Brain Pickings

Henry Miller’s 11 Commandments of Writing and Daily Creative Routine

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“When you can’t create you can work.”

After David Ogilvy’s wildly popular 10 tips on writing and a selection of advice from modernity’s greatest writers, here comes some from iconic writer and painter Henry Miller.

In 1932-1933, while working on what would become his first published novel, Tropic of Cancer, Miller devised and adhered to a stringent daily routine to propel his writing. Among it was this list of eleven commandments, found in Henry Miller on Writing — a fine addition to these 9 essential books on reading and writing, part of this year’s resolution to read more and write better.

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 on 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.
  9. Discard the Program when you feel like it—but go back to it next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.
  10. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.
  11. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.

Under a part titled Daily Program, his routine also featured the following wonderful blueprint for productivity, inspiration, and mental health:

MORNINGS:
If groggy, type notes and allocate, as stimulus.

If in fine fettle, write.

AFTERNOONS:

Work of section in hand, following plan of section scrupulously. No intrusions, no diversions. Write to finish one section at a time, for good and all.

EVENINGS:

See friends. Read in cafés.

Explore unfamiliar sections — on foot if wet, on bicycle if dry.

Write, if in mood, but only on Minor program.

Paint if empty or tired.

Make Notes. Make Charts, Plans. Make corrections of MS.

Note: Allow sufficient time during daylight to make an occasional visit to museums or an occasional sketch or an occasional bike ride. Sketch in cafés and trains and streets. Cut the movies! Library for references once a week.

For more of Miller’s obsessive recipes for creative rigor, dig into Henry Miller on Writing.

HT Lists of Note

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Stunning Vintage Photos of Early 1900s Australian Bike Culture

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What a handlebar koala has to do with skipping 1000 miles from Melbourne to Adelaide.

As a sworn bike lover, I remain fascinated by the evolution of bike culture and the bicycle as a cultural agent, from its design and engineering history to its beauty to its role in the emancipation of women (only after telling them not to cultivate ‘bicycle face’). While digging through the archive of the State Library of New South Wales, I came across these stunning public domain images of early 20th century bike culture in Australia, equal parts sweet (all those tandems!), inspirational (a record-breaking ride from Sydney to Melbourne in 3 days and 7 hours!), and scandalous (NB: Annie is wearing trousers!)

Brownie (Muriel Long) with bicycle decorated for street procession - Deniliquin, New South Wales

Man on a penny-farthing bicycle being chased by his sister (Maggie & Bob Spiers) - West Wyalong, New South Wales, c. 1900

Billie Samuels leaving to ride from Sydney to Melbourne, in hopes of breaking the women's record in 3 days and 7 hours, on a Malvern Star bicycle, 4 July 1934, by Sam Hood

Close-up of Billie Samuels on the Malvern Star bike showing her koala bear mascot before leaving for Melbourne, 4 July 1934, by Sam Hood

Studio photograph of Annie Dawson Wallace seated on a bicycle - Sydney, New South Wales, 1899

Man on bicycle pillioning boy - Bunaloo, New South Wales

Annie Dawson Wallace with her bicycle. NB: Annie is wearing trousers - Sydney, New South Wales, 1899

Man and woman on a Malvern Star abreast tandem bicycle, c. 1930s, by Sam Hood

Alfred Lee and penny farthing, Glen Street, North Sydney

School teacher (Miss Marley) at Narraburra School - Narraburra, New South Wales, no date, by Eden Photo Studios

Palace Emporium Bicycle Club. Century riders - Sydney area, New South Wales, July 1899

Cyclist Joyce Barry, celebrated throughout the 1930s for her many record-breaking time and distances rides, advertising for Milk Board, September 1939

A. H. Sheppard, Australian Champion, c. 1913

Champion Australian cyclist Reggie 'Iron Man' McNamara (1887-1971), no date

Line up of competitors at Goulburn, Goulburn to Sydney, Dunlop Road Race, c. 1930s

Hubert Opperman eating an ice cream next to a Peter's Ice Cream Reo truck,1936, by Sam Hood

Oppy (Hubert Opperman) and woman, possibly Edna Sayers, on tandem bicycle, by Sam Hood

Four cyclists on speed bicycles on rollers time trials to promote Malvern Star, by Sam Hood

Two men in plus-fours on a tandem, by Sam Hood

Boys of Hoyts Clovelly Theatre 'Spider's Web' Club ride their bikes while 'Spiderman' looks on, by Sam Hood

Skipping champion Tom Morris attempts to skip from Sydney to Brisbane via the Pacific Highway, 28 June 1937, by Sam Hood. He had already skipped from Melbourne to Adelaide and back (1000 miles) and from Melbourne to Sydney in 28 days.

Mr. Waterhouse had the first motorcycle that came to Singleton and he built the front carrier for passenger - Singleton, New South Wales, no date

For a related vintage bike culture treat, see this fantastic short documentary on how the Dutch got their bicycle paths (so they can have royalty ride in them), as well as the excellent Wheels of Change, one of the 11 best history books of 2011.

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Ira Glass on the Secret of Success in Creative Work, Animated in Kinetic Typography

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On grit, the art of storytelling, and bridging the gap between good taste and great work.

This American Life host and producer Ira Glass is among our era’s most beloved storytellers. In this wonderful short motion graphics piece, filmmaker David Shiyang Liu has captured Glass’s now-legendary interview on the art of storytelling in beautifully minimalist and elegant kinetic typography. The gist of Glass’s message for beginners — that grit is what separates mere good taste from great work, and that the only way to bridge the gap between ability and ambition is to actually do the work — is one that rings true for just about every creative discipline, and something I can certainly speak to in my own experience.

The most important possible thing you can do is do a lot of work.

Look for more of Glass’s singular lens on storytelling in The New Kings of Nonfiction, his fantastically curated anthology of essays by some of today’s finest nonfiction storytellers, the introduction to which alone is an absolute literary masterpiece.

via Coudal

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Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.