Henry Miller outdoes God with his “Commandments” for writing

Miller one-upped God by having 11 commandments

Henry Miller’s commandments for his work schedule are listed in the edited book, Henry Miller on Writing,( pg 161).  God’s more famous list of commandments were intended for all of Moses’ flock to obey, but Miller’s apply to him alone. They might work for you, and they might not.

Commandment is a pretty strong word for one’s writing regime, and his use of this term underscores the importance Miller placed on his writing schedule. These are not “suggestions,” to himself, they are COMMANDMENTS. (He capitalized the whole word.)

For those who live by the Bible’s teachings, defying a commandment is considered risky, and could result in eternal damnation in a lake of fire. For Miller the curse was even worse: ignoring the rules meant no book.  He was no stranger to the blocks and other challenges that writing presents, and one senses wasn’t messing around when he wrote these – he wanted to make sure he kept at it.

Here they are:


1. Work at one thing at a time until finished

2. Start no new books, add no more new material to “Black Spring.”

3. Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is at hand.

4. Work according to the 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 adding 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 the 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 come afterwards

There is a lot in this list and I will return to it in later posts. Much can be said about each one of his COMMANDMENTS.

I’ve read Miller’s biography, Always Merry and Bright, which makes it abundantly clear that Miller was a lot less worried about violating God’s commandments than he was of his own.


About David Rasch

Author, psychologist, speaker, teacher, coach, workshop leader
This entry was posted in Common Writing Block Problems, Famous writers, Tips for overcoming writer's block and procrastination and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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