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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Kerouac's #13: No Need for Inhibition

It’s been a while since I tackled one of old Mr Kerouac’s Belief & Technique for Modern Prose List of Essentials. We’re up to #13 now. If you would like to check out the commentary on the list from the very beginning, please feel free to do so. Here’s the link.

Anyway, #13 says:
Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition.
Sounds simple enough: just write without thinking about grammar, or style or sentence structure; just go for it without thinking of any of that kind of stuff. Why, you can even forget punctuation. Sounds like a liberation don’t you think? No more fretting over the right place (if there is one) for that comma; no more dread of the passive voice. Freedom at last.

No, sorry it ‘ain’t that simple. Well, it is, but it isn’t. You see, there is a kind of mythology around Kerouac that says he wasn’t one to worry too much about sentence structure, or grammar, or punctuation. And some people say his stuff isn’t very ‘literary’ either.

Well, from what I’ve read, he was an absolute fanatic when it came to grammar and commas and all things to do with structure and style. I mean, how do you think he created such amazing rhythms with his words if he didn’t know his grammar and syntax? And not literary? Blimey, he didn’t just read all the ‘classics’ (ancient and modern and in several languages), he assimilated their styles, their energy and life. I’ve read several Kerouac biographies, and it seems to me that this guy just soaked up all he read, a true master reader really. (I envy him that really: #14 on the list is about Proust, and all I know about him is that he was a writer. Not read a lot of the classics myself)

Of course, the words we have to focus on here are remove and inhibition. And we need to remember that Mr Kerouac is talking, in this list, about the actual act of writing; he isn’t referring to the final result. Naturally we bring to our writing all that we are, all that we’ve learnt over our lives and all we’ve experienced. So, if we are grammar nuts, syntactical swats or literary lounge lizards, then our writing will be informed by it all.

So, we have to remove, get rid of, block out, all those influences? Well, I think it’s impossible: they are part of us. Instead we have to put them aside gently and temporarily from our conscious minds—as we put words down on the page (or the screen). They are going to be there anyway of course. It’s just that we don’t really have to think about them as we write.

Actually, now that I think about it, so many writers, me—and probably you—included, think too much as we actually do the writing. On my screen right now, I see the green and red underlines of the word processor’s spell checker (maybe I can turn them off temporarily?). Even that bit of superficial knowledge inhibits.

I don’t actually have the answers to how this removal of inhibitions can be achieved. I think it’s bound to be a constant struggle for all writers who want to just let it flow. Of course, I could say we should stop talking about it and just do it. I guess it just takes practise doesn’t it? Actually, that sounds pretty much like the answer to me. What do you think?

Another thought: if you promise yourself you will really edit, rewrite, make it as good as you can make it (bearing in mind that life is too short for perfect writing), later, once the words are out there on the page or on the disk (somewhere that is, other than in your head or heart), then perhaps you can give yourself permission to let it flow right now.

Now, excuse me. I have to get on and spell check this lot.


  1. I like what you are saying but is it true? I can write a comment and hope that I don't sound like an idiot, I'm not. That my punctuation is correct, which it won't be. That I use the correct words and spell them correctly, possibly. Yes, I would like to be the perfect writer...but I can't take the pressure :)

  2. Yes, as I say, life is too short for perfect writing. I think actually writing comments etc gives us permission to do what Kerouac says: not be inhibited. I think I was referring to the idea of just letting it flow, then if we want we can "perfect" it later rather than as we are actually writing, which can be really inhibiting and can actually stop us saying what we're trying to say or NEED to say.

  3. I will follow what Kerouac says and comment more and try not to be inhibited by what I would like to say, rather than the perfect way to say it :)

  4. If you do that Janice, then my post has succeeded. That is what it's about I think. Just let it flow. Have a read of some of the other posts on Kerouac's list. I don't pretend they're anything special, just thoughts as I go along. I hope to get to the rest of the list soon...only I think 16 to go!

  5. Hi, well be sensible, well-all described

  6. Interesting article, added his blog to Favorites


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