Kerouac’s “Essentials of Spontaneous Prose”

Kerouac at work on The Dharma Bums in Orlando, in 1958. (Fred DeWitt, courtesy of the Orange County Regional History Center)

“Essentials of Spontaneous Prose” (1958)

SET-UP The object is set before the mind, either in reality, as in sketching (before a landscape or teacup or old face) or is set in the memory wherein it becomes the sketching from memory of a definite image-object.

PROCEDURE Time being of the essence in the purity of speech, sketching language is
undisturbed flow from the mind of personal secret idea-words, blowing (as per jazz musician) on
subject of image.

METHOD No periods separating sentence-structures already arbitrarily riddled by false
colons and timid usually needless commas but the vigorous space dash separating rhetorical
breathing (as jazz musician drawing breath between outblown phrases) “measured pauses which
are the essentials of our speech” “divisions of the sounds we hear” “time and how to note it
down.” (William Carlos Williams)

SCOPING Not “selectivity” of expression but following free deviation (association) of
mind into limitless blow-on-subject seas of thought, swimming in sea of English with no discipline
other than rhythms of rhetorical exhalation and expostulated statement, like a fist coming down
on a table with each complete utterance, bang! (the space dash)Blow as deep as you
wantwrite as deeply, fish as far down as you want, satisfy yourself first, then reader cannot fail
to receive telepathic shock and meaning-excitement by same laws operating in his own human

LAG IN PROCEDURE No pause to think of proper word but the infantile pileup of
scatological buildup words till satisfaction is gained, which will turn out to be a great appending
rhythm to a thought and be in accordance with Great Law of timing.

TIMING Nothing is muddy that runs in time and to laws of time Shakespearian stress of
dramatic need to speak now in own unalterable way or forever hold tongue no revisions (except
obvious rational mistakes, such as names or calculated insertions in act of not writing but

CENTER OF INTEREST Begin not from preconceived idea of what to say about image
but from jewel center of interest in subject of image at moment of writing, and write outwards
swimming in sea of language to peripheral release and exhaustion Do not afterthink except for
poetic or P. S. reasons. Never afterthink to “improve” or defray impressions, as. the best writing
is always the most painful personal wrungout tossed from cradle warm protective mind tap from
yourself the song of yourself, blow! now! your way is your only way “good” or
“bad always honest, (“ludicrous”), spontaneous, “confessional” interesting, because not
“crafted.” Craft is craft.

STRUCTURE OF WORK Modern bizarre structures (science fiction, etc.) arise from
language being dead, “different” themes give illusion of “new” life. Follow roughly outlines in
outfanning movement over subject, as river rock, so mindflow over jewel-center need (run your
mind over it, once) arriving at pivot, where what was dim-formed “beginning” becomes sharp—
necessitating “ending” and language shortens in race to wire of time-race of work, following laws
of Deep Form, to conclusion, last words, last trickle Night is The End.

MENTAL STATE If possible write “without consciousness” in semitrance (as Yeats’ later
“trance writing”) allowing subconscious to admit in own uninhibited interesting necessary and so
“modern” language what conscious art would censor, and write excitedly, swiftly, with writing-or-
typing-cramps, in accordance (as from center to periphery) with laws of orgasm, Reich’s
“beclouding of consciousness.” Come from within, out to relaxed and said.

Jack Kerouac, “Essentials of Spontaneous Prose” in Ann Charters, ed., The Portable Beat Reader (New York: Viking, 1992).

Freedom Fridays are all about your Creative side. Finding it, unleashing it, and maintaining it. We all have a creative side which manifests itself in many forms. Perhaps you love writing music and playing an instrument, or singing, or painting and drawing. Perhaps you are a poet, or a novelist or screenwriter. Maybe there’s an architect, landscape artist, chef, or fashion designer in you waiting to emerge.


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