7:44 a.m. — Atlanta
listening to Robbie Williams singing Somethin’ Stupid
Hi, everyone. I’m going to let novelist Henry Miller talk to us today [I make brief comments]. I came across his Eleven Commandments for himself and his writing and thought it interesting, and fun, to read his thoughts. Despite these being written for himself [i.e. a writer of prose] they apply easily to those who write poetry.
1. Work on one thing at a time until finished. I’d be out already with the first. I think I am working on about a dozen poems. Although… I have been on them a long time without finishing. Hmmm. I wonder how long that will continue, if I listen to the second stricture.
2. Start no more new books, add no more new material to Black Spring. (novel he was working on at the time) No new poems until I finish at least one of the ones I have going. Might work for me. I know that many of you have no problem finishing your poems in a timely manner!
3. Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand. I confess that this is where I decided to share these. I love him telling himself not to be nervous, to be calm yet reckless, and above all, joyous.
4. Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time! Miller followed the program of setting a routine for his Program. I would go nuts. To quote Robert Lee Brewer’s recent status on Facebook, “The thing about poets: We can be cleaning the living room, pause suddenly, rush off to find a pen, scribble a bunch of lines on paper, and get back to cleaning without ever telling a soul.”.
5. When you can’t create you can work. Because there is always, always, revision. Or, going back through notebooks and computer files, to rediscover forgotten possibilities.
6. Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers. The British school system I grew up in worked along those lines somewhat. Although they introduced new concepts and knowledge every year, they also went back over everything we had done the previous year. I remember a surprising amount because of the cementing. Cementing adds structure and strength.
7. Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it. I love that he has to remind himself [says she, who doesn’t leave her cave].
8. Don’t be a draught-horse! [spellcheck offered me ‘fraught-horse’, instead] Work with pleasure only. I like this. The moment writing becomes a chore, the muse is often out the door. [I can’t help it, the comment came out with the rhyme.]
9. Discard the Program when you feel like it — but go back to it next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude. Although I don’t have a routine, I like the caveat in this, that one may stray, if one comes back, rather like having a banana split every now and then.
10. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing. A sure road to blocking output is to think of what is not, not what is.
11. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards. This, an apparent caveat to number seven, I assume is a warning to himself.
— Henry Miller, notebook, 1932-1933 (quoted in The Art & Craft of Novel Writing by Oakley Hall)
Happy writing, everyone.