11 Commandments for Writing by Henry Miller

henry miller tropic of cancer



As a grad student years ago, when I was a little down and out during my 3 years of anthropological research in Thailand, one of my greatest comforts was Henry Miller.

What, you don’t know the feeling?

Getting into these stewy, swampy marshes of inaction, wanting to do something meaningful with your life, but somehow unable to get started or maintain it?

And then the opposite, working hard, very hard, and it not amounting to anything satisfying?

Somehow a desolation and despair can be present, whether one is in action or stagnant.

I think this can happen to people who are possessed in some part by an unfulfilled creative spirit.

This is a feeling Henry Miller knew well. His early novels are drenched in it, typically in the narrative context of a writer’s life. And if you relive it all in your reading, you get to participate in the reckoning that heals it.

Sometimes you just really appreciate an author who gets it, and places it up in awareness, nakedly.

Interestingly, when you look at his approach to the actual work of writing creatively, there is a healthy respect for the power of momentum and consistency and moderation. And you see this again and again in writers’ habits everywhere.

Work it out, in writing, what you are going to do. Make a plan for how writing is going to fit into your life. Stick to the plan, within reason, and make the plan reasonable, including being strict about feeding the soul with other activities. These have proven effective time and time again.

henry millers 11 rules

If you are an aspiring creative academic writer, it may be helpful to know that at least one successful writer with dreams similar to yours, very much had a plan and a method to his modernist madness.

I believe almost every one of us writers needs the same, the more creatively ambitious we are, all the more so.

Perhaps you can feel your way into each of these commandments and get the sense of them. Each one contains a crystal formed out of a vast experience, and probably most experienced writers can understand each one. Maybe it would be interesting to share interpretations.

Here’s another of his “notes to self,” also from Henry Miller on Writing:



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 section 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 corrections 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.


Two of my heroes: Anais Nin and Henry Miller
When I was in grad school, my litcrit friends looked down on my interest in modernists. Now it’s OK to come out again, I think.




Your situation and flow may differ: but get this– WRITE IT DOWN. This matters. Writing matters to you or you wouldn’t be here. So when you write down your plan of action, it’s going to matter to you. It will influence you.

What are your commandments for writing? Have you tested them out, found the right ones for you?

And, have you written them down?