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Saturday, September 5, 2009

Kerouac's No. 1 is my No. 1. Read it and weep for joy

Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr [sic] own joy.

How often have those of us who've taken creative writing classes heard the advice, 'have fun with your writing', or 'write about the things you like/enjoy/care about', or 'if you don't enjoy writing, don't do it'. Or many other similar pieces of advice.

But, how many of us actually take this advice on board? Sure some of us may end up writing about things we like, we may actually enjoy writing sometimes (or maybe often if we're lucky). But when you think about it, when you're totally honest with yourself (and I include myself here), how many of us can say that these ideas truly represent our motivations, our reasons for getting to our desk or keyboard and actually writing? I might be wrong, but I reckon there are very few writers who can truly say they in it for the fun, enjoyment, joy, whatever.

We all have different reasons to write. Money, for those of us who have to eat is a biggie. So is the drive to see our names or our words in print. A desire to be free of the constraints of a boss is another reason some of us choose to be writers (of the freelance variety I mean). Of course there are the many many very often brilliant writers who define themselves as 'amateurs'. They are the ones who will tell you they are in it for the joy of writing, for fun, for interest, an so on.

But, even with them, it's hard to say that joy plays that big a part. Again, it is often (in my experience with writing groups, classes, etc) the desire to see one's name and work in print, a competitive spirit, that provide the drive to write.

Not many of us, I suspect would just sit at the keyboard whip out 'wild typewritten pages' just for the joy of it. We're too busy worrying about grammar, or who will buy the piece we're working on, or will i t win the competition, or will so and so like it. On and on go our inhibitors to joy filled, wild abandoned typewritten pages.

By the way, I am typing this on my laptop, which is literally on my lap as I sit in my living room. I wonder what Kerouac would have done with a laptop. Talk about the tool for wild typewritten 'pages'. When he sat down to write On the Road he typed onto a scroll of paper; this is well known of course and the scroll edition is truly a wonderful, wild read. But he didn't just grab a telex role like I always assumed and use that. He actually taped many pieces of paper together to form the scroll. He actually prepared himself for the typing and writing stint that was to come: he didn't want to be interrupted by having to change the paper in the typewriter. How fortunate we are that we don't even have to think about such things: we can type till we want to stop and then some.

Gathered around him as he wrote On the Road, Kerouac had his many notebooks, filled over the years as he went about his life and adventures. He himself said these, along with memory, were key sources for the material that went into the novel, as well as his other books of course.

These 'secret notebooks', what were they? Were they diaries? I think he did keep a diary, at least at some point: I've seen quotes from it. But mostly these notebooks were filled with his observations, names, dates, all sorts of stuff he recorded along the road. The secret part is interesting. Kerouac used to say he would 'sketch' a scene or event in words, on the spot or soon afterwards.

I guess there were many reasons why these notebooks were secret: whipping out a notebook and pen could easily become a real downer as one goes about getting one's kicks, I think. Also, if you keep a notebook or diary, you know yourself that they can interfere with the actual living of the life one wants to record in those pages.

But I think for Kerouac, secret has another meaning here. These notebooks were just for himself. Who knows what they contain? Other than the above mentioned observations that is. Fantasies, secret heart reflections, you name it. It's probably all there.

He says, with this first 'technique', that if you are to write, really write, you need to do it at least sometimes just for yourself, nobody else, and for no other reason than because it is for you. And for joy too of course. How hard this is! We always think everything we do has to have a purpose, a goal. We think of something that is done for no other reason than to please ourselves is frivolous, selfish, self-indulgent, a waste of time that could be better utilised doing something else.

Well, I for one am totally sick of always having to have a reason for every little thing I do! I think it is really appropriate that this technique is number 1 on Kerouac's list: it is a number one top notch, very groovy, and right on piece of advice.

Everyone who reads this (assuming anyone at all does read it) has the tool at their fingertips to indulge is some wild typing (by the way, I read an article that says a huge percentage of computer users can't actually type 'properly'. I did a night school course many years ago and can say it is one of the very best things I have done in my life, if you know what I mean. Now I touch type 40 or 50 words a minute and think of it as a miracle. Do it yourself and you'll see what I mean.

Get a notebook, if you don't already have one. And if you do have one start using it with abandon; keep it secret, as in from others as well as in terms of what you put in it being just for you. Some call this a writer's or artist's journal or diary. Doesn't matter what you call it. Just go for it.

I'm going to do it anyway. Never been that uninhibited with my writing, even in my personal journal I've been keeping for 30 odd years (imagine that?). Thanks to the blogger who put up Kerouac's techniques and Kerouac himself (I have a hell of a lot to thank that dude for), I now have a tool and the incentive to really let go, be myself, go wild with my typing. Who knows what will eventuate? Who can say what gifts I will receive by opening up, letting go, being free.

That's it for today. Can't wait to think about technique number 2 and share some of my thoughts on it tomorrow. Until then, good writing!


  1. Great comments! It's simple advice but hard to follow. I came across Kerouac's Essentials of Spontaneous Prose a year or two ago and they helped me to get my first novel written. I'd been grappling with this "great" novel for years, gradually losing any sense of joy or excitement or genuine enthusiasm, and inspired by Kerouac's advice I decided to just type for a month and see what I ended up with. What I ended up with was a lot better than the stuff I'd taken so much trouble with over the previous few years.

    Look forward to reading the next installment!

  2. Yes indeed, VERY hard to follow. Still, it seems you already acted on it! Your book, On the Holloway Road, looks absolutely fascinating. The idea of an On the Road style exploration of Britain is intriguing. I don't buy books these days (can't afford it sadly), but if I could, I would buy this one!
    Thank you Andrew for your comments. I am new to blogging and am thrilled by its potential for connection and communication between people of like mind. Thanks!


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