spontaneous prose

“That’s not writing, that’s typing” — that’s the famous quip about Kerouac’s writing style by Truman Capote. Capote’s ideal writer was someone who selected each word in his sentence, mulling over paragraphs and pages with the trained and careful eye of the jeweler. Reading some of Kerouac’s experimental writing today, one does get the impression of a man just writing down whatever came into his head. Kerouac boasted that he finished On the Road in three weeks, with caffeine as his sole stimulant. While “spontaneous prose” is real, we should remember that Kerouac wrote a plotted novel, The Town and the City (1950), before “discovering” the his freer, jazzier style. He labored for years to produce the novel, under the spell of Thomas Wolfe, his hero, but was dismayed by its poor sales and reception. Still, I think that he knew very well how to write plotted novels, and this knowledge informed his later works of “spontaneous prose.” It reminds me in a way of those jazz players who gave the impression of playing whatever came into their heads, but underneath were well rehearsed, well trained musicians, who could play traditional jazz if they wanted to. They, like Kerouac, simply got bored of sticking with the format, and decided to do it a different way. You know the rest.

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