Jack Kerouac Lists 9 Essentials for Writing Spontaneous Prose

Image by  Tom Palum­bo, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

Jack Ker­ouac wants you to turn writ­ing into “free devi­a­tion (asso­ci­a­tion) of mind into lim­it­less blow-on-sub­ject seas of thought, swim­ming in sea of Eng­lish with no dis­ci­pline, oth­er than rhythms of rhetor­i­cal exha­la­tion and expos­tu­lat­ed state­ment….” Think you can do that? Find out by fol­low­ing Kerouac’s “Essen­tials of Spon­ta­neous Prose.” He pub­lished this doc­u­ment in Black Moun­tain Review in 1957 and wrote it in response to a request from Allen Gins­berg and William S. Bur­roughs that he explain his method for writ­ing The Sub­ter­raneans in three days time.

And for a the­o­ry of Kerouac’s not quite the­o­ry, vis­it the site of Maris­sa M. Juarez, pro­fes­sor of Rhetoric, Com­po­si­tion, and the Teach­ing of Eng­lish at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ari­zona. Juarez rais­es some salient points about why Kerouac’s “Essen­tials” bemuse the Eng­lish teacher: His method “dis­cour­ages revi­sion… chas­tis­es gram­mat­i­cal cor­rect­ness, and encour­ages writer­ly flex­i­bil­i­ty.” Read Kerouac’s full “Essen­tials of Spon­ta­neous Prose” here or below. [Note: If you see what looks like typos, they are not errors. They are part of Ker­ouac’s orig­i­nal, spon­ta­neous text.]

SET-UP: The object is set before the mind, either in real­i­ty. as in sketch­ing (before a land­scape or teacup or old face) or is set in the mem­o­ry where­in it becomes the sketch­ing from mem­o­ry of a def­i­nite image-object.

PROCEDURE: Time being of the essence in the puri­ty of speech, sketch­ing lan­guage is undis­turbed flow from the mind of per­son­al secret idea-words, blow­ing (as per jazz musi­cian) on sub­ject of image.

METHOD: No peri­ods sep­a­rat­ing sen­tence-struc­tures already arbi­trar­i­ly rid­dled by false colons and timid usu­al­ly need­less com­mas-but the vig­or­ous space dash sep­a­rat­ing rhetor­i­cal breath­ing (as jazz musi­cian draw­ing breath between out­blown phras­es)– “mea­sured paus­es which are the essen­tials of
our speech”– “divi­sions of the sounds we hear”- “time and how to note it down.” (William Car­los Williams)

SCOPING: Not “selec­tiv­i­ty” of expres­sion but fol­low­ing free devi­a­tion (asso­ci­a­tion) of mind into lim­it­less blow-on-sub­ject seas of thought,
swim­ming in sea of Eng­lish with no dis­ci­pline oth­er than rhythms of rhetor­i­cal exha­la­tion and expos­tu­lat­ed state­ment, like a fist com­ing down on a table with each com­plete utter­ance, bang! (the space dash)- Blow as deep as you want-write as deeply, fish as far down as you want, sat­is­fy your­self first, then read­er can­not fail to receive tele­path­ic shock and mean­ing-excite­ment by same laws oper­at­ing in his own human mind.

LAG IN PROCEDURE: No pause to think of prop­er word but the infan­tile pile­up of scat­o­log­i­cal buildup words till sat­is­fac­tion is gained, which will turn out to be a great append­ing rhythm to a thought and be in accor­dance with Great Law of tim­ing.

TIMING: Noth­ing is mud­dy that runs in time and to laws of time-Shake­spear­i­an stress of dra­mat­ic need to speak now in own unal­ter­able way or for­ev­er hold tongue-no revi­sions (except obvi­ous ratio­nal mis­takes, such as names or cal­cu­lat­ed inser­tions in act of not writ­ing but insert­ing).

CENTER OF INTEREST: 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-Do not after­think except for poet­ic or P. S. rea­sons. Nev­er after­think to “improve” or defray impres­sions, as, the best writ­ing is always the most painful per­son­al wrung-out tossed from cra­dle warm pro­tec­tive mind-tap from your­self the song of your­self, blow!-now!-your way is your only way- “good”-or “bad”-always hon­est (“ludi- crous”), spon­ta­neous, “con­fes­sion­als’ inter­est­ing, because not “craft­ed.” Craft is craft.

STRUCTURE OF WORK: Mod­ern bizarre struc­tures (sci­ence fic­tion, etc.) arise from lan­guage being dead, “dif­fer­ent” themes give illu­sion of “new” life. Fol­low rough­ly out­lines in out­fan­ning move­ment over sub­ject, as riv­er rock, so mind­flow over jew­el-cen­ter need (run your mind over it, once) arriv­ing at piv­ot, where what was dim-formed “begin­ning” becomes sharp-neces­si­tat­ing “end­ing” and lan­guage short­ens in race to wire of time-race of work, fol­low­ing laws of Deep Form, to con­clu­sion, last words, last trick­le-Night is The End.

MENTAL STATE: If pos­si­ble write “with­out con­scious­ness” in semi-trance (as Yeats’ lat­er “trance writ­ing”) allow­ing sub­con­scious to admit in own unin­hib­it­ed inter­est­ing nec­es­sary and so “mod­ern” lan­guage what con­scious art would cen­sor, and write excit­ed­ly, swift­ly, with writ­ing-or-typ­ingcramps, in accor­dance (as from cen­ter to periph­ery) with laws of orgasm, Reich’s “becloud­ing of con­scious­ness.” Come from with­in, out-to relaxed and said.

Oh, and for authenticity’s sake, you should try Kerouac’s “Essen­tials” on a type­writer. It’s all he had when he wrote The Sub­ter­raneans. No gram­mar robots to dis­tract him.

via Al Fil­ries

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Jack Kerouac’s 30 Beliefs and Tech­niques For Writ­ing Mod­ern Prose

Cor­mac McCarthy’s Three Punc­tu­a­tion Rules, and How They All Go Back to James Joyce

William S. Bur­roughs’ Short Class on Cre­ative Read­ing

“Expan­sive Poet­ics” by Allen Gins­berg: A Free Course from 1981

Allen Ginsberg’s “Celes­tial Home­work”: A Read­ing List for His Class “Lit­er­ary His­to­ry of the Beats”

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (5)
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  • In Lyn­da Bar­ry’s “What It Is”, she rec­om­mends a sim­i­lar tech­nique for cre­ative inspi­ra­tional writ­ing. Sit down with paper, write as fast as pos­si­ble for sev­en min­utes, put aside for at least a week.nI’ve done this and it’s a great deal of fun — try it!

  • 1914 says:

    God­damn I love this blog. Prob­a­bly one of my top 5 things on the inter­net. Nev­er slips.nnThank you for this con­tent.

  • david l collier says:

    mind to fin­gers
    mes­sage received


    fin­gers to mind- mind

  • Word says:

    Thanks for the val­i­da­tion

  • Pat Redman says:

    Prac­ti­cal analy­sis . For what it’s worth , if your com­pa­ny is requir­ing a per­mit search , my busi­ness used a sam­ple ver­sion here https://goo.gl/Y8YzOI

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