Tag Archives: Paris

Henry Miller … a routine man

Henry Miller … a routine man

Henry Miller (1891-1980) was an American writer known for breaking with existing literary forms, developing a new type of semi-autobiographical novel that blended character study, social criticism, philosophical reflection, explicit language, sex, surrealist free association, and mysticism. His most characteristic works of this kind are Tropic of Cancer, Black Spring, Tropic o Capricorn and The Rosy Crucifixion trilogy, which are based on his experiences in New York and Paris (all of which were banned in the United States until 1961). He also wrote travel memoirs and literary criticism, and painted watercolours.

Miller was born in New York. After holding down various jobs he became employment manager of the messenger department, Western Union in New York. In 1922 he wrote his first book, Clipped Wings. Several years later he decided to devote his entire energy to writing. He travelled to London and then Paris, meeting other writers along the way such as T.S. Eliot and Dylan Thomas. He spent time with Lawrence Durrell on the Greek island of Corfu. He returned to America in 1940 where he continued writing and painting watercolours into his old age.

As a young novelist, Miller frequently wrote from midnight until dawn. While living in Paris during the 1930s, he shifted his writing time, working from breakfast to lunch. Then he would have a nap and write again until late afternoon and maybe into the evening. As he got older, though, he found that anything after noon was unnecessary and even counterproductive. As he told one interviewer, “I don’t believe in draining the reservoir, do you see? I believe in getting up from the typewriter, away from it, while I still have things to say.” Two or three hours in the morning were enough for him, although he stressed the importance of keeping regular hours in order to cultivate a daily creative rhythm.

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 …

  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.

In addition, he split his day into three parts …

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.

References:

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Honoré de Balzac … a strong cup of black coffee please !

Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850)

Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850)

Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850)

Honoré de Balzac was a prolific French novelist and playwright. He wrote eighty-five novels in the space of twenty years and made innumerable corrections and revisions in the proof sheets of each. His magnum opus was a sequence of short stories and novels collectively entitled La Comedie Humaine, which presents a panorama of French life in the years after the 1815 fall of Napoleon Bonaparte.

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In 1819, having abandoned former plans to take up the law, he announced his intention to live in Paris as a writer. According to English critic George Saintsbury, an authority on the history of French literature, Honoré de Balzac was living at this time in a garret furnished in the most Spartan fashion, with a starvation allowance and an old woman to look after him. 

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He made decent money from his literature but was extraordinarily extravagant, a chronic spender who was hounded by creditors all of his adult life.He often used false names and frequently changed his lodgings in an attempt to hide from them. He never succeeded in divesting himself of debt and it was largely for this reason that he wrote so much. 

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Balzac’s work habits are legendary. He did not work quickly, but toiled with an incredible focus and dedication. He drove himself relentlessly as a writer. This is his own description, written in March 1833, of a punishing work schedule:

I go to bed at six or seven in the evening, like the chickens; I’m waked  at one o’clock in the morning, and I work until eight; at eight I sleep again for an hour and a half; then I take a little something, a cup of black coffee, and go back into my harness until four. I receive guests, I take a bath, and I go out, and after dinner I go to bed. I’ll have to lead this life for some months, not to let myself be snowed under by my debts.

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A recreation of Honore de Balzac’s study in one of his homes in Paris. It is now a museum.

” The days melt in my hands like ice in the sun … I’m not living, I’m wearing myself out in a horrible fashion – but whether I die of work or something else, it’s all the same … I am driven by the terrible demon of work, seeking words out of the silence, ideas out of the night. “

He often dressed in Moroccan slippers and a white monkish robe with a belt of Venetian gold from which hung a pair of scissors and a golden penknife.

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He often spent long periods at Château de Saché, near Tours, the home of his friend Jean de Margonne. Many of Balzac's tormented characters were created in the small second-floor bedroom. Today the Château is a museum dedicated to the author's life.

He often spent long periods at Château de Saché, near Tours, the home of his friend Jean de Margonne.
Many of Balzac’s tormented characters were created in the small second-floor bedroom. Today the Château is a museum dedicated to the author’s life.

His consumption of strong black coffee was every bit as remarkable as his gruelling work schedule. It is said that his intake was anything from 50 to 300 cups a day. It is also highly probable that he died of health problems related to caffeine poisoning. He most certainly found it an absolute necessity for his creativity …

 “Coffee falls into the stomach … ideas begin to move, things remembered arrive at full gallop … the shafts of wit start up like sharp-shooters, similes arise, the paper is covered with ink… ”

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Simone de Beauvoir ..

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Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986)

Writer Simone de Beauvoir was born in Paris. She was among the first women to receive a degree from the Sorbonne.
She is  best known for her 1949 treatise The Second Sex, her novels including She Came to Stay and The Mandarins and her lifelong relationship with the French philosopher, novelist and playwright  Jean-Paul Sartre.

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During an interview at her studio in 1965 by the Paris Review she was asked about her work habits. 
I am always in a hurry to get going, though in general I dislike starting the day. I first have tea and then, at about ten o’clock, I get under way and work until one. Then I see my friends and after that, at five o’clock, I go back to work and continue until nine.

Simone de Beauvoir working with Sartre in his Paris apartment.

Simone de Beauvoir working with Sartre in his Paris apartment.

Although her work always came first, her daily schedule also revolved around her relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre. She would generally work by herself in the morning and join him for lunch. In the afternoon they worked together at Sartre’s apartment which was only a few minutes walk from her own. 

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Her handwriting was notoriously difficult to read. She didn’t know how to type so employed two typists who were able to decipher what she’d written.

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In her Paris apartment, 1976