More Gold from Henry

Henry Miller
I apologize for not being more constant in my blogging. If you know me, then you know that discipline is not my strong suit (unless we’re talking about eating healthily). Life has been full yes, with guests and travelling between Mexico and Maui, but a disciplined person would have managed, would have written none-the-less. Not me. I’m going to change that though, somehow.

Henry Miller is the inspiration that always gets me back to the machine, without fail. His voice comes through loud and clear, unadulterated, matter-of-fact. He reminds me that we all have a voice and, with work, can find it too. But more than that, he often writes about the difficulties of writing and how to overcome them. He came to writing late in life (thirty-three), so had to develop his talent through nothing less than hard work and discipline.

I think though, that what I find most inspiring is that he was a courageous writer who wrote what he wanted and didn’t stop to allow the potential consequences to overwhelm or derail him. He was honest and unforgiving, direct. I think that’s why I love his writing and love him (yes, I do love him because through his word I have come to know him and his heart – anyone who reads his work will know him too). And I am encouraged by his no-holds barred approach to the craft.

In the book Henry Miller on Writing, a compilation of excerpts from his work addressing the craft of writing, we are treated to what he calls his Commandments and Daily Program for writing that he followed somewhat religiously in order to be productive. Finally, we also get to see an outline and notes for the various projects he was working on at the time (a Major Program presumably related to his WIP; a Minor Program that appears to contain smaller select writing projects, articles and the like; a Painting Program because he was an avid artist and also liked to sketch out themes and ideas related to his WIPs; and an Agenda that contains a list of things “to do” including a reading list, visits to specific art shows and day to day stuff like “Varnish water colors or use banana oil and get framed for A.”

It is the Commandments and Daily Program that bear rich fruit for this would-be writer and I hope you’ll find them interesting and applicable to your work in some way too. All italics and notes are HM’s unless otherwise indicated.

1.    Work on one thing at a time until finished.
2.    Start no more new books, add no more new material to “Black Spring.”  (his work in progress)
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.
If groggy, type notes and allocate, as stimulus.*
If in fine fettle, write.
Work on section in hand, following plan of section scrupulously. No intrusions, no diversions. Write to finish one secrtion at a time, for good and all.
See friends. Read in cafés.
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 correction of MS.
Note: Allow sufficient time during daylight to make an occasional visit to museums or an occasional sketch or an occasional bike ride. Sketch in cafés and trains and streets. Cut the movies! Library for references once a week.
*My note: I have to say I was thrilled to learn that HM also at times feels groggy in the mornings. There is hope for me yet.
So you tell me, what do you do to main discipline and reach your goals? 


In mid-November, after a month on Maui, I returned to Mexico where the weather was fine and much like the climate I’d just left behind on Maui’s North Shore – highs in the mid 80s, lows in the mid-70s. A surprise late-season swell had just arrived, treating fellow surfers and me to some fun waves at Nine Palms for the first several days. The sun’s strength was evident from the skin on my face and legs, which was transformed gradually from hues of seared pink to a gradually deepening roasted brown.

Three days ago the weather changed, shifted, and was altered dramatically as though someone threw a switch in response to the approaching solstice. The sun lost the searing intensity felt only two short weeks ago. And in the early hours of the evening, it now plummets out of the sky causing shadows to lengthen like long fingers grasping at something in the landscape. Where previously, I sought shady patches to escape the sun’s intensity, now I search for sunny spots where my extremities, numbed by encroaching coolness lurking in the shadows, are warmed.

Three nights ago, I awakened from a sound sleep to the sound of an urgent thudding sound. My dog Peanut, laying beside me on the floor, stirred simultaneously. I sensed her concern and felt the stab of fear in my gut as I strained with all my senses to discern the source of the disturbance. Whump! whump! tha-wamp! babang! I heard loud banging on one, or was it more, of the wooden doors. In that moment, that throat-clenching pause, with sleep still enveloping my brain, I was certain a horde of plunderers, rapists and henchmen were forcing their way in through the doors. The rush of fear wiped the haze of sleep from my head and, as I gave it a shake, I realized the true source of the turmoil. A fierce wind had risen during the night, just as my kitesurfing neighbor had prophesied, and was hammering away at the door. I relaxed and my brain flooded with the ridiculous image of a Samoan warrior beating on the door with a large club of the sort they used to dispatch their Fijian neighbors.

I turned my attention to the sounds coming out the dark. Winds of 40 miles an hour were surely blowing and stronger gusts made me question our security (mine and Peanut’s).  I quickly realized that I’d left several windows open when I retired, when I thought only of the fresh night air making it more pleasant to sleep. Now, realistic or not, I pictured screens ripped open by the force of the gale and gathering myself further, quickly went about securing the windows closed. Even with the windows shut, the door continued its whump! whump! tha-wamp! babang! so that as I crawled back into bed and the dog settled on her cushion next to me, I wondered if I’d ever get back to sleep.

The sheets had cooled noticeably while I’d run around closing things up in the dark and it was then that the realization hit me – summer is over. Even in this area, tucked just below the Tropic of Cancer and therefore technically a part of the Tropics, a crispness had entered the air where previously it was all softness and warm caresses.  I shivered in response, a purely psychological reaction, and pulled the heavy yellow, black and red-striped blanket up from the foot of the bed, tucking it under my chin as though in doing so I might keep the pressing seasonal change at bay.

Another twenty days and the cycle will begin again, imperceptibly at first, to reverse itself. The days will get longer and the sun gradually stronger. The sea that cools with the shortening days will be warmed once again by the approaching sun, energizing summer storms, hurricanes and their offspring the waves.