mad in pursuit journal


Jack Kerouac's Craft

Kerouac wrote "On the Road" in a 3-week creative storm, typing madly on a continuous role of teletype paper. The myth was born: "First draft, best draft." How many 1960's college students spewed out their prose in a single burst of 2 A.M. "inspiration" defending their method as art, sneering at revisions as artifice. Don't tamper with the muse!

But I was reared in the plodding "all writing is revision" school of thought, where rare bursts of inspiration can at best only be thought of as ore to be processed into something useful.

So it did my heart good to hear that "On the Road" emerged from piles of notebooks Kerouac kept for years (see NPR story link below). He had diligently prepared for his "spontaneous" work — like a Zen monk who spends his life meditating, then jumps up to paint a loose and lively composition in a matter of minutes. Observers of his life say he wrote and re-wrote as he sought to get published.

Still, his Beat style is loose and poetic — a good tonic for this plodding bricklayer of a writer.

When you carefully read his "technique" (below), you can see the wellspring of his method: joyous trust in his own perceptions and feelings — an ability to reach deep, deep inside — fearlessness about telling a story from his own heart. These days, the internet is filled will unedited stream of consciousness writing, but how little of it comes from fearless storytellers?

Belief and Technique for Modern Prose by Jack Kerouac — his guide to "spontaneous writing":

  • Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy
  • Submissive to everything, open, listening
  • Try never get drunk outside your own house
  • Be in love with your life
  • Something that you feel will find its own form
  • Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
  • Blow as deep as you want to blow
  • Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind
  • The unspeakable visions of the individual
  • No time for poetry but exactly what is
  • Visionary tics shivering in the chest
  • In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
  • Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
  • Like Proust be an old teahead of time
  • Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog
  • The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye
  • Write in recollection and amazement for yrself
  • Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea
  • Accept loss forever
  • Believe in the holy contour of life
  • Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
  • Don't think of words when you stop but to see picture better
  • Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning
  • No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
  • Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it
  • Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form
  • In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
  • Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
  • You're a Genius all the time
  • Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven


Jack Kerouac on Wikipedia.

Jack Kerouac on NPR, with photos and audio clips.


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