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The 11 commandments of Henry Miller

Henry Miller was an American writer and painter. He was known for breaking with existing literary forms and developing a new sort of “novel” -a mixture of novel, autobiography, social criticism, philosophical reflection, surrealist free association, and mysticism. If one had to select four quotes as an introduction to his way of thinking perhaps one would select the following:

About life, one’s self and interest in life

Develop interest in life as you see it; in people, things, literature, music – the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself.

The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware.

or this one about the relation between creation and faith,

Back of every creation, supporting it like an arch, is faith. Enthusiasm is nothing: it comes and goes. But if one believes, then miracles occur.

or this one about confusion and order,

Confusion is a word we have invented for an order which is not understood.

His most characteristic works are the Tropic of Cancer (1934), his first published novel, Black Spring, two years later, and Tropic of Capricorn in 1939. As he was writing the first one – he put down on paper a list of 11 commandments, to be followed by himself throughout the work. It is interesting to read them not only if you are a prospective writer but anyone pursuing a long-lasting and difficult creative task.

COMMANDMENTS

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.Cementa 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.

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