Jack Kerouac on Writing

October 17, 2013 — Leave a comment

Juniper Books

It is tempting to think that the form and content of my writing is only influenced by me and no one else. I was surprised to learn through my ModPo class (Modern Poetry class through coursera.org) about Jack Kerouac’s views on writing and spontaneity. “Begin not from preconceived idea of what to say about image but from jewel center of interest in subject of image at moment of writing, and write outwards swimming in sea of language to peripheral release and exhaustion.” He created a list of 30 elements that are essential to modern writing. I particularly like numbers 16 and 18. Number 24 is also great. The list is from a letter he wrote in 1958. (Abbreviations are his.)

JACK KEROUAC’S BELIEF & TECHNIQUE FOR MODERN PROSE

LIST OF ESSENTIALS

  1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy
  2. Submissive to everything, open, listening
  3. Try never get drunk outside yr own house
  4. Be in love with yr life
  5. Something that you feel will find its own form
  6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
  7. Blow as deep as you want to blow
  8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of mind
  9. The unspeakable visions of the individual
  10. No time for poetry but exactly what is
  11. Visionary tics shivering in the chest
  12. In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
  13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
  14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time
  15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog
  16. The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye
  17. Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
  18. Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea
  19. Accept loss forever
  20. Believe in the holy contour of life
  21. Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
  22. Dont think of words when you stop but to see picture better
  23. Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning
  24. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
  25. Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it
  26. Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form
  27. In Praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
  28. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
  29. Youre a Genius all the time
  30. Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven

As ever,

Jack [Kerouac]

[Jack Kerouac. “Belief & Technique For Modern Prose: List of Essentials” from a 1958 letter to Don Allen, in Heaven & Other Poems, Grey Fox Press, 1958, 1977, 1983.]

It is so clear that Kerouac’s influence extends to how writing is taught today, including MFA programs. There is a great deal of free writing, which is as absent of rules as one can make it be, and then that output is edited into a final piece that works in some way. Every writing instructor I have had has promoted this idea of spontaneity, writing-from-the-inner-eye. Kerouac’s ideas are also traceable, if you are a creative writer, to what Julia Cameron advocates in her book, The Artist’s Way, with her spontaneous morning pages. Fun to connect the generational dots, here.

Also interesting is Kerouac’s comment on his work “October in the Railroad Earth” during an interview with Ted Berrigan for The Paris Review, particularly his struggles writing in his youth.

…the prose in “October in the Railroad Earth,” very experimental, intended to clack along all the way like a steam engine pulling a one-hundred-car freight with a talky caboose at the end, that was my way at the time and it still can be done if the thinking during the swift writing is confessional and pure and all excited with the life of it. And be sure of this, I spent my entire youth writing slowly with revisions and endless rehashing speculation and deleting and got so I was writing one sentence a day and the sentence had no FEELING. Goddamn it, FEELING is what I like in art, not CRAFTINESS and the hiding of feelings. – Kerouac

Whole interview with The Paris Review here.

I highly recommend the Modern Poetry class. It’s free online and offered in the fall.

(Above image from Juniper Books, custom curated collections for sale.)

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