Henry Miller’s 10th Commandment

HenryMillerI recently came across Henry Miller’s eleven “commandments” for writing, a set of rules he made for himself in 1932 while he was writing Tropic of Cancer. It’s an interesting list, one that will resonate with anyone who has ever undertaken the Sisyphean task of writing a book. Of all commandments, number ten was the one that made me nod with recognition: “Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.”

Amen, brother!

I have found myself in this situation many times, especially when working on a novel that’s part of a series. Good ideas–or what strike me as good ideas–crop up all the time and I want to jot them down in a notebook, like a squirrel saving nuts for the winter. BAD IDEA! First of all, thinking about future books takes me away from the project right in front of me. Progress grinds to a halt. I lose forward momentum. Writing a book is like pushing a stalled car. Once you get it rolling, DON’T STOP! If you do, you will regret it.

But there’s an even better reason for not pondering future books: it dilutes your creativity. I’ve written a slew of series novels and I’ve learned the hard way that a writer should put everything he or she’s got into the one in progress. I say, pull out the stops. Go for broke. Run like it’s your last race ever. Give it everything you’ve got. Write as if your life depended on it. You can always edit out the extraneous stuff later. Maintain your forward thrust. Don’t worry about smooth. That will come in the editing. Just make it soar and roar.

If you don’t believe me, go push a car, a big one, maybe even a truck. Let it roll to a stop, then start all over again. You’ll see what I mean.

Use all your good ideas on the current project. Trust me–you will get other good ideas when the time comes.

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