Last year, I posted Jack Kerouac’s ‘Belief & Technique for Modern Prose,’ which is basically a list of 30 tips for writing—how to write creatively, without inhibition. His list begins like this…
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
…and includes advice such as ‘be an old teahead of time,’ which might not be such a good idea in Melbourne, as marijuana is still illegal; and ‘you’re a Genius all the time,’ which may or may not be true in your circumstances.
I don’t know a great deal about Kerouac, except that he was a Beat generation writer and contemporary of Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and Neal Cassady. They lived a sort of post-WWII hedonism, hitch-hiking across America and immersing themselves in jazz, drugs and pleasure. If you’re curious to find out more, you can read Kerouac’s On the Road—which I found fascinating and infuriating—or watch the recent movie, Howl (2010), which stars James Franco as the poet Ginsberg.
Kerouac’s writing sounds crazy because that’s how he best liked to write: hunched over his typewriter, pouring out a steady stream of consciousness, no pausing, no edits. Apparently he produced On the Road in a three-week creative frenzy.
How do you write? Like a madman, or a secretary? Do you like to be shut up alone in a room? Or do you savour the atmosphere of a busy cafe, where you can pound on your Mac with a frappuccino in one hand and earphones plugged in?
To the point, I thought I’d construct my own list…how, where, and what I like to write. Without further ado, here’s Grace’s Belief & Technique for Modern Prose (2011). It’s a little more prosaic and practical than Kerouac’s…but I hope you enjoy!
1. The childhood years
The first stories I wrote were in exercise books left over from primary school. I’d stay up past my bedtime of 9 o’clock, feeling like a real rebel, scribbling out a story about four girls who outwit a bunch of criminals. I’d finish the story in a night: twelve chapters, each chapter half a page. I felt ever so proud.
2. The teenage years
I was sure I was a Real Writer by this point. I filled lecture pads, notebooks and folders with writing in red pen, blue pen, black pen, pencil. I drew maps of invented lands. My stories went with me anywhere (family holidays back to Malaysia) and anytime (New Year’s Eve).
I was still writing by hand at this point, as I had done so all my life and saw no reason to change. After I filled a book I’d find the next empty book and continue. Only the finished stories would be typed up on the computer.
Soon, I came to swear by Spirax Notebooks and Kilometrico pens: functional equipment for a story factory. And even ‘til now, I love spiral A4 notebooks and ballpoint pens—affordable, easy to find in any Kmart or Officeworks, and that feeling you get when you put an inky pen to a blank first page…priceless!
My writing habits have changed since the days of scribbling in tattered lecture pads. Nevertheless, I still cling to the philosophy of ‘write anywhere, anytime that an idea hits you’—it will be gone before you know it!
The most memorable places that the Muses have made me write: on trains, in lectures, on the loo, and perhaps the winner…in my AMS year, when I had to run behavioural tests on mice, a brilliant scene hit me in the middle of an experiment. I penned it in the dark laboratory room, in between dropping mice in and out of a T-maze every five minutes. (Don’t tell my supervisors.)
What do I write with now? I write both directly onto my laptop and onto paper. I find there are pros and cons to both. Laptop writing is faster—it is easier to keep up with my thoughts, to edit and rearrange as you write. Paper writing, though, still feels like coming home. It has a sense of honesty, inevitability and a certain slowness that gives each word a little extra weight.
I’m picky with my paper. I like thick paper that must, must, must be 7mm lined or less. Huge lines are just so ugly! That’s why I still love the 7mm ruled Spirax notebooks. I also bought a decent faux snakeskin notebook from Typo with 7mm lines, for $19.95.
My favourite pens this year have been the Mach pen 0.4, a black fineliner—a birthday prez from Mookxi!—and the Uniball eye micro, a blue fineliner—which Victor advocated. Both are thin but smooth and inky, and don’t strain your hand after several pages of writing. I think it’s important to be a little picky with your pens—don’t use pens that are too lightweight to hold, or require you to press down very hard on the paper. Your fingers will complain after a few hours.
Finally, where and when to write. It’s harder and harder to find the space to write as life gets busier (they say life goes faster the more you’ve used up…like a roll of toilet paper), and it’s probably true that you have to make time if you want to keep anything up. I’m content writing in my room, but I also love places that have a bit of background noise. I like having people around me. (One of my friends used to suggest we just sit somewhere and ‘watch people’ for a while. I love that idea!)
And what do I do when I get stuck? Oh, it happens every time. My best tips are:
– Take a shower. It’s weird, but the best ideas come to you while you’re shampooing those flowing tresses.
– Take a walk. This one works really well too.
– Go to sleep. Something will conjure itself out of your pre-slumber haze, or perhaps out of a dream.
– Do something new or different. It might make you see things from a different angle.
If that all fails, buy a typewriter, find a creaky attic overlooking a river, ideally somewhere rural…and let the words flow. Good night!
PS. I forgot to mention what I like to write. Perhaps next time :)