Get Back, Jack

New York City

In college I had a writing professor – Rae Armantrout – who had us read Jack Kerouac and attempt to imitate his style. We were supposed to go to a crowded place and sit down and just start writing the first thing that popped into our minds, ignoring any impulses to edit or steer the narrative in any way.

I found myself at a coffee shop in San Diego, the ‘Gelato Vero’ cafe, which was right across from a big Mobile gas station that featured a giant, red sign with a Pegasus leaping up into the sky over San Diego’s Mission Bay. I remember that sitting next to me was a man reading a “Time” magazine which had a cover story asking “Are Angels Real?”, and he was in deep conversation with his friend.

I can still remember that conversation and the flow of that writing exercise: the man was complaining about how people seem to “sap his energies” – that some people in his life took up more energy than they gave him back in return. I called this guy the “Miracle Man” in the writing exercise and he was constantly being interrupted by the man he was talking to, who was totally picking up what Miracle Man was laying down. As they talked, I was scribbling away furiously at the next table, faithfully recording the conversation and the passing traffic and the feeble attempts of the MOBILE! Pegasus to hawk gasoline at us from across the street.

Now Jack Kerouac had a really interesting and unique approach to writing – when he drafted “On The Road” he created one giant, 120 foot long roll of paper which he fed into his typewriter so that he could write without having to stop and reload the machine. He believed in “breath” and spontaneity in writing, and supposedly abhorred the instinct to edit (though it’s apparent his work was often revised and heavily edited).

I’ve been working for almost two months now on an outline for a book I’m about to start writing (the outline’s about 70 pages long so far and not even close to done), and this freeform approach to writing is starting to sound like a ton of fun after the methodical and almost scientific past few months. If you’re an author and need a break from your current project – consider heading down to the local coffee shop (or wine bar, if you’re really trying to channel Jack) and just mashing everything you see together into a kind of prose poem: it could be a catalyst for some new ideas.

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