Finals Inspiration from Jack Kerouac

By November 7, 2011Writing about Writing

Beyond the typographical errors (or stylistic choices? Hey, he’s following his own tip number 13.) of Jack Kerouac’s “Belief and Technique for Modern Prose” lie gems of wisdom, and some of the same advice peer writing tutors often dispense. Here are a few to guide you as you work on your final papers:

“2. Submissive to everything, open, listening”: Consider all sides of an argument, including those that go against your own. Your paper and your authority as a writer will be stronger for it. Acknowledge counterarguments and concede if they are valid, but make sure you can refute them.

Also, don’t get too hung up on committing to a thesis right away. Keep research questions in mind, and have a working thesis, but don’t be afraid to change it as you outline or write. Often, writers process information in new ways as they write, leading them toward new possibilities or conclusions.

“8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind”: Free write! At the beginning of your writing process, let your ideas flow in an unrestricted environment. Write down everything that interests you about your topic, questions you want to pursue, possible connections to investigate, etc. You can organize them later. Don’t feel pressured to generate a perfectly organized draft, start to finish, the first time you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).

“13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition”: That is, don’t worry too much about sentence-level errors in a first draft. Get all of your ideas out and organized first, then go back and edit your grammar and punctuation. There’s not much point in poring over a sentence until it’s “perfect” if you end up deleting it later. Save yourself some time and stress by going with the flow of your ideas. You can edit later, and make sure you do.

“19. Accept loss forever”: Loosely interpreted, save your document. Several times. On several sources (external hard-drives, flash drives, Google Docs, and Dropbox all got your back). You won’t regret the extra seconds it takes to back up your work when you think about the possibility of spending extra hours re-composing your paper if your computer crashes or gets the noms for all your hard work. I speak from experience.

“21. Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind”: Outlines are worth it. Build a frame for your paper before filling out the paragraphs. Here’s how I write mine: Write the thesis sentence(s) and a general topic sentence for each paragraph. If your paper will be separated by subheadings, include those as well. Make bullet points under each topic sentence and summarize the main point you will make in each paragraph.  If you are incorporating outside sources, type the quotes and paraphrases under the correct bullet point in each paragraph. (Sidenote: This always helps me estimate how much of my word or page limit I’ve taken up and anticipate whether I will need more support or will need to cut it back a bit.) Then, fill in the blank space; write your ideas and the material that will connect your source material to your argument into each paragraph.

“25. Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it”: Your paper’s audience is not inside your head. Be sure that all of your thoughts are clearly translated into your writing so that your audience will be able to follow your argument as you want them to rather than trying to guess how you got from point A to B. This is where outlining and clear topic sentences and transitions can be of great use. Have a friend (or a peer writing tutor) who is unfamiliar with the subject read your paper, and ask if everything you wrote is clear to them. If not, ask them what information or reorganization would help them follow your argument.

“29. You’re a Genius all the time”: You have great ideas. Trust that. You just have to have the patience and methods to get at them. Free writing and following a writing process can usually help. Starting your paper early enough to allow plenty of thinking, pre-writing, and revising time never hurts either.

And don’t forget, get thee to the Writing Center before it closes for winter break.

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Pigeon Heart says:

    he’s so brilliant*

  • Joe O. says:

    Recently I’ve been reading Richard Dawkins, one of the most lucid scientific writers I’ve ever encountered, who does a spectacular job at anticipating and refuting his opponents’ counterarguments. Any of his books provides a treasure-trove of how it’s done.