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Amber Paulen

Henry Miller's 11 Commandments of Writing

Years ago when I first started writing, a friend gave me the book Henry Miller on Writing to help me on my way. It is a collection of excerpts from Miller’s books, novels and letters that describe his thoughts on and beliefs about writing versed in his classic, explosive, dynamic way.

At the end of this collection is a gem that I studied. It describes Miller’s work plan from 1932–1933 when he was living in Paris. There are commandments, a daily program (or schedule), the major (writing) program, the minor (writing) program, the painting program and an agenda (a to see and do list outside of writing). It’s very ambitious for year’s work and gives great insight on the self-discipline required to create then execute a novel like Tropic of Cancer. But even if you’re not up to changing the face of literature, the commandments are good for every day contemplation


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


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