and I try hard to go with the flow. You, like me, find the time morning or night and write then. I’ll think of you now as I write first thing or last thing each day. 🙂


  5. Great post, Sherrey, and excellent tips. I’m trying to establish my regular writing routine now that we are retired but haven’t settled in to one yet. Life, and a husband, seem to thwart my best laid plans. An excuse, I know, but I’m allowing a period of grace until we catch our retiree stride.


    1. Linda, thanks for stopping by. I chuckled at your words, “Life, and a husband, seem to thwart my best laid plans.” About a week or ten days ago, I sat down with my husband and told him I needed to schedule fixed writing time so I could finish my book. He agreed wholeheartedly. That is until the next day when he had this idea that needed to be acted on by both of us that day! 🙂


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