“Look at all this raw talent!” Professor Smith announced to the class.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t talking about my classmates or me.
WR 150 class. Fall Semester.
We were analyzing a passage from American author Jack Kerouac’s The Big Sur. Professor Smith loved Jack Kerouac. He would always talk about Kerouac’s writing ability, his tragic-Shakespearean life, and his association with the Beats.
Despite his enthusiasm, it didn’t wear off on my classmates or me. I was thinking, “What’s the big deal about this guy? He’s like a wannabe James Joyce!” Spontaneous prose? What a load of crap! It’s more like messy writing. How’s this guy a great author?
Throughout the semester, my opinion gradually changed. And I began to see why Professor’s Smith loved Jack Kerouac. Kerouac had authenticity, style — but most importantly — creativity.
Here are Jack Kerouac’s 5 Ways To Write.
“In tranced fixation dreaming before object before you”
Or have the image in your mind and then describe it. Kerouac would sit first, think about the image in his mind, picture how it looks, and then let the image make the words come out.
“Something that you feel will find its own form”
You have an idea for a poem. Next, you wonder, “What form should I make it in?
After all, there are many different types of poems: free verse, sonnets, haikus, etc. But Kerouac is basically saying forms are good but don’t force yourself into one. Just let yourself write. Just keep writing. Really, it’s funny. When you try more, you end up not achieving anything at all. Let all the thoughts come.
If you stop to think of something interesting, you’ll end up staying and thinking — ruining the train of thought.
So let it soak in and take your time.
“Like Proust, be an old teahead of time.”
Marcel Proust, a famous French author, first coined the term “involuntary memory.” Involuntary memory is when everyday life evokes cues, bringing up past memories. Though never a psychologist, Proust frequently used the theme of “involuntary memory” in his famous work In Search of Lost Time.
In other words, Proust had a really good memory.
Like a teahead (a frequent marijuana user), once Proust had one past cue, he could recall all the past details. As a child, when Proust was eating a tea-soaked cake, he received a memory of his aunt, childhood home, and even his own town. So like Proust, remember the details.
As old Proust puts it, “Our memory is like a shop in the window of which is exposed now one, now another photograph of the same person.”
“Accept loss forever”
A Kerouac Buddhist belief. Everything changes. Nothing is permanent. Suffering is inevitable. Kerouac knows more about that more than anyone. His older brother Gerard died at nine years old, and his father would die soon after.
Subsequently, Kerouac’s first book The Town and the City was about his father’s death, and Visions of Gerard was about his brother’s. If you have the idea what you’re writing about could be gone in a flash, it brings more emotional depth into your work.
Better write it right before it ends. As Kerouac puts it, “Life is a dream already ended.”
“Be in love with yr own life”
It’s Kerouac’s way of saying, “I celebrate myself, and sing myself.” Good writing comes from the heart. And often your own life memories. Salinger does it. Bukowski does it. Orwell does it.
Your life is the hero’s journey. Look at your life this way. Every minor detail — your partner yelling at you, waking up late. — would be a fascinating event. You can’t look at yourself and say, “I’m a shit person. I’m a loser. I’m nothing special.” You are the hero of your own journey, so love it.
And live it. When you start to see things this way, your life is your own writing. Seems obvious? Well, as Orwell says, “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.”
After all, all good stories have influence from somewhere.
“Remember how they called Hemingway’s generation, “The Lost Generation?” You know what they’re going to call ours, Gabe?” I asked my classmate.
“What?” he answered back.
“The Ghosted Generation!” I announced.
We started laughing hard as hell. Until Professor Smith announced to us to stop and had the class read Kerouac’s The Subterraneans out loud.
“Alex, read to page 15 of The Subterraneans,” Professor Smith announced.
“Alright,” I mumbled.
I didn’t want to read the book. But as I began to read, I started to see Kerouac’s jazz-like spontaneity and rhythm, reminding me of John Coltrane’s song “Blue Train.”
And for a quick second, I realized — maybe — Kerouac was going with something after all.