Henry Miller on Writing

ISBN: 0811201120
ISBN 13: 9780811201124
By: Henry Miller Thomas H. Moore

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Reader's Thoughts


A Gift from Shannon on my fortieth birthday, purchased at The Henry Miller Library in Big Sur. Lucid and deep...


A great book for aspiring writers.


I bought this book in an airport on my way to Arizona and read it in one day. Heavy stuff with the autobiographical tone of the book and emphasis on seemingly random pieces of his life, but I loved it. I was offended by his treatment of women, but I felt that finally someone wasn't walking on eggshells. i was young when I read it, but I still remember quotes and have dog eared pages. It's a book I've recommended highly, but have never been able to part with it long enough to loan it out. "He and I are so alike, it is like looking at myself in a cracked mirror." Profound and utterly dirty. Read it.

Philip Bellew

If you're an aspiring writer, this is the one to read. Miller's command of language is awe-inspiring.

Lynda Felder

There’s no way to summarize the magnificent writings and incredible ideas in this book. Here are a few passages.from “Why Don’t You Try to Write” The little phrase — Why don’t you try to write? — involved me, as it had from the very beginning, in a hopeless bog of confusion. I wanted to enchant but not to enslave; I wanted a greater, richer life, but not at the expense of others; I wanted to free the imagination of all men at once because without the support of the whole world, without a world of imaginatively unified, the freedom of the imagination becomes a vice.from “Reflections on Writing — the Wisdom of the Heart” Knut Hamsun once said, in response to a questionnaire, that he wrote to kill time. I think that even if he were sincere in stating it thus he was deluding himself. Writing, like life itself, is a voyage of discovery. The adventure is a metaphysical one: it is a way of approaching life indirectly, of acquiring a total rather than a partial view of the universe. The writer lives between the upper and lower worlds: he take the path in order eventually to become the path itself.From “Work Schedule 1932 – 1933″ 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 oln 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. Discard the Program when you feel like it — but go back to it next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude. 9. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing. 10. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.


While reading the books that this collection was taken from is the best way to take in Mr. Miller, this collection is excellent for the beginner or for the Miller fan that is inclined to write (who shouldn't be inclined to write!) and wants those words of advice and encouragement in one place. This book could have been twice as long, but remains short enough to catch is burning intensity and catching a fire within one's self.

Scott Gibson

An excellent collection of excerpts corroborating the fact that Henry Miller will always be one of the most influential writers I'll ever read.


This was a little difficult for me to sink my teeth into. The thing about Miller's writing that I usually enjoy is the ebb and flow of it, the descriptive passages of life punctuated by the more philosophical and metaphysical musings, which stand out like gleaming heads-up newly-minted pennies on the sidewalk to be picked up and put in your pocket for your restless fingers to play with while you're walking or waiting for the subway. This book is a collection of all intense passages, and without that context of the descriptive life passages to ground them, they can overwhelm. There's a lot of great stuff in here but I think Miller is meant to be enjoyed in his rambling wholeness instead of excerpted so finely.


Essential for not only the writer and artist, but also the reader in all of us. In one section he refers to his own creative life as, "hurtling toward the stellar flux." Passages that are filled with a density of groundbreaking diction as well as a mystic quality that is quintessentially Henry Miller. If you like his work, want to live a creative life or breathe air and can read then read this book.



Ed Teja

Wonderful insights.


I carried a dog-eared copy of this collection of Henry Miller's writings on writing around with me for years. I had underlined big chunks of virtually every page. The man is eminently quotable and his prose is incredibly meaty. My ex-girlfriend's cat peed on my first copy and I immediately went out to buy another one. I left the second copy on the counter at a Korean grocery in Portland. I had taken it out of my bag to make room for a 6-pack of PBR tallboys and forgot to put it back in. I went back to retrieve it later but it was gone. Either that, or my attempts to communicate what had happened to the proprietor were unsuccesful. I have yet to purchase a third.

Tim Weakley

A little tough to get through near the end. Miller can be a little heavy in spots.

David Lentz

Henry Miller is one intrepid soul. For me this reading entailed discerning the echoes of the interior of a soul of a brother, a kindred spirit. He articulates creative impulses forged from the smithy of his own rough experience through years of rejection in America and poverty in Paris. Like so many other genius writers Miller was willing to give up every material comfort and to suffer in dire poverty for the sake of his art. He left America to live and suffer in Paris in search of his own artistic voice. You have to admire an artist who is willing to put everything on the line, including his own survival, in order to give all to his art. Having read most of his long masterpieces, it's clear from this reading that he recognizes only one kind of activity -- creation. "I had observed that those who were most in life, who were molding life, who were life itself, ate little, slept little, owned little or nothing." He is ardently engaged in an existential quest through which his writing is the vehicle of the journey. "In the mind-world ideas are the indestructible elements which form the jeweled constellations of the interior life." Miller is fully prepared to make every sacrifice for his art and finds that the risks and rewards justify it. "Everyone who lifts himself above the activities of the daily round does so not only in the hope of enlarging his field of experience, or even to enrich it, but of quickening it. Accept this view, and the distinction between failure and success is nil. And this is what every great artist comes to learn en route -- that the process in which he is involved has to do with another dimension of life, that by identifying with this process he augments life... He has to make himself a part of the mystery, live in it as well as with it." He says that he had two beginnings in America and Europe. In his first year in Paris "I literally died, was literally annihilated -- and resurrected as a new man." When Miller ultimately struggled at the outset after imitating other writers whom he admired, he comes to find that what he needed most desperately was his own voice to express his grief and abandonment and that is how he came to write. "Finally I came to a dead end which few men have known... to fail as a writer meant to fail as a man. And I failed... It was at this point in the midst of the dead Sargasso Sea, so to speak, that I really began to write... I began from scratch, throwing everything overboard. Immediately I heard my own voice I was enchanted: the fact that it was a separate distinct, unique voice sustained me... My life itself became a work of art. I had found a voice, I was whole again." As a writer he finds that "I am obliged to adapt myself to a struggle in a realm wherein I see nothing to sustain me but my own powers... Like every man I am my own worst enemy, but unlike most men I know too that I am my own savior." Heady stuff. He adds that "the more I wrote the more I became a human being. Miller seems to see the writer as a Dionysian figure. "Side by side with the human race there runs another race of beings, the inhuman ones, the race of the artists who, goaded by unknown impulses, take the lifeless mass of humanity and by the fever and ferment with which they imbue it turn this soggy dough into bread and the bread into wine and the wine into song." Nietzsche would approve. He views himself as the "madman who dances with lightning in his hands." After writing for seven years in America without once having a manuscript accepted and begging, borrowing and stealing to get by, finally he left the country. I have written this before and shall repeat it here: America treats her hacks like literary lions and her literary lions worse than dogs. Eventually Miller's devotion to his art pays off handsomely and his art becomes victor not only over his abject poverty but also even over death. "You have the dream for night time and the horse laugh for day time." Once he finds his own voice in his journey to find the meaning of his own existence, the writing becomes automatic. "I take down the dictation, as it were. If there are flaws and contradictions, they iron themselves out eventually. If I am wrong today, I am right tomorrow. Writing is not a game played according to the rules. Writing is a compulsive and delectable thing. Writing is its own reward." He sees his own writing as constituting a man telling the inexhaustible story of his own life. "With the endless burrowing a certitude develops which is greater than faith or belief. I become more and more indifferent to my fate as writer, and more and more certain of my destiny as man." Of course, he was persecuted and prosecuted for obscenity like James Joyce. On this subject Miller writes: "This is a mad world; man is most of the time mad; and I believe that in a way what we call morality is merely a form of madness, which happens to be a working adaptation to existing circumstances." And then he hits squarely upon his position as an artist working within the body of a human being: "That sex is a vital part of life goes without question... The gamut of human passion is almost without limits, reaching heights and depths unthinkable. Precisely because it embraces such extremes, passion is the very touchstone of our humanity, and perhaps our divinity also." If you desire a brief but deep dive into the life of one of America's real genius novelists, then I can't recommend this book more highly. If you write, then this book is must reading as it will take you years to discover first-hand by your art what Miller shares of his own lifetime of experience and his career as a novelist.


Though it appears a short book, this is NOT a quick read. With every turn of the page, I found myself pausing to think, re-read, make notes. The excellent insight and incredible interpretations of the everyday were not to be read, but rather digested. A favorite for sure.

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