Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Jack Kerouac’s writing rules, and why he should be an inspiration to all writers.

I’m new to Kerouac’s writing and even although I’ve only read ‘On the Road’ (and feel like I’m the last man on earth to do so) I already consider him an inspiration.  Despite the fact I’ve been writing (and have been regularly published) for about ten years I will always consider myself a novice writer, I don’t see how any writer can consider themselves as anything else – even if you’ve sold millions of books you’ll always have so much more to learn.

I don’t claim Jack Kerouac as an inspiration stylistically - although I will admit there is a similar stream of consciousness style to my own work – I’m inspired by the ethics of his writing style as well as his bloody minded persistence in chasing artistic recognition through publication.  ‘On the Road’ appealed to me because of the sideways look at life that defines it; it’s something that somewhat echoes my own anarchist leanings.

Kerouac was fond of a tipple or two and would lecture anyone who would pass within a few feet about the rules of his style – the ethics of his writing.  Allen Ginsberg apparently got tired of Jack Keroauc only relaying his rules via the medium of drunken rambling and (backed up by mutual friends) encouraged him to formalise his rules as a list, and here they are:

Belief and Technique for Modern Prose, a list of thirty "essentials".

  1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for your own joy
  2. Submissive to everything, open, listening
  3. Try never get drunk outside your own house
  4. Be in love with your 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 the 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. Don't 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 your 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. You're a Genius all the time
  30. Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven

Now I’ll admit that I don’t fully understand every one of his thirty points, but (in much the same way as I view Keroauc’s work) I like the feel of it, the unspoken insinuations, the themes between the lines.  This list represents a glorious mix of madness and sanguine sanity that speaks to me as a writer (and of course as a modern human).

I’ve spent a LOT of time over the past few years forcing myself to learn the strict rules of grammar and form, but the more books I read (and fall in love with) the more inclined I am to wander from the path of the straight and true; while being understood is still more important to my writing style than anything else I’m learning that in order to express how I (or my characters) feel on an emotional level it’s okay to break the rules occasionally.

As an aside Jack Keroauc wrote many of his books in the years before ‘On the Road’ was published.  It was only once he became a best seller that publishers rushed to publish his earlier works.  Speaking as a writer who has written two books (I’m currently writing a third) that are yet to be published in the mainstream I’d be a fool not to take encouragement from a fact like that.


  1. You're coming through clear to me, mate. Keep up the good work.
    Al of 'Beat_Happening' site (forth link down on Google)

  2. Love the 30 rules! I don't understand them all either, but a few are genius. While this was not my favorite book as far as plot and characters went, the writing was divine!

  3. I agree - when I first read it I couldn't see what the big deal was, but then it slowly sunk in and now I think the writing is a musical as a good Wodehouse, albeit in a very different way!