On Writing: Henry Miller Made Me Do It

I became a writer after I read Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller when I was 22. I couldn’t believe somebody wrote that book. 

I became a writer after I read Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller when I was 22. I couldn’t believe somebody wrote that book.  I couldn’t believe somebody said what he said and lived how he lived and wrote this book.  I was just blown away by it.  

And after I had finished it, I said to myself, “I want to do what he did.  I want to make some punk kid somewhere feel what that book made me feel.”  And from then, that’s all I tried to do.  I moved to Paris.  I read a lot of books.  I sat along in rooms for hours and hours and hours, just trying to write.  I came to be a writer because I looked over the course of literary history, very few sort of writers who made it into the canon went to school to be taught to write.  You know, before 1970, that idea didn’t really even exist.  So I wanted to do it sort of the old fashioned way.  Sit in a room; try to figure out how to get what was in my head on to paper.  

And then it’s just a long process of building confidence.  For years, I couldn’t do it.  And then I started to be able to do it.  And when I started to be able to do it, I did it more.  And you know, it took me about 10 years from the time I wanted to write a book to publish a book.  And it was hard.  It wasn’t easy.  I think you have to devote a lot of time and energy and dedication to doing it, to learn how to sit in a room by yourself without ever losing faith in being able to do it at some point.  

I think that’s one of the big traps young writers get into as well is they’ll work for a month of two months or three months.  And they’ll say, “I’m never, I can’t do what I want to do.  I’m never going to be able to do it.”  So they give up.  I just never gave up.  

When I decided to become a writer, I wanted to do things in very specific ways.  I wanted to write in a way that nobody had ever done before, I wanted to use my own system of grammar; my own system of punctuation.  I wanted to lay words out on a page in very specific ways.  I wanted to sort of obliterate the ideas of fact or fiction and whether they mattered and sort of do things in some ways that come out of the art world, where genres don’t really exist and where you can do a self-portrait and make it look however you want or you can take something and call it whatever you want.  You can appropriate something from whatever source you want.  

It took a long time.  Just me sitting in a room by myself working.  I always say to people, “If I can do it, anybody can do it.”  I didn’t have any special gift or any special talent; I just wanted to do it and was willing to sit there until I could.


In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

3D printing might save your life one day. It's transforming medicine and health care.

What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.

Northwell Health
Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
  • Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
  • Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.
Keep reading Show less

Forget "text neck." New research suggests humans are growing horns.

Three academic papers from Australia shows sizable bone spurs growing at the base of our skulls.

Surprising Science
  • A team of researchers in Queensland says 33% of the Australian population has sizable bone spurs growing at the base of their skulls.
  • This postural deformity, enthesophytes, results in chronic headaches and upper back and neck pain.
  • The likelihood humans will alter their addiction to this technology is low, so this might be a major consequence of technology.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists turn nuclear waste into diamond batteries

They'll reportedly last for thousands of years. This technology may someday power spacecraft, satellites, high-flying drones, and pacemakers.

Woman looking at a diamond.
popular

Nuclear energy is carbon free, which makes it an attractive and practical alternative to fossil fuels, as it doesn't contribute to global warming. We also have the infrastructure for it already in place. It's nuclear waste that makes fission bad for the environment. And it lasts for so long, some isotopes for thousands of years. Nuclear fuel is comprised of ceramic pellets of uranium-235 placed within metal rods. After fission takes place, two radioactive isotopes are left over: cesium-137 and strontium-90.

Keep reading Show less

Are people getting smarter or dumber? Yes.

The Flynn effect shows people have gotten smarter, but some research claims those IQ gains are regressing. Can both be right?

Surprising Science
  • Many countries made incredible gains in IQ scores during the 20th century, averaging three IQ points per decade.
  • Studies out of Europe have shown a reversal of this trend.
  • Such declines are not universal, and researchers remain unsure of what is causing them.
Keep reading Show less