Beat icon Jack Kerouac composed a 30-point list of essentials for writers that he called his “Belief and Technique for Modern Prose.” It’s all-Kerouac.
My friend Sharyl Fuller asked me to select one or two (Only one or two?? Me? As if!) of these points and comment on how they relate to me and my personal writing. This could be difficult because I’m one of those “sit down and write” guys.
Once I settle into my writing desk cockpit for my flights of fancy, I know I have to write something whether I have a certain inspiration already in mind or not. This hurry-and-write mentality, if not facility, might come from my newspaper reporter beginnings, or maybe from my stolen minutes (and sometimes more) of creativity at my desk at work.
So, which point in Kerouac’s list applies to me? Well, most of them are couched in a very Hip-cum-Zen, cool yet spiritual language and vibe, but two stand out:
#5 Something that you feel will find its own form, and
#17 Write in recollection and amazement for yourself.
As a storyteller and poet, I might be what writers call a “pantser,” writing not from some predetermined start-to-finish or here-to-there. Particularly with poetry, I don’t sit down with a map before me, just a sense of where I am, accompanied by an image, some related and unrelated words, and faith that something tangible will come of this time I’m about to spend with myself and the ghostly Whoever that’s about to tell me Our story. Because they’re all “our story.”
The bricks and mortar of my work, my true and fanciful memories of a life lived in the real and imaginary worlds, music I can no longer hear but do, images I can no longer see, if I ever really saw them in the first place, will scramble up from the dark places, sparkle on the illuminated shelves within me, and report for duty.
It’s my job (the final letter of that word could as easily be a Y) to line up those courses of words representing the tangible and intangible, to construct birds and birdhouses, trees and trepidation, weapons to fight an enemy across No Man’s Land or even across a heart, emotions and images only you can see and understand.
If that process doesn’t snag onto old Jack’s #17, maybe it’s
#25: Write for the world to read and see your exact pictures of it.
And that’s what I do.
I like to say I write my poems and stories, hang them on a tree or door in the public square—digital and between book covers—and then I walk away. They’re not only mine anymore. I’ve given up sole ownership to them the moment you read them.
And maybe that spirit of figuratively losing my creations to the individual reader clicks with one more from that list by my Beat inspiration for this essay.
Kerouac’s #19: Accept loss forever.
Loss awaits me just one letter away on a white sheet of paper. Always has. Always will.
This essay was prompted by my friend Sharyl Fuller’s Writing Outside the Lines post about Jack Kerouac’s “Belief and Technique for Modern Prose.” It was an interesting exercise in which I found out I do a lot of what Kerouac suggested. Now back On the Road to more fiction and poetry…I think.