Jack Kerouac and I have a long-standing feud. I first met the guy in high school. My mother told me to read his book, On the Road. I did: I loved it. I read Dharma Bums immediately thereafter. I fancied myself a brilliant writer because I could record my thoughts without bothering to edit them. The only thing that would make me a better writer would be a mechanical typewriter: Random House, watch out!
Come college composition class, I learned a little editing might be a good idea — a chink in Kerouac’s flawless method. I re-read my writing from high school and early college. It needed much more help than a little editing could provide. I begrudged Kerouac for leading me astray.
Kerouac and I didn’t speak for almost a decade. I’d come to believe he was little more than a selfish, self-important drunk who happened to fall-in with the right crowd at the right time: I still believe this on some days. Other days, I still find something useful, inspiring, and fun about simply casting my ideas onto a page with little thought to pruning the quickly growing bushes of my prose. I often wrestle with Kerouac over his lifestyle and writing method: each time, the other guy wins.
Recently, I’ve found a way around my hang-ups. A blog serves as a great space for practicing Kerouac’s method. If you’re like me, and you have a vast readership of four — or maybe even five! — folks, you risk very little by trying to light a fire on the first try. No one will go hungry or freeze to death if you can’t get a spark. If you fail, there’s always the next post. At worst, I lose my readership, and have to start again: it’s the Silicon Valley of writing, here online — blogs are a penny a pile. This is a freeing place in which to experiment.
What’s more, the periodical format of blogging allows for repeated experiments in method and style, with little to lost and much to gain. Perhaps Kerouac was just a few decades early, and a few vices too far gone: his medium hadn’t arrived, although he had plenty of success with the printed page. The rest of us can benefit from his work and the new medium.
I don’t think we study what we’re good at — pick your favorite Ph.D. superstar, and you’ll likely find they study their topic so intently because it vexes them so. The problems and questions we find easy or simple don’t hold our attention for long: we resolve our conflicts with those puzzles and move onto the real sticklers, like “how do I kick Kerouac’s ass once and for all?” I don’t have his tactics dialed-in yet, nor do I have mine. So, I’ll keep wrestling with the guy, until I resolve my dispute — to edit, or not to edit: which makes better writing?
Just before clicking “submit”, after breathlessly sprinting through this post, I took a moment, caught my breath, and re-read the piece. A small addition here and a small amendment there helped. There were even some plain, old typo’s. Sigh. The struggle continues.