Jack Kerouac – 9 Rules Every Writer Should Follow


North Beach – San Francisco – 1954

In a walk up above a bagel shop, a young Allen Ginsberg wrote a poem so powerful and raw that its publishers were put on trial for printing it. The poem was Ginsberg’s famed ‘Howl’ considered one of the greatest works of the Beat Generation. But Ginsberg cannot take all the credit. He workshopped the early drafts to friends and fellow writers and even credits fellow beat poet Jack Kerouac for influencing him in his dedication for Howl and Other Poems

Supposedly, when Ginsberg wrote the poem he had a list of advice from Kerouac taped to his wall. The full list is about 30 items and goes beyond just writing, but here I have pulled out 9 of the points I find most valuable. 

1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and typewritten pages, for your own joy

The first point on the list and perhaps the most important. Always be writing. Even if no one will ever see it; especially if no one will ever see it. Kerouac practiced this himself, writing poems daily.

2. Be in love with your life

In The Triggering Town: Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing, Richard Hugo writes that “the writer’s problems are usually psychological, like everyone else’s.” When you accept the things you cannot control they cease to be hindrances. Welcome the challenges in your life and you can create something out of them.

3. Something you feel will find its own form 

Trust your instincts. If your thoughts keep returning to the same topic or idea there is probably something there even if you don’t know what exactly. Trust that the idea will find its form. 

4. No time for poetry but what exactly is

The Beat writers wrote in tumultuous times – a time when they could literally be sent to jail for their writing. When the world gets crazy and nonsensical, writing can feel quite frivolous. You may feel that you are not doing enough by writing but remember this feeling is not unique. Writers write no matter what else is going on. 

5. Remove any grammatical and syntactical inhibition 


6. No fear or shame in the dignity of your experience, language and knowledge.

If you’re familiar with The War of Art by Steven Pressfield then you will recognize these as familiar forms of resistance. Resistance will tell you all sorts of things to keep you from writing such as you can’t spell, you’re not smart enough,  you’re too poor, you’re too rich, or a million other things. These are hurdles every writer must overcome, often daily. 

7. Write in recollection and amazement for yourself 

You hear advice like this often but it is usually posed so that you take the perspective of the audience. ‘Keep your readers interested,’ or something like that. But what about you? What about keeping yourself interested? The act of writing and recollecting should be fun and engaging so that you keep at it. 

8. Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in your mind 

Do not let the day go to waste. We only have so many. Keep that in mind before you spend it on something you’re likely to forget. It’s so easy to sleepwalk through life and to wake up one day and realize that weeks have gone by. Don’t let it happen. Stay present

9. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better

This may have been at the forefront of Ginsberg’s mind when he set down to write ‘Howl’. You can feel it come through in his opening line:

“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked”

Wild, undisciplined, and crazy were scary notions for 1950s American society. The court case that sprung up around the work labeled it ‘obscene and indecent,’ labels that were no doubt attributes in the minds of those at the forefront of the Beat generation.

Kerouac’s full list of advice entitled ‘Belief and Technique for Modern Prose’ is published in The Portable Jack Kerouac.

2 responses to “Jack Kerouac – 9 Rules Every Writer Should Follow”

Leave a Reply

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: