Writing Like Kerouac
I’d hasten to bet that Jack Kerouac failed high school English. I imagine a jaded teacher, blind to his brilliance, focusing on the fact that one sentence should never take up an entire page. But I love his writing. The way his thoughts flow smoothly, without the harsh use of periods, instead using commas that say “Don’t worry, this isn’t the end, it’s only a pause, I’ll be back with more before you know it.”
I’ve always loved to write – it is cathartic for me – but I can’t write like Kerouac. My thoughts are too linear, too logical. They don’t bounce off one another like ping pong balls dropped into a small space, one leading to the next with the average person being left behind, wondering how the thoughts are linked.
I can’t write like him, but I can keep up. I’m like Sal in On the Road because “the only [writers] for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars” and that leave me ambling along after their genius, able to enjoy but not to replicate.
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When I was younger I tried to write like Kerouac, but instead of smooth prose flowing along the page, it was choppy, disjointed. I would rip page after page out of the small, black Moleskine I wrote in, shredding the words that had been so laborious for me to write into pieces tiny enough to never be read again and tossing them ruthlessly into the trashcan that inhabits the corner of my bedroom.
As I matured I put down Kerouac, returning to him occasionally but also reading others. And I found echoes of myself in them. I saw in Dave Eggers the same tendency toward extreme variation of sentence length that has always existed in my writing. In Phillip Roth I found a fellow rhetorical question asker.
There are still authors I love but can’t write like. I’ve tried and failed to emulate the lyricism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the wit of Jonathon Safran Foer. But I’ve come a long way. I don’t rip up pieces I feel are catastrophes anymore. I save them and from time to time flip back through my notebook to find something that I had first thought was destined for the trash, only to realize I now enjoy it.
I still can’t write like Kerouac, but I have learned to accept my writing as something of its own. Something influenced by seventeen years of voracious reading. Something sounding at once unique and like an echo of all the writers I have ever read.
Along with the acceptance of my writing has come a greater acceptance of myself. An acceptance of the fact that my mother – forever young, spontaneous, and shortsighted – has shaped me to be the plan maker, the rational one, the adult. An acceptance of the fact that while I can put on a face at a party, I will always be happiest with a few close friends. And an acceptance that my heart beats just as quickly when I have a new idea for a song, poem or essay as it does when I see my crush.
I’ve come to accept the way I write. The only thing I wish I could change are all those pages of inky scribbles I ripped up before I learned this lesson.