Henry Miller on Writing

        Finally, back from our vacation trip, meandering the California coast from San Francisco to Santa Barbara. So wonderful to discover that some places, especially Big Sur, seem impervious to change and still resonate with the wild beauty I first found when hitchhiking along the coast in 1970 and during subsequent visits over the years.

        We stopped off at a few choice pilgrimage spots, including the Henry Miller Memorial Library, and found his ghost still lingering amongst the redwoods and within the funky bookstore cum library cum shrine that is housed in the former home of Emil White, Henry’s dear old friend.

        I felt re-infused and re-enthused by Miller’s exuberant energy, which I first experienced as a pre-adolescent boy, looking for “the dirty parts” in my parents’ copy of Tropic of Cancer, and later, when I inhaled several of his novels in my twenties.  I’ve always admired his vitality and enthusiasm; the way he seemed to live life as a bold experiment—merging the art of writing with the art of life itself.

        Here’s a quote that appears in the book, Henry Miller on Writing:

           “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 takes the path in order eventually to become that path himself.

            “I began in absolute chaos and darkness, in a bog or swamp of ideas and emotions and experiences.  Even now I do not consider myself a writer, in the ordinary sense of the word.  I am a man telling the story of his life, a process which appears more and more inexhaustible as I go on.  Like the world-evolution, it is endless. It is a turning inside out, a voyaging through X dimensions, with the result that somewhere along the way one discovers that what one has to tell is not nearly so important as the telling itself.  It is this quality about all art which gives it a metaphysical hue, which lifts it out of time and space and centers or integrates it to the whole cosmic process.  It is this about art which is ‘therapeutic’: significance, purposefulness, infinitude.

            “From the very beginning almost I was deeply aware that there is no goal.  I never hope to embrace the whole, but merely to give in each separate fragment, each work, the feeling of the whole as I go on, because I am digging deeper and deeper into life, digging deeper and deeper into past and future.  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 a man.”    — Henry Miller


It’s Okay Not to Write!

        Let’s get this straight: the world will go on just fine without your writing.  And writing is not going to save your life.  In fact, in many cases, for many writers, the  pursuit of the writing life is just about enough to drive you nuts.  But if you’ve gotta do it, then do it.  If you hear the calling, than heed the calling. But don’t feel like you have to.  Take the gun away from your head.  Throw away the should’s, the ought to’s, the wannabe’s.  Do it because you love it.  Do it because it feeds or amuses you. Do it because the process itself answers some deep, heartfelt yearning. Do it because you come back to it, again and again and again.

        Someone once asked Flannery O’Connor if she thought that MFA in Writing programs actually dissuaded writers, and she answered, “Yes, but not enough of them.”  Lorrie Moore once said in an interview that “you should become a writer only if you have no choice.  Writing has to be an obsession.”

        Now, I don’t think that either of these writers actually intended to discourage people from writing but, in a sense, they do set a litmus test that each aspiring writer must interpret for themselves, and the color shades can be very subtle.

        The simple rhetorical question here is, “Do I really want to write?”  The answer may not be black or white but the more unambiguous one can be, the better.  If the calling subsides, then go off and do something else. But if the itch persists, well, there’s only one way to relieve it. All obstacles to writing have the same resolution. It’s like standing at the side of a swimming pool, staring at the reflections on the surface of the water, waiting. You are the only one who can take that plunge. What better time than now . . .

Invoke Your Writing Benefactors

        Writing is essentially a solitary pursuit. Sure, there are exceptions, like when one works collaboratively on a screenplay, say, or does writing exercises in a group setting.  But basically, we write alone, whether we’re secluded in a room or sitting elbow-to-elbow in a crowded Starbuck’s.

        We write alone, but not necessarily in isolation.  I find it helpful, especially when I’m feeling stuck, dull or uninspired, to recall my many writing benefactors.

        By benefactors, I mean the long list of people and influences that have directly or indirectly benefited or supported my writing over the years.  And the more I consider these figures, the longer the list becomes: from the grade school teachers who patiently taught me to read and write, the hundreds of authors whose work has fed and inspired me, the accomplished writers I’ve had the good fortune to meet and befriend, the writing mentors who helped to hone my craft, the writing group companions who uphold the value in my writing, to my wife and close editor who continually urges me onwards.

        I’m sure you could easily come up with your own personal list of writing benefactors.  Maybe just reading this calls some to mind.

        As a child, I was enthralled with the touch, feel, and smell of books, and the transformative power and magic of story.  But there seemed a disconnect between the published page and the flesh-and-blood writers who had set those words to paper. It was hard for me to imagine that actual people had somehow constructed these literary worlds. Authors held for me the status of mythic, larger than life, beings. It was a transmission of sorts when I first started attending readings and literary events, meeting face-to-face, person-to-person, some of the authors who so profoundly affected me.  And then so helpful to work with teachers, who encouraged my own nascent writing efforts, and fellow writers, who empathized with the trials and tribulations of the writing path.

        I still find it important to call upon these benefactors, to maintain a connection with their presence, either physically or psychically. I always keep a few favorite books close at hand and snippets of quotes pinned to a bulletin board. I feel blessed to have worked with various writing groups over the years, and especially our current group that has met weekly, for over eleven years now, on a continuous basis.

        So yes, we write alone, but we are never truly alone. Don’t forget your benefactors—we can use all the allies we can muster. If you’re willing to make the effort, I’m sure you can easily invoke your own array of benefactors—seen and unseen, ready and reliable—to support and encourage your writing.

Weekend Writing Retreat in Ohio

I’m pleased to announce that I will be facilitating a weekend writing retreat near Columbus, Ohio this coming June.  You can see details about the retreat here on my blog at the page for:


June 6 – 7, 2009   –   9:00a.m – 5:00p.m

        This weekend will be a great opportunity to enhance your creative writing practice in a comfortable, beautiful setting. This will be a process-oriented retreat so we will emphasize generating fresh, new material in a supportive, nonjudgmental environment. I’ll be providing lots of prompts and techniques for invoking the creative voice. We’ll be doing some group exercises but there will be plenty of time and space for working on your own individual projects as well.

        The Cedar Hill Massage facility is located about 20 minutes from downtown Columbus, Ohio on 80 acres of rolling farmland and woods.  Registration includes lunch, snacks & beverages.  So if you’ll be around Columbus during early June, we’ll have the perfect time, place, and space for you to indulge in your creative writing.  Hope you’ll be able to join us!  Please check the page and contact me if you’d like more information.