By “spontaneous prose” Jack Kerouac meant an outflowing of emotion from a single point—not vexed by the confines of language. In “Essentials of Spontaneous Prose” he writes, “begin not from preconceived idea of what to say about image but from jewel center of interest.” In short, write backwards. Teachers both teach and expect students to create a preconceived concept of a writing before setting pen to paper; they also encourage students to start with the broadest topic and then narrow writings down to be more specific. Kerouac sees no place for this sort of writing. To him, all decent writing starts as journalism, with the head line.
Free association, the difference between Kerouac and journalism, releases the writing to its own personality. This, the ultimate strength of all “stream of consciousness,” “trance writing,” and “spontaneous prose,” can quickly become its weakness. Too much change in topic leaves the reader lost in a quagmire of words. Appearance suffers from spontaneous prose; unaccustomed eyes initially find the strange punctuation painful and long winded. The beauty of Jazz eventually sings through, but it seems a writer could achieve the same affect using normal punctuation. Spontaneous prose appears to me as the best way to write a first draft, because despite Kerouac’s most certain objections, the editors’ punctuation changes make Kerouac’s material a lot more reader friendly. I just wish they did a little more with the dialogue, because the process of distinguishing who says what frustrates me. Kerouac switches the speaker with little to no distinction, just a dash (–) and quotation marks (“”). In The Subterraneans he writes, ‘ “I remember one Sunday, […], we had some very strong tea— […] it was the strongest they ever had.”—”Came from L. A.?”—”From Mexico—[…]” ’ (21). Mardou initially speaks then Leo, but I traveled back a couple pages to “[h]er own little stories” (19) before I was certain.
Kerouac pushes through his writing whether he can take the pain or not, proving there is not much difference between a masochist and a good writer. He types, “not the pain which impels me to write this even while I don’t want to” (The Subterraneans, 18). Here Kerouac follows his “Belief & Technique for Modern Prose” (BR, 58-59) almost to a ‘T’. He submits to what’s coming to his mind (pt. 2), even though the pain will be “heightened” by writing it. Accepting “the black gutter of shame and loss” (18) forever (pt. 19), he dives into the unspeakable parts of himself (pt. 9). Throughout the page long paragraph he displays his real images to the world (pt. 25) in interior monologue (pt. 15) by flowing with the words (pt. 22) from sleeping over Adams, to wanting Mardou, to coffee and typing, to the phone ringing, and then back to Mardou. Kerouac goes wherever the words take him. Such honesty and free admission truly makes him an angel in Heaven.