Monday, January 09, 2006

The Henry Miller Writing Commandments

"After all, most writing is done away from the typewriter, away from the desk. I'd say it occurs in the quiet, silent moments, while you're walking or shaving or playing a game, or whatever, or even talking to someone you're not vitally interested in."
---- Henry Miller

In Henry Miller Miscellanea (and re-printed in Henry Miller On Writing), there exists a Top 11 list of "commandments" which Henry jotted down for himself, as inspiration for his writing work schedule in 1932/33. Not only do the listed items present a fantastic insight into Miller's self-reflective thoughts, but they reveal a man countering his own anxious writer demons. Every confident exclamated proclamation counters a weakness that nearly every single writer can identify with.

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 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.

DAILY PROGRAM

MORNINGS: If groggy, type notes and allocate, as stimulus. If in fine fettle, write.

AFTERNOONS: Work on section in hand, following plan of section scrupulously. No intrusions, no diversions. Write to finish one section at a time, for good and all.

EVENINGS: See friends. Read in cafes. Explore unfamiliar sections--on foot if wet, on bicycle, if dry. Write, if in mood, but only on Minor program. Paint if empty or tired. Make notes. Make charts, Plans. Make corrections of MS.

Note: Allow sufficient time during daylight to make an occasional visit to museums or an occassional sketch or an occasional bike ride. Sketch in cafes and trains and streets. Cut the movies! Library for reference once a week."

A couple of years later, Miller was installed at 18 Villa Seurat. His studio work space was photographed by his neighbour, Arnaud de Maigret, seen below:

From this picture, we can see a few things that made writing a bit easier for Henry Miller. Desk facing a window. Radio. Telephone within easy reach. Quotes on the wall (it's hard to make out, but there are words high on the wall). A mirror sits right next to him, for literal self-reflection.

"I have moved the typewriter into the next room where I can see myself in the mirror as I write." [Henry Miller from Tropic Of Cancer, p. 5]

Banner art: Miller writing - an image capture from The Henry Miller Odyssey; notes - Miller's own notes, from the same source. Miller at right - from the cover of Nexus II.

De Maigret photo of Miller's studio - from an article on de Maigret's impressions of Miller and Villa Seurat in Magazine Litteraire (Paris) November 1972 [thanks to Pierre]. This article will be presented as feature post very soon.

21 Comments:

Anonymous Kreg said...

It's fascinating to see that interior photo of Miller's studio. I'll be looking forward to your post about the article.

Regarding the mirror next to Miller's desk: in Tropic of Cancer, he mentions, "I have moved the typewriter into the next room where I can see myself in the mirror as I write." This appears on page 5 of my copy. I've always found that line appealing. Perhaps the mirror explains why Miller always wrote self-portraits.

9:22 pm  
Anonymous Kreg said...

Also, regarding the writing on the wall:

In Always Merry and Bright (page 305), Jay Martin says, "Up near the ceiling Henry wrote on the Villa Seurat wall: 'Jetzt musste ein Wunder gescheh’n'". The phrase is German and translates roughly as "now a miracle has happened". From the photo, it looks like there are a few more words there than Martin reports.

9:39 pm  
Blogger RC said...

Hey Kreg, thanks for the info about the mirror reference in Cancer. I didn't realize that. As for the words on the wall: I have a slightly larger copy of the picture I've posted here. In it, I can make out the words "moi" and "Ma" so I assume this is in French.

10:20 pm  
Anonymous Rick S. said...

I agree, it is obviously not a photo of Miller's flat, but rather that of the photographers. Miller used a tall stool to write on (see photo by Maigret in "My Life and Times" where Miller is actually on the stool) and that room is way too neat and tidy for somebody who was a writer. No typewriter either. And a phone! And French writing on the wall with photographs (Maigret's own work probably). Miller hated the radio too. And look at the phone. Wow. Forget it.

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