Sunday, November 16, 2008

How to write to like Jack Kerouac

I cannot teach you to write like Jack Kerouac! The title of this blog post was just to get your attention and push it up the Google rankings. I hope you'll forgive my crass commercialism.

I do have something to say about writing. It struck me while posting a comment on another blog. It comes from my background with assistive technology for people with disabilities, where we learned that communication only takes three prerequisites:

1. Having something to say
2. Having someone to say it to
3. Having a way to say it

Where working with communication disorders is concerned, people with disabilities are people first, and therefore they have something to say. No intervention necessary. Having someone to say it to is usually a naturally occurring phenomenon, and, when it's not, it's easy enough to orchestrate. Which takes us to the third point: having a way to say it. Many people with disabilities need alternative or augmentative communication systems in order to express themselves to others. At this point in time, we have technologies that allow us to put an assistive technology solution in place for people with even the most severe disabilities as long as they have one voluntary movement. And we're close to commercially available systems wherein thought alone will control a computer, vocal output device, mobility system, and devices in the environment (lights, heat, doors, windows, drapes, appliances, etc.).

Amazing, huh?

But what does that have to do with writing?

Well, my friend Keith called me yesterday all excited about a book idea he recently hit upon and he was picking my brain about the whole publishing thing. He was also seeking my general input about his idea, and I told him it seemed like he had passion for it, expertise (something to say), and an audience (someone to say it to - I can't get into that here for confidentiality reasons). And writing is his way to say it - he is a skilled writer. Self-publishing gives him the vehicle for reaching his audience, if he doesn't find a traditional publisher.

So here's the writing advice, in a nutshell:

1. Have something to say

What is it that you have to say that can only come from you? What do you know more about than anyone (in Jack's case, it was his own life and travels)? What are you passionate about? Are there new stories - real or fictionalized - that you are aching to tell? Do you have a unique spin on an existing topic that begs to be spun?

2. Have someone to say it to

Think about your audience (in Jack's case, it was a broad cross-section of people). Who will want to read what you write? What need will your writing fill? Information? Entertainment? Social connection? Change?

3. Have a way to say it

Obviously, writing is your way to say it (in Jack's case, it was often spontaneous prose). But what form will it take? How will you reach your audience? In a novel? Short story? Internet blog? Poetry chapbook? Nonfiction book? Magazine article?


There you have it. Writing advice. We all have something to say, there are plenty of people to say it to, and there are plenty of ways to say it.

One last piece of advice. Persistence. After love, it's the most powerful force there is. Day-by-day, the cumulative effect of persistence pays off. Hell, it carved the Grand Canyon. Writers write. That is what makes them writers. Not fame. Not fortune. Kerouac said the "greatest satisfaction in life is writing."

There's a story about a famous writer who was asked to speak to a group of aspiring writers. I cannot remember who it was or the exact quote, and Google failed me. The gist of it was that his whole speech consisted of asking the audience, "If you are all writers, why aren't you home writing?" Then he walked off stage.


green ink said...

Rick, I love this! LOL at your Google rankings motive - don't we all do that from time to time ;)

With all the books on "how to write" out there it's so refreshing to read some really simple advice that is, when it comes down to it, all you need to know!

I also loved what you wrote about persistence. That comes up a lot in discussions about writing too, doesn't it - that talent is all very well, but it's the discipline of writing that makes you a writer, in the end.

So much food for thought here. Thank you.

I will write a more Beat-like comment next time in the hope of winning a free book :)

Rick Dale, author of The Beat Handbook said...


Thanks for your feedback! It's gratifying to know someone reads my blog.

And remember, if you don't win this month, there's always December!


Rick Dale, author of The Beat Handbook said...

And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.

~Sylvia Plath

Patrick Colucci said...

I found this article to be quite facinating. I have read and enjoyed Kerouacs writing style very much and emulate him to an extent.I had learning disabled issues as a child. I struggled over some formidable existential hurdles in my life. Initially I recoiled from life but had a intense need to be understood and to express this feeeling. Finally I broke through. My story is amazing. Whats even more amazing is that I was able to write it all down and publish it in a novel as an adult.
The novel is "The Closer's Song" by Christopher Cole (pen name) available on Amazon. I can be found on facebook under Patrick Colucci and "Flip Me The Peace Sign". The keen desire to express myself landed me on a CNBC Dateline special 'Back to Woodstock' on the fortieth anniversary as a main subject of the show viewed by eight million people. I got my story out!

Peace and Love,
Original Woodstock Survivor