Finding your blogging voice: lessons from Jack Kerouac

This morning I found a pingback on my last post about blogging and conscious incompetence. This came from Lisa Lane’s (online) teaching blog and her post –To Not Speak. Like Bonnie Stewart, Paul Prinsloo, me and I’m sure many others, Lisa has been wondering why some bloggers become tongue-tied and lose their voice.

Lisa has said that she needs ‘inspiration for a completely different kind of analysis of what I do’. I agree and recently, to my complete surprise, I have been finding this through participation in Al Filreis’ Modern & Contemporary American Poetry MOOC (ModPo), which I am finding challenging in many ways, to the extent that it has more than once pushed me out of my comfort zone. I know scarcely anything about poetry and what I do know has been gleaned from the last 7 hard weeks in ModPo.

But thinking about the beautiful blogging voices (Bonnie, Lisa and Paul and others) that seem to be undergoing, as Lisa puts it, ‘a crisis of confidence’, I am reminded of Jack Kerouac’s  Belief & Technique for Modern Prose.  List of Essentials.

Jack Kerouac was introduced to us in Week 6 of ModPo as one of the Beat poets. These were poets of the late 1940s and 1950s, who worked against traditional conventions and standards of writing poetry. They were counter-cultural in all aspects of their lives, experimenting not only with poetry, but also with drugs, sexuality and alternative life-styles. Kerouac, a novelist as well as a poet, was interested in the concept of spontaneous prose. A term used to describe this is ‘babble flow’ and here is an example from Kerouac:

Aw rust rust rust rust die die die pipe pipe ash ash die die ding dong ding ding ding rust cob die pipe ass rust die words– I’d as rather be permiganted in Rusty’s moonlight Rork as be perderated in this bile arta panataler where ack the orshy rosh crowshes my tired idiot hand 0 Lawd I is coming to you’d soon’s you’s ready’s as can readies by Mazatlan heroes point out Mexicos & all ye rhythmic bay fishermen don’t hang fish eye soppy in my Ramadam give

(My spell checker had a field day with this!)

In this ‘babble flow’ Kerouac is experimenting with the ‘sound’ of poetry. He has let go of literary inhibitions and is making new associations. He writes in the moment without censorship or selectivity of expression and without punctuation or other grammar conventions. He doesn’t wait; he allows an undisturbed and incessant flow from his mind. He is true to his beliefs about modern prose and his list of essential techniques.  This is a long list of 30 points, but there are some wonderful messages in the list for bloggers who are ‘losing their voice’ for whatever reason. Here are some of my favourites from the list.

2. Submissive to everything, open, listening

4. Something you feel will find its own form

6. Blow as deep as you want to blow

7. Write as you want bottomless from bottom of mind

9. Be in love with yr life

10. Visionary tics shivering in the chest

14. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition

23. Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind

28. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge

29. Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it

For me Kerouac’s essentials align closely with Stephen Downes’ reasons for his prolific blogging. He writes (see response to Bonnie Stewart’s post):

like any writer – I know that if I stop doing it, I’ll lose it. Being articulate has to be a habit; if you stop, it’s difficult to pick up again. The world moves on; your own internal mental representation of jargon moves on.

In his supportive response to Bonnie Stewart’s concerns Stephen writes:

…. write, Bonnie write (sung to the tune of Run Forrest Run (though I’ve never seen the film so I’ve probably misappropriated it). Write quickly, write forcefully, paint that map and plan a pushpin into it, stake a position, be wrong! But be clear about it.

That’s not to say that blogging needs always to be fast and furious.  I remember that in 2008 I came across the idea of slow blogging and wrote a post about it.

I think there is still a place for slow blogging. There are times when we need solitude and contemplation away from the incessant chatter of the internet, but what I have learned from Week 6 in ModPo is that if and when I find myself in danger of losing my blogging/writing voice, as I surely will – this has happened many times in the past – then I will remind myself of Jack Kerouac’s list and indulge in some ‘babble flow’ to get me going again.

One can only write if one arrives at the instant towards which one can only move through space opened up by the movement of writing. In order to write one must already be writing. (Maurice Blanchot in The Gaze of Orpheus)

7 thoughts on “Finding your blogging voice: lessons from Jack Kerouac

  1. Lisa M Lane October 26, 2013 / 10:25 pm

    Jenny, the idea at the base of what you’ve articulated here – that we are all *writers* – resonates with me. Perhaps the word “blogging” has somehow caused some of the hesitancy and loss of voice. We write.

  2. jennymackness October 27, 2013 / 4:58 pm

    Yes Lisa. I suppose what’s still relatively new is that ‘writing’ in the sense of ‘blogging’ is so very public!

  3. Scott Johnson October 28, 2013 / 3:59 am

    Hi Jenny, do you think Blogging is more public than other writing? Would this change the writer’s perception of audience? Or maybe this has to do with performance as in the difference in writing your poetry and reading your poetry? I sense blogging as performance is more (I want to say confrontational but that sounds wrong) ‘available’, like work-shopping a play’s first draft. The immediacy of a blog might rob it of the protection time gives other writing that acquires both reasons for being as it matures and the rigidity of standing complete. Writing as historic incident over blogging continuing process.

    @Lisa it might be that writing as a continuous living expression could run into itself with too many stops for consideration or corrective action? Blogging loves activity and changeable pathways. Competence kills blogging by declaring itself the “Last Word.”

  4. jennymackness October 28, 2013 / 9:33 am

    Hi Scott – yes I agree. For me blogging is a way of ‘clearing my head’. For example, if I have been reading round a lot of ‘any given subject’ and feel confused, or unclear about what I think, then blogging is a way of trying to articulate and order this thinking. Hope that makes sense.

    As for audience, of course I don’t forget that there may be an audience (or may not) and in that sense I try to ensure that the information I include in a post is accurate as far as I know and that the writing is coherent, sources are well referneced etc., but when I start a post I am not starting from the point of what I think the audience might want or be interested in. I start from what interests me. If that also interests others (and I never know whether it will or not), then that’s great, but I’m afraid there is nothing altruistic about my blogging. It is for me.

    Academic writing, as in journal papers, does seem to require a difference ‘voice’. I don’t feel that I naturally have this ‘academic voice’, which is why I sympathise with Bonnie, and is also why it works so well for me to work collaboratively.

    Thanks for you comment.

  5. Scott Johnson October 28, 2013 / 5:02 pm

    Hi Jenny,
    For me thinking out loud in written form is essential. ‘In person’ I’m really not able to articulate what I want to say. Words on a page steady me and allow my brain to join my thoughts in a handy sort of way:-)

    Audience also triggers thoughtful writing which is why I often end up on your porch to blabber on when I should tend to my own blog. This may be an annoyance to you but I think it’s inherent in your postings that your observations have a character of inclusiveness which I think is a sign of a true teacher that I see also in Paul, Lise and Bonnie.

    Still reading / thinking about Footprints. Something on thresholds of emergence here:
    “Emergence meeting revisits original SFI Theme”

  6. jennymackness October 29, 2013 / 4:55 pm

    Hi Scott
    > Words on a page steady me and allow my brain to join my thoughts in a handy sort of way

    This sentence definitely resonates with me. I know exactly what you mean!

    Thanks also for your interest in Footprints of Emergence. We hope to be doing an open workshop/webinar for the SCoPE community next month – – where we hope to share our most recent thinking.

    Thanks for the link.

  7. Scott Johnson October 29, 2013 / 7:42 pm

    Hi Jenny,
    The footprints idea / imagery threw a switch in my mind on how risk, that I feel attracted to (and occasionally undone by) can slip over the edge when used improperly. As in knowing that no matter what you do management will screw your project up and it’s no longer fun to even speculate on what whacky mess they will create. There must be a category for the damage that can done by the past clinging to change and dragging it back under?

    We used to live in British Columbia and I know SCoPE. Have met some of the cool members through Thompson Rivers University. Sylvia Currie was my first contact on the transitioning teachers to online delivery research I did. Small world:-)

    I really enjoyed the Kerouac list. Read On the Road when I was 13 on a bus ride to Santa Monica and was inspired enough to spend my return bus fare on a surfboard and hitch-hike home with it. Only about 300 miles but the added complexity of having a 12 foot board with me made the trip way more interesting.

    Tom Waits and Rickie Lee Jones follow in Kerouac’s tradition.

    Shore Leave written by Waits and sung by John Hammond:

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