“Once you start writing”

Allen Ginsberg 1981 Naropa class continues from here

AG: Well, let’s see.  I haven’t finally really gotten to the point yet.  The point was, given propensity for extensive elaboration of spontaneous mind, and given a witty awareness of history and the fact that nobody can stand still that long to listen to all that bullshit, how then do you deal with it?  How do you encompass these polar opposite, contradictory ways of writing,  (or relating to your writing, your own writing), when you’re preparing a manuscript?

So what my final practice is at the moment (1981), (since ‘(19)65 at least).. . I couldn’t follow (Jack) Kerouac‘s absolute, what do you call it?,  absolute regulation not to change at all, because I found that my writing wasn’t good enough, that there would be lapses.  Usually lapses of attention where I then start bullshitting, or there would be no visual material, or I lost sight of what I was writing about and I was just writing surface blather.  I think Kerouac did stick to that in his own writing, though.  I think – The Subterraneans, Maggie Cassidy, On The Road, Visions of Cody, Visions of Gerard, Dr. Sax, everything up to The Dharma Bums, (which is about thirteen books maybe), everything up to 1957, Dharma Bums, is actually completely open, spontaneous, unrevised, untouched.  I believe.  I haven’t had a chance to examine manuscripts, but that was the impression I got. Dharma Bums was something different, because he sat down then at the request of Malcolm Cowley, whom he respected as a critic, to write in short simple sentences.  And I think he did some revisions there, because he wasn’t used to writing real short simple sentences, to write like Hemingway or somebody.  Cowley said, “Jack, why don’t write a book that everybody can understand and explain who all those people are and what all these people are thinking about.  And why they’re always talking about Zen Buddhism and this and that.”  So it was an explanatory book written as a sort of kindergarten primer.  But a really good book.

Then after that there are a lot of other kinds of experiments, but mostly, I think, spontaneous still.  I didn’t find… well, I think he was able to do that because his method of writing was to sit down and sing his cadenzas to the typewriter and write and write and write for hours on end, all night.  And to do that he had to take amphetamine.  And I didn’t have the physical stamina for that anymore, nor did I think it was… every time I did that…
… I’d experimented with that a lot in the ‘(19)44-5 and (19)46 –  most of my writing was on amphetamine and I finally got to a blank where I couldn’t write anymore.  And it took me about three years to get out of it by just simply refusing to use amphetamine, (which I mentioned in the letters to (Neal) Cassady), and waiting and waiting and waiting until I could write something.  So I always wound writing little tiny poems.  But Kerouac would write these long, huge, epic-length pieces.

So I think because he wrote so extensively, once you get into writing – if you’re writing on a subject, once you start writing…

[to Student, observing him unwrapping a candy] Can I have one, too?
Student:  Sure.  You’re not smoking?
AG:  Once you get going….
Student (regarding the candy) : You have too many flavors….
AG:  What are the other flavors?.. Well, never mind, never mind.  Enough rattling paper.

…once you get going, if you start writing and get going and write all day and all night, after a certain point you can lop off the beginning and after a certain point everything is gliding downhill in neutral.  Everything is perfect. [to Students]   Does anybody have that experience of writing?  Does anybody ever sit and write for more than three hours at a time, continuously?

to be continued

Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately sixty-five minutes in and concluding at approximately seventy-and-a-half  minutes in

One comment

  1. I Love Kerouac and Ginsberg both for their unique writing style but I would not be able to follow their writing advise in full.
    I tend to write in short bursts of great energy visitations and then I leave it for a while till the prose or poem piece beckons me in to comple that piece of work…..also leaving and coming back to the writing piece, provides new or fresh perspectives that I may have overlooked at first attempts.
    Anthony Mondal ( Poet/Author)

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