Rules to Write By

Something that has helped me tremendously with my own writing is reading about the strategies that great writers, such as Henry Miller, have found helpful in accomplishing their writing goals. If I’m being honest, I find it comforting to read about the challenges that even the most celebrated writers face in the process of writing. I suppose this pleasure is reflective of the old “misery loves company” proverb.

In Henry Miller On Writing, Miller reflects on his creativity and development as a writer. The book also includes a collection of the author’s handwritten notes about writing, including 11 commandments (or best writing practices) that Miller made for himself while working on Tropic of Cancer.


Source: Brain Pickings

In looking at the personal writing rules that Miller set out for himself, one can make inferences about aspects of the writing process that the author found particularly challenging. In the commandments, Miller emphasizes the importance of keeping to a writing schedule and enjoying the process of creating. It is also apparent from the list that Miller would work on other stages of writing even when faced with writer’s block (see commandment #5). I interpret “create” as referring to the drafting of new material and “work” to the revising and editing stages. The commandments also allude to problems that Miller faced in working on too many projects at the same time: specifically, a lack of focus during the writing process and an array of unfinished products.

While these commandments are personal to the writing objectives and needs of Henry Miller, it is a practice that writers of all types (including those who only write when assigned a writing project) could benefit from. Regardless of whether you are working on a writing assignment for a course or drafting a poem, short story, or novel out of your own personal enjoyment in writing, it might be useful to create some guidelines to help you stay on track with your writing goals. It may be helpful to reflect on the approaches you take to writing. Recognize any recurrent challenges you experience. Then you can begin to outline your own commandments or best practices. Set guidelines that are meaningful to you, ones that encourage creativity, enjoyment, and commitment to the process of writing.

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