Life and Writing: Henry Miller’s Eleven Commandments

Cover of "Tropic of Cancer"

Cover of Tropic of Cancer

In the early 1930’s Henry Miller was living in Paris and writing his first novel that would be published, Tropic of Cancer.  He was a law unto himself and wrote what he wanted to the way he wanted to, doggedly pursuing his writing even though it didn’t bring him any money for a long time.  He looked for financial support when he needed it and got it.  A determined rebel with a cause: he wanted to include explicit sex in his books.

Tropic of Cancer was printed in France but banned in the US for being obscene.  Two of his other books followed suit.  But they were smuggled into the US where they had a big influence on writers of the Beat generation.  In the end Miller got his way, although not without a fight.  Tropic of Cancer was published by Grove Press in the US in 1961 and sued for publishing obscenity but in 1964 the Supreme Court over-ruled the findings and declared the book a work of literature.

Times change.  Conservatives always lose out in the end.  People who don’t give up in the face of big challenges eventually succeed. That’s life, although it’s hard to keep going when evidence seems to point to the useless of whatever you’re pursuing, hard not to be controlled by emotions or to just let yourself be distracted, lose focus.

Speaking for myself, when that happens I feel so disempowered.  Because I am!  But it’s a slippery slope that can easily turn into what’s the point of writing anything or even trying.   Having a plan helps; a reminder not to be controlled by external things.  Henry Miller had a great plan when he was writing Tropic of Cancer.   It’s not draconian and there’s room for flexibility, but it’s a pretty good practical guide.

  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. 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.

                                                                                        (Source: Henry Miller on Writing)

I guess it’s about focus and a balance between being disciplined and kind to yourself. Being the boss and the employee.


Dreams Can Come True – But It Takes Focus

Focus: it’s everything when it comes to dreams that come true.  I’ve spent a lot of time in my life trying to figure out what I must do so my dreams for music and writing can come to fruition.  Other people’s success has often seemed magical, and it’s been easy to believe they had something I didn’t have.  Some kind of natural talent.  Well, some people do of course, but I’ve got real clear about another contributing element.

People who make dreams come true are able to focus, from minute to minute, day to day.  Success is about work, not only about talent.  Work means doing the thing you love that your mind, body and soul is built for, and being able to be practical as well as creative.  Being able to organize your days, weeks, months and years so you can play, write.  Brilliant musicians are brilliant because they play all the time.  Good writers know what to do with words and how to move people with them because they write a lot.

A lot of things can get in the way of focus.  It can take a lifetime to just see them.  Not everybody has to do this before they can be successful, but some of us do.  Think about it, when you have intrusive physical pain it’s difficult to concentrate.  When the pain is emotional it’s easy to not be aware of it, but it’s still chewing up your focus.  It hobbles you – and you can be unaware of that too.  Strange.

Eventually you kind of grind to a halt, though, and then you face it.  The thing is, I’ve discovered it’s not just emotional pain that has held me back, it’s what I learned from my mother and father and the family dynamic about how to do life.  When everybody is consumed with trying to survive an emotional holocaust and a child is at the bottom of the pecking order there’s not much positive stuff for it to learn.

Stuff like dealing with fear so you don’t run from scary things that arise when you study.  Like understanding that all problems have solution, so you just have to persist and reach out and ask for help and you’ll find the answer.  Like it’s okay to be ignorant because everybody is, at some point in their lives and understanding that learning starts with what you can get your head around.   I didn’t know these things.  I also couldn’t concentrate.

In this kind of situation it’s easy to hoodwink yourself into believing you are working hard, and focusing.  I thought I was.  I haven’t been doing nothing – I have written a couple of film scripts and now I’ve finished my book, and I’ve learned how to learn on the piano and I’ve unlocked my voice more or less – but I haven’t been focused.  I’ve done a bit here and a bit there, and I’ve run away inside myself when I hit a challenge.

But I’ve done a lot of re-learning about how to do life, and the old emotional stuff is resolved enough to not disable me any more.  Much more of my mind and energy is available to me, so is my energy, and I can focus now.  I’ve got strategies in place for my singing, my book and other projects; strategies that are about things I need to get done today, this week, this month.   I sure hope I get another chance at this living on earth thing.  I’ve only just begun to be able to do something real with what I’ve got.

Where Dreams Come True

Finding a balance between the reality of circumstances as they are now and that other  reality – where I can go to in my imagination about where I want my life to be – has always been a challenge for me.  If you dream big but you have low self esteem and lousy entitlement, and you don’t know how to deal with the world, there’s always going to be a huge gap between your dreams and the reality of your circumstances.

If you’ve got a big lust for life, a powerful imagination and creativity that demands an outlet, but you’re dominated by fear and you’ve never been shown how to be practical about getting where you want to go, all that good stuff can turn on you.  It did for me.  The result was that I used my capacity to dream as an escape from the reality of my incapacity to do what needed to be done to actualize my dreams, and to avoid the real pain and sometimes nameless, shapeless terror that rises up in me when I do try to be practical.

Some people eat, or take drugs, to escape.  I’ve done that too, and when I stopped I have often used my imagination.  And my thinking brain.  The minute I come up against a challenge, I’m tempted to dash off into the big dream or trying to understand the why of the challenge.  Instead of just being in it and facing it.  The thing that propels me away from the challenge is the same thing that propelled me into taking cocaine, into over-eating.

But I’ve just plugged away to the best of my ability, and in some areas I don’t have to run any more.  With writing, that nameless shapeless terror doesn’t happen any more.  I’m not afraid to write, or to get it wrong, or be blank for a while.  I’m not terrified of rejection; I don’t like it, and of course it creates emotion in me, but I’m just not disempowered by it any more.  I’ve built up quite a powerful capacity to hold onto my sanity and be grounded in my writing.

Much of that is the help I’ve had in rebuilding my self-esteem and entitlement.  It’s allowed me to stick at it and not give up.  But also I’ve had so much unconditional love and acceptance for my writing, primarily on SearchWarp.  It was like a kind of miracle for me.  I never expected anybody to like what I wrote.  I expected rejection or just nothing.  From the first thing I ever wrote there, I’ve had such great response; wonderful, generous comments, people opening their hearts and embracing me, becoming my friends.  How fortunate is that?

I’ve always dreamed big but I used to get lost in that dreaming and the small steps I needed to take to make that dream a reality were too scary.  When I tried, the fear would overwhelm me and I’d run.  Even just sending a cover letter to a publisher was a massive challenge.  The prospect of rejection was so painful – and I kept experiencing it all the time.  Not any more.  This is a big triumph for me and it means I’m free to step out into the world with my writing, and take the risks that need to be taken.  Do those practical things.  I’m not just a dreamer any more.  Big cause for celebration.

Making choices when the sides get blasted out of your world

This is the first time in a year that I’ve let so much time go by without posting something here.  It feels strange, as if something got amputated.  I’ve got so used to the ritual of it, and even though it’s hard to think of something to say every day, it’s kind of held my world together.

Writing doesn’t come easily to me, words don’t form in simple sentences.  Somebody said writing is about staring at a blank piece of paper until your forehead bleeds!  That’s about right for me.  My thoughts seem clear and uncluttered, but something gets screwed up in the translation process.  Then I have to spend hours cleaning out all the garbage, trying to simplify.

Still, it’s been like having my coffee in the morning.  Something I could depend on, even when I haven’t felt inspired.

Then somebody said “hey, here’s a plane ticket”.  You know how some experiences blast the sides right out of your world? Well this one did.  Not just the flying, the everything of it.   Being in an environment that was stimulating and exciting, safe, pleasurable.

And I get to do it over and over.  Just like good sex.  Seriously I feel as if I walked out of prison into a beautiful world I was afraid would never exist for me again. It’s been a long time that I’ve been wrestling with feeling like a loser and a third class citizen.

With all the different dreams I have, and plans that keep forming out of my desires, I’ve been worrying lately that there are just too many, and I’ve been getting fragmented, not knowing which one should I choose, singing or writing, script or novel, blog or no blog.

In a way the decision’s been made for me at least for the next 5 months.  I’ve got a huge amount of work to do for the course and I’m making that my priority.   Alongside internet marketing.   I’m going to focus on those two.  For now anyway.   Even educational TV isn’t getting much of my attention.   Recording?  Radio show?  Forget it.  Too time consuming.  Damn, going to have to rethink the Paypal thing.

If Michael Buble shows up at my door of course things could change in an instant.


Needing and wanting that mentor, and obsessing about Michael Buble

I’ve been posting articles about singing, which seems a bit dumb, really, should just be singing.   Funny thing, I’m getting great feedback and encouragement to pursue my singing dream, but everybody’s also saying you’re a writer, whatever you do, don’t give it up! So when I sing, if I compose songs about my writing, then everybody will say do the writing if you want, but hey, you’re a singer!

I look forward to the day.  I’m still obsessing with wanting a singing mentor.  The universe is being particularly stubborn about this.  Clearly am not spiritual enough.  I added it up the other day; when I first tried to reconnect with my voice a few years ago, I approached 12 potential mentors.  Bloody 6 of them were teachers, and I paid to have lessons with them.  Not one of them had any flipping enthusiasm or vision, or even sense of humor.   Sour and dour inside.

So where are the good ones?   Hallo??   I just want one.   Could it be that you have to start actually doing it in the world before the mentors can see you?   Hmmm.   Grumble.   That’s what I want the damn mentor for, to help me get to that place. Lots of people are saying just do it anyway, and the right person will come into your world.

Maybe, maybe.   So, have to put that plan together for the equipment to record to put singing on blog and other sites, and have to a few songs together, go and sing at an open mic night.  Which means getting car fixed.   It’s a start, in real time, and at least has a chance of going somewhere other than just in my imagination.   Sick of doing things in my head.

People generally aren’t responding to Paypal donate.   I was hoping they’d read and want to donate small amounts, but they don’t.   Maybe it’s not focused enough.   The problem is, the topic is about my journey in recovering from a big financial crisis, figuring out what they hell I was doing wrong, and reclaiming my life and my dreams.   But because I’m writing about day to day things, one blog won’t tell anybody the whole picture.   Hmmm.   Need solution.   Of course, there’s the off chance that my story doesn’t appeal to anybody or that  I shouldn’t be asking for help and god is punishing me.   Bugger that.

Well it’s Friday, and my week’s planning is up to shit.   Really not effective at this at all.   So the weekend is going to be spent in: A)  costing recording equipment and fixing car; and B)  making 2 plans, one for singing, one for writing, figuring out how I can do both.   Not going to: daydream, obsess about Michael Buble, watch too much educational TV, pay attention to inner critic, spend too much time sweeping floor and washing dishes.

Oh wait, must wash dishes, and what’s wrong with obsessing with Michael Buble anyway.   Imagine having him as a mentor…

For more of an explanation of this donate button, click here.