“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.”
— Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums
Do we understand everything on Jack Kerouac’s list on how to be a better writer? Maybe it’s best not to overthink the words, but go with their flow? The writer (March 12, 1922–October 21, 1969) left us his Belief and Technique for Modern Prose, a 30-point list to becoming a better writer and deeper thinker. The list, said to have been stuck to the wall of Allen Ginsberg’s hotel room in San Francisco’s North Beach in 1953, a year before he wrote his poem Howl, is about being true to yourself and perseverance.
The essential part, as with all lists, is about discipline. Writing prose is the hardest thing, as Ernest Hemingway told his only protege, so adherence to some kind of base is good. Rules can tame your fear of writing. But they’re not all. Kerouac’s aim is to get what you feel down on paper. And make it yours. Embrace life. See writing as a refuge for discovering what you think. And feel the joy of expression and coming to terms with your own thoughts.
“Kerouac had myth to him all right, but it only came through his ability to become his own ‘true’ self on paper,” said
Seymour Krim, Kerouac’s friend.
With guidance comes the freedom to write “without consciousness”, as he noted in his rule for spontaneous writing so evident in On the Road, his beat classic written on a 36 meter-long, hand-typed manuscript. As with Yeats’ “trance writing”, freedom means connecting with your subconscious and “swimming in [a] sea of language”.
Jack Kerouac’s Belief and Technique for Modern Prose in 30 points:
- Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy
- Submissive to everything, open, listening
- Try never get drunk outside yr own house
- Be in love with yr 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 yourself
- 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
- Dont 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
Lead Image: Floating in Water – available as a print in the Shop.
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