Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Henry Miller's thoughts on writing books

By Dennis Mellersh

The author Henry Miller wrote a lot about the creative process and writing in his various works. In  the book, Henry Miller on Writing, there is an extensive compilation of Miller’s thinking on writing edited  by Thomas H. Moore, using selections from the published and unpublished works of Henry Miller.

The book is divided into four sections with a number of sub-chapters in each section. The four main sections are:
The Literary Writer
Finding His Own Voice
The Author at Work, and;
Writing and Obscenity

Miller’s style in his novels is often described as autobiographical fiction, and it is not surprising therefor that his novels include observations on his overall creative process and the art of writing. The book features selections from some of Millers famous works such as Tropic of Capricorn, Sexus, Nexus, Plexus, and Tropic of Cancer as well as his non-fiction writing.

One of the sections, in the chapter The Author at Work, shows Miller’s work schedule for 1932-1933, which is comprised of numerous pages on what Miller is planning. It includes detailed notes on: Commandments (principles guiding his writing efforts), Daily Program, Major Program, Minor Program, Painting Program (Miller was also an artist), and Agenda.

This section on how he worked shows that Miller faced the same difficulties as most writers do – he had to put effort into disciplining himself to do the hard work of putting words on paper.

Here are a few of Miller’s guiding principles from his Commandments:
Work on one thing at a time until finished
Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is at hand
Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time
Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing
Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.

In the Daily Program he describes his plans for afternoons: Work on section at hand, following plan of section scrupulously. No intrusions, no diversions. Write to finish one section at a time, for good and all.
Consisting of 216 pages, the paperback version of Henry Miller on Writing that I am quoting from was published by New Directions Publishing Corporation in 1964. Henry Miller on Writing is available at amazon.com, as is an book he wrote entitled, The Books in my Life.

The reviews of these books on amazon.com are generally highly favourable and provide good insights into the contents of these books and why the reviewers found reading them beneficial.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Eric Hoffer discovers a different Way to Write a Book

By Dennis Mellersh

During 1958-1959, if you had asked the late author/philosopher, Eric Hoffer, how to write a book, he might have told you, “Read a lot of books that interest you and make notes. You might also want to read the essays of Montaigne – he is the writer who really piqued my interest in the possibilities of writing.”

Thanks for those ideas, but can you give me some insights as to how to actually write it?

Hoffer might then have said, “I wish I could offer you some helpful advice, but right now I’m struggling with a mental blockage with my writing, and the only things I’m putting down on paper are for the most part jottings in a diary about what I’m doing and what I’m thinking about each day, as well as my thoughts about books that I’m currently reading.”

Although the above “conversation” is fictional, the diary written by Hoffer is real.

The contents of the diary, written from June 1958 to May 1959, eventually became a book, Working and Thinking on the Waterfront, published by Harper & Row, copyright 1969, by Eric Hoffer.  His method of writing was to write down his ideas and observations, as they developed, in notebooks, and then to cull the notebooks for editorial material for articles and in some cases, books. The diary was kept in the same type of notebooks, but was started for a particular reason.

In the preface to Working and Thinking on the Waterfront, Hoffer talks about why he started the diary: “While rummaging recently through a pile of old notebooks, I came upon a diary I had kept during 1958-1959. I had completely forgotten about it. Nineteen fifty-eight and 1959 were difficult years…I began to suspect that all my thinking life I probably had only one train of thought, that everything I had written stemmed from a central preoccupation, and that I was going to go through life and never discover what it was…I had to sort things out; talk to somebody, so on June 1, 1958, I began a diary. Toward the end of March, 1959, I realized that my central subject was change.”

The diary, which filled seven notebooks, had served its purpose, as Hoffer subsequently later wrote what he is said to have considered his finest work, The Ordeal of Change.

Although Eric Hoffer became famous as a philosophical writer, he spent his entire working life in manual labor jobs.  He spent considerable time as a migratory field worker harvesting crops and then in 1943, he became a longshoreman in San Francisco. The cover of Working and Thinking on the Waterfront shows a photograph of Hoffer sitting on a loading/unloading wagon at a pier, reading a book.

The book, in addition to providing insight into his daily life and impressions of what it was like working as a longshoreman, also contains a lot of Hoffer’s philosophical thinking under the creative or development stage – thoughts that eventually emerged in a number of books and essays.

In the diary, Hoffer gives flashes of insight into his creative process. Discussing a book he is currently trying to write, he says, “I get discouraged when I think what’s ahead of me to finish the book. Yet in all my writing, I could never see farther than my nose – adding crumb by crumb.”

Eric Hoffer is reported to have been born in 1902, although some believe it was 1898, and died in 1983. Ten books of Hoffer’s books were published, and from the first, The True Believer, he generally struck a chord of acceptance with both academics and the reading public, although many of his ideas were controversial and were debated.

Hoffer led a simple daily life as far as the material world is concerned, and he usually lived in single rented rooms. In the diary he writes, “I derive a subtle pleasure from the conviction that the world does not owe me anything. I need little to be contented: two good meals a day, tobacco, books that hold my interest, and a little writing every day. This to me is a full life.”

For further insights you might want to check out the following:

There are some television interviews with Hoffer from the 1960’s conducted by Eric Sevareid on You Tube – just type in Eric Hoffer in the You Tube search box.