In the book Henry Miller On Writing, Miller describes both his struggle with agonizing writing blocks and ecstatic writing experiences when words came to him as if he was being dictated to. He discussed this dictation in an article in the Paris Review, saying, “Well, it happens only at rare intervals, this dictation. Someone takes over and you just copy out what is being said.”
We can wonder about who is doing the dictating upon hearing a report like this, but I don’t think it’s essential to figure that out in any absolute sense. This is one way to experience writing, and other writers have reported similar experiences. The human mind (and perhaps all writing) is part mystery.
The trap in hearing a report like this is to come to the conclusion that writing that comes in this way is better, more true or the best way to write. We mustn’t forget that a lot of great writing has come into being through hard work, confusion, rewriting and angst – including much of Miller’s.
If you are blocked or have to really struggle to find the right words, you might envy someone who writes in a way that sounds like so much less effort. But your envy would be a waste of time, and would ignore the fact that immense effort and profound struggles also characterized Miller’s writing life. He was fortunate to have some moments of grace thrown in to the mix, but he laid the groundwork for that to happen through his ongoing commitment to his work.
If you are wishing for your very own inner dictator to show up, be careful. The muse that arrives may turn out to be crappy writer.