Songwriter U: “You’re A Genius All the Time,” Jack Kerouac’s List of Essentials

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In 1958, Jack Kerouac, author of On The Road and other novels and books of poetry, wrote “Belief & Technique For Modern Prose: List of Essentials.” It started in a letter to Don Allen, and was included also in the collection of his writing, Heaven & Other Poems.

It’s a beautifully lyrical, inspirational and instructive list of 30 bits of writing advice. A great proponent of spontaneous writing, his approach to writing prose is directly applicable to songwriting in terms of translating the experience of life into language fully. He lovingly advises writers to take in the world completely, to fill the creative well from which we draw. And then how to connect with the source so that the music of words can flow freely, without any hindrance.

It’s linked to the songwriting experience of getting into the zone while writing =-tuning into the supernatural radio that Tom Petty and oihers wrote of – and reaching that place where the words start flowing.

Although the composition and use of prose differs from song in many ways, at the heart of each is joy, the love of expressing all aspects of being human in the world.

Belief & Technique For Modern Prose
List of Essentials

By Jack Kerouac, 1958.

  1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy
  2. Submissive to everything, open, listening
  3. Try never get drunk outside yr own house
  4. Be in love with yr life
  5. Something that you feel will find its own form
  6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
  7. Blow as deep as you want to blow
  8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of mind
  9. The unspeakable visions of the individual
  10. No time for poetry but exactly what is
  11. Visionary tics shivering in the chest
  12. In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
  13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
  14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time
  15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog
  16. The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye
  17. Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
  18. Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea
  19. Accept loss forever
  20. Believe in the holy contour of life
  21. Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
  22. Dont think of words when you stop but to see picture better
  23. Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning
  24. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
  25. Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it
  26. Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form
  27. In Praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
  28. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
  29. You’re a Genius all the time
  30. Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven

                                                                                                As ever,
                                                                                                        Jack [Kerouac]

[“Belief & Technique For Modern Prose: List of Essentials” from a 1958 letter to Don Allen, in Heaven & Other Poems, Grey Fox Press, 1958, 1977, 1983.]

Jack Kerouac. “Believe in the holy contour of life.”
Jack Kerouac by photographer Tom Palumbo.

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  1. A surprising and interesting little article. Kerouac was a big influence in my younger years. I also went “on the road” in the late 1960s and into the 1970s in search of things uncertain…but always seeking adventure. Like Jack, I scribbled impressions and lines in notebooks and such much of the time…be it bouncing in boxcars or bumming a ride like a bedraggled beatnik on the side of the long unwinding road. I often felt Saint Jack watching over me.

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