Jack Kerouac’s not my favorite writer, but he led an interesting life and had some ideas that remain worthy of discussion. In The Portable Jack Kerouac there’s a list of 30 tips on writing and life that he chose to pass along. It’s a bit of word salad and at times looks like a collect of bad Tweets, but I want to go through them and add my own comments.
Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy
You should write for your own enjoyment. I have a journal that I use as what Lovecraft called a Commonplace Book, full of random thoughts and ideas. I’ve also opened up a blank document and just started typing, usually to be obtrusive thoughts and rants out of my system so I can focus on the write I need to get done; these usually get deleted once my spleen is vented and I’m ready to move on.
Submissive to everything, open, listening
This is a very zen idea, but it goes against my personal style. I am a planner in life and an outliner in writing. I am not a “pantser” who can wing it. I need to eat, and that means I need to publish, and that means I need to write. I can’t chase every stray idea, I need to buckle down.
Try never get drunk outside yr own house
Not that it has anything to do with writing, but I loathe public intoxication. Taken alongside my response to #2, you might think I’m some sort of self-discipline freak. Maybe I am. I rarely drink, but that’s about health issues and not any sort of moral judgment. I’m not against alcohol, I’m against being around even one person acting like an ass.
Be in love with yr life
This I agree with. Appreciate what you have, work toward what you want.
Something that you feel will find its own form
This seems like a dangerous idea in life, but could lead your writing toward interesting places. Figure out how to express what you’re thinking and feeling in a creating and constructive way.
Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
“Try never get drunk outside yr own house”
Blow as deep as you want to blow
What does this even mean? Is this supposed to be a zen koan? I’m going to say write what you want to write, with as much detail, or emotion, or research, as you choose to put into it.
Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind
Keep the first four words, then stop.
The unspeakable visions of the individual
That’s not even a sentence, let along a piece of advice. Maybe it has something to do with finding your own authorial voice? Maybe it’s about a bad drug trip? Who can tell?
No time for poetry but exactly what is
When you write, get to the point. Your writing can be descriptive and evocative and filled with imagery, but get to the point.
Visionary tics shivering in the chest
As visions of sugarplums danced in their heads. “No time for poetry but exactly what is”
In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
When it’s time to write, filter out distractions and just get it done.
Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
I am a firm believer in the “puke draft” — get everything out, good ideas and bad, lay it down and then go back and edit and rewrite and make it pretty in the next draft..
Like Proust be an old teahead of time
Proust wrote “In Search of Lost Time”, but Proust also tended to lay about all day not writing. Something something allow your brain time to wander and process ideas, that’s the best I can do here.
Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog
We’re all the protagonist of our own lives? Have a viewpoint character that the reader can connect to? All narrators are unreliable narrators, yet true to their own point of view?
The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye
I can’t even.
Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
If you’re bored writing it, everyone else will be bored reading in.
Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea
“No time for poetry but exactly what is”
Accept loss forever
Make the losses characters experience meaningful, so that they affect the story and create resonance with the reader.
Believe in the holy contour of life
So revisiting that idea about public drunkenness, I’m realizing that I might need to pour myself a shot of bourbon to make it all the way through this list. I might know what he’s talking about, but this just feels so damned pretentious I’m going to skip right on past.
Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
Most of the time we already know the story that we’re trying to tell. Be true to that, keep it real, and don’t allow things to wander based on the stray ideas that come into your head. That’s my takeaway, and I’m sticking to it.
Dont think of words when you stop but to see picture better
Or as every writing teacher ever has put it, “Show, don’t tell.”
Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning
Make a schedule, review and revise it in the morning, and then follow it. I’m a productivity wonk, so of course that’s how I read it.
No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
I tend to self-censor my work, especially my non-fiction/memoir/blogging stuff. There are episodes from my life that might make good stories, but they’re embarrassing. If I put them into fiction, they wouldn’t seem believable. I wish that I were more brave about that, but I also have to manage my mental health.
Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it
Share your experiences in a way that creates resonance with the reader. Make them feel as if they were there with you, or your protagonist.
Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form
Um, didn’t we cover “show, don’t tell” already? Is this list almost over, because it feels like it’s becoming repetitive.
In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
Allow the audience to find resonance with your characters by showing their emotional lives, including and possibly especially the sadder and darker parts of their lives.
Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
See my above comments about doing a puke draft, just to get all of the ideas out without worrying about the structure, the grammar, or any of the nice stuff. You can polish it and make it pretty and tone it down in the next draft.
You’re a Genius all the time
You need to believe in what you’re doing. You need to have confidence that you are capable of doing it. If you don’t, you might as well just become a Proustian teahead.
Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven
“The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, And be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace.”
Just go write, okay? Be as pretentious or as down-to-earth as you want. Do what works for you. The reason I’m going to present these deconstructions of other writers’ advice is exactly because what works for you might not work for me, what inspires me might come off as so much pseudo-intellectual crap to you. We’re all writers. We are united by words on pages. Go write.