The 11 Commandments – for writers

Henry Miller

Fellow Aussie, writer, student and author of The Blue Cathedral, Cameron Hindrum, was kind enough to share this link with our Masters’ class recently. I think Henry Miller’s very wise 11 Commandments are worthy of consideration for any writer, new and old.  I could definitely pay a little more heed to number 4!

What commandment do you have the most difficulty sticking to when writing?

à la Henry Miller
  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. ConcentrateNarrow downExclude.
  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.

28 comments on “The 11 Commandments – for writers

  1. I’d say the one I find hardest to stick to woud be 10…and maybe 7 because when I get started I tend to not stop until I’m happy with it, and that can sometimes take a while haha :D

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  4. I learned a lot about how to write a novel during the time I read one that I ended up hating. The novel is “Tess of the D’ Urbervilles”. I genuinely hated the author when I finished that ultra-depressing book, but reading it sure does leave an important impact about the need for having a solid idea of what you want to accomplish and then adhering to it tenaciously.

    • It’s true that even the not-so-great reads are instrumental in our learning as writers, even if just to demonstrate what we don’t want to do.

      • Oh, it was extremely well-written. Thomas Hardy is it’s author. But wow, was it depressing!!!

    • Ah yes, #10 is a corker for me too. Even now, I keep reading amazing books and wondering why I’m even bothering when I could never produce anything so fantastic. But it’s important to keep scribbling nonetheless!

  5. I probably have the most trouble with #4. Stopping at the appointed time. My favorite is #3. “Work recklessly” might have to become my new motto for all future first drafts. Great list. Thanks for sharing!

  6. I love those! And I admit they are quite good. Though, yea, I too have issue with #4–I don’t think there should be an appointed time to stop. I think you should have a set quota to meet (write for x amount of minutes, or x words per day), but you should be free to go beyond that if the Muse calls.

  7. Well, I read #1 and thought “I’m already screwed…”

    My short attention span strikes again. I often start one story, only to jump ship and work on another. Not a smart way to do it. :P

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