If you’re a frequent visitor to this site, you’re probably a fan of the Beat Generation, which means you’ve probably read Jack Kerouac’s Rules for Spontaneous Prose. In a recent fit of procrastination, I stumbled upon Henry Miller’s Commandments while browsing the blog a lovely being. Then through a rabbit hole that began on Poets & Writers, I discovered John Steinbeck’s writing rules on brain pickings.
As I scoured their tips for jewels of wisdom, I considered whether there were any repeating schemes amongst the three authors, who each lived at various points in their career in the Monterey area of Northern California. The theme that emerges is one of writing with the force of one of the ferocious waves in Big Sur—quickly, spontaneously, wildly, freely, bravely, deeply, purely.
John Steinbeck: Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.
Henry Miller: Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
Jack Kerouac: Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
In other words, while you’re composing, just get it all out there on the page. Don’t concern yourself with censoring your thoughts, diction, or punctuation. You can always go back and fix things later, but for the first draft, at least, it’s better to let the story take shape naturally.
I’m generally not the type of person who subscribes to a set of writing rules, mainly because I believe everyone has their own technique and process, but I am a huge fan of lists.
Through Poets & Writers, I also discovered Kyle Minor’s “Advice to My Younger Self” and Margaret Atwood’s advice to writers, through which I consequently found similar lists by Zadie Smith, Elmore Leonard, Kurt Vonnegut, and David Ogilvy.
What are your tips for writing?