Friday, February 21, 2014

Henry Miller on Writing

I've written about Henry Miller's writing process before, recommending against it. It seems that Miller himself came to understand my critique of the strategy of complete surrender to the muse. The other day, tracing a quote in Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-Oedipus back to the source, I came across this passage:

I was so in love with the idea of being a writer that I could scarcely write. The amount of physical energy I possessed was unbelievable. I wore myself out in preparation. It was impossible for me to sit down quietly and just turn on the flow; I was dancing inside. I wanted to describe the world I knew and be in it at the same time. It never occurred to me that with just two or three hours of steady work a day I could write the thickest book imaginable. It was my belief then that if a man sat down to write he should remain glued to his seat for eight or ten hours at a stretch. One ought to write and write until he dropped from exhaustion. That was how I imagined writers went about their task. (Henry Miller on Writing, p. 36, my emphasis)

He goes on to cite Blaise Cendrars as an example ("Two hours a day, before dawn, and the rest of the day to oneself,"), as well as Rémy de Gourmont, who applied the same strategy to his reading. It suggests the kind of order I wish on all scholars, at least for certain periods of time: three hours of disciplined writing in the morning, three hours of disciplined reading in the afternoon. Then, good food and good company and a few diversions in the evening. Repeat. But never, in any case, those exhausting days of trying to do everything.

"I had no order, no discipline, no set goal," Miller says. "I was completely at the mercy of my impulses, my whims, my desires." He says that this caused him to "overlook the vast reservoir of material I had accumulated during the years", wanting to write instead about "the immediate … something fresh." I know scholars who make the same mistake.

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