Jack Kerouac’s 31 Beliefs about Writing

I came across Jack Kerouac’s list of thirty “Beliefs and Techniques for Modern Prose,” and unsurprisingly, if you’ve read Kerouac, it’s less of a list of techniques and more a poetic riff on the writing life itself.

Jack Kerouac

My favorites from this list of Jack Kerouac quotes on writing are, “Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind,” and (of course), “Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition,” and, “Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven.”

Here’ the full quote:

  1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy
  2. Submissive to everything, open, listening
  3. Try never get drunk outside yr own house
  4. Be in love with yr life
  5. Something that you feel will find its own form
  6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
  7. Blow as deep as you want to blow
  8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind
  9. The unspeakable visions of the individual
  10. No time for poetry but exactly what is
  11. Visionary tics shivering in the chest
  12. In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
  13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
  14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time
  15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog
  16. The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye
  17. Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
  18. Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea
  19. Accept loss forever
  20. Believe in the holy contour of life
  21. Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
  22. Dont think of words when you stop but to see picture better
  23. Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning
  24. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
  25. Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it
  26. Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form
  27. In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
  28. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
  29. You’re a Genius all the time
  30. Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven

Which of Jack Kerouac’s writing quotes are your favorites? Let us know in the comments section.


Write your own poetic riff on the writing life.

Write for fifteen minutes. When you’re finished, post your practice in the comments, and if you post, be sure to comment on a few of your writing friend’s posts.

Also, if you’d like to shorten your “yr’s,” yr welcome to do so.

About Joe Bunting

Joe Bunting is a writer and entrepreneur. He is the author of the #1 Amazon Bestseller Let's Write a Short Story! and the co-founder of Story Cartel. You can follow him on Twitter (@joebunting).

  • Joe, is #25 fill in the blank?

    • I don’t really know. He was a tripper, as you can tell. What do you think it means?

      • That’s my theory. Fill in the Blank. There is no rule..just do what you want for that one 🙂

        • That’s a good theory. My thought was that the blank tip is a satire on the whole thing, that he’s really saying that not only there is no rule for this, but there are no rules at all and that the creation of these sorts of lists are just acts of vanity. From what I know about Jack, I think this theory is plausible.

          • Thanks. I come up with good theories EVERY now and then. Usually they are copied from someone else. 🙂 haha

          • Larry Blumen


    • I think he skipped it to skip it. Nothing is something.

  • Kathryn Vaughn

    constantly add to the rolodex in my head, the random thoughts, memories, and visions from the past, to create stories around them, and a find meaningful life.

  • Love this! Great post. Kerouac is no.1 fav literary hero. He needs more blog love! I wrote a great post about Jack Kerouac a while back. http://febemoss.blogspot.com/2011/07/second-of-my-religious-experiences.html

  • It felt good to just sit and type without any real editing:

    Being crazy and listening to everyone else except yourself. Your own mind even tells you lies, and you listen instead to all of it instead of your heart. Your heart feels a story, your heart feels the poem, your heart urges you with flutters and leaps and bounds and still you stare at the white sheet if you get a sheet at all. If you stop yourself from doing the dishes, the laundry, or numbing your heart with television. If you are able to stop doing what your minds says and do what your heart says, you will create beauty and inspiration and joy, for yourself and others. You will forget about the right and the wrong, the system, the how-to and you will just do. Just do it! There is no try, there is only do. I can tell you that stopping everything else, letting the world slip by for only these precious fifteen minutes is torture. You want the right word, you want the right emotion, you want to stare into the trees on the blank wall searching, and that is when you get caught, snatched up in the black widow writer killer web. You must push through, push through and just write whatever the word the comes to mind, whatever the emotion that you want to express, trust that the frustration, the exhilaration, the pain will come through in the words that come out. The life, the life, the life of a writer, a poet, is there a life? Is there ever peace? Do you ever arrive? Become? Surround yourself with other writers, even if it is online. Read their words, feel their struggle, smell their fear, and it will push you to feel, smell, read, write your own. Here’s the trick though, when you feel the push, don’t push back, go forward, even if you fall on your face because they’re pushing too fast, to hard, too strong for you. You are weak, you can’t do it, but if you go with the flow, go with the push, possible, maybe, they will be strength found. If you write, if you write, with all your might, the words will give you sight, a sight to behold, to treasure as gold, to soften and mold, into your life, your strife, your write. The grass is always greener in that other yard but is it softer? Is it easier? Stay in your own yard and tend the weeds, plant the seeds, in the end, it’s your heart to please, not your mind, not the other guy. Take the moment to chase the cats away and play.

    • AliceFleury

      love the “black widow writer killer web”. and “stay in your own yard and tend the weeds and plant the seeds” Great stuff.

      • Thanks Alice, altho after re-reading it, I’m not sure the whole black widow phrase makes any kinda sense. Oh well, it does sound pretty rolling off the tongue though.

    • Wanda Kiernan

      Nice flow! I like the rhythm of the word repetitions, and all that rhyming at the end. Very inspirational.

      • Thanks Wanda – at least it’s inspirational for someone. 🙂

  • crwills

    Here’s my cent’s worth.

    Place rear on seat and get writing,
    Or you’ll never finish that book,
    And you’ll never get published.
    You’ll be like a lottery dreamer
    Who never buys a ticket.
    You might think you’re a writer,
    But you’ll never be an author.
    You’ll only be a wannabe;
    A blogger with a dream

    • AliceFleury

      CRWills, You are a writer, you will finish, you will get published.

    • Kanekoa82

      Thanks for sharing. I feel that way all the time. It’s especially been harder after having a baby. It’s like a built in excuse for me. But in the end, if I want my daughter to go for her dreams, I need to do the same. If not I may end up a grumpy old man.

    • Kathryn Vaughn

      well said

    • Nice

  • AliceFleury

    Stand on your head. View the world from a different perspective.

    Break a writing rule. You’ll feel like a kid and you may get away with it.

    Tell your character she’s grounded. See. She’s sneaking around doing all kinds of stuff.

    Write one word, one sentence, one paragraph.

    Write with your eyes closed. Write about what you envision.

    Make fun of your characters, out loud. Listen to what they tell you back.

    Tell your inner editor he/she is naked. Watch them run and hide.

    Brush your teeth. And if you have false teeth put the damn things in your mouth before the dog gets them.

    Look at your hands. How come they aren’t busy writing?

    • Wanda Kiernan

      You’ve given me some good ideas about playing with my characters – grounding them and making fun of them. Priceless.

    • Kanekoa82

      Thank you for the advice on my inner editor. Sometimes you are your worst enemy.

    • Haha – love the naked inner editor!

    • Guest

      Send your inner editor running. Funny and oh so liberating

    • 709writer

      Tell your inner editor he/she is naked. Lol!

  • Damn I like listening to Kerouac and Hemingway and Woolf and Maugham and Dashiell Hammett and all those originators and dharma bums freewheeling all over the place — why is that? The freedom they exude, the rules they break, the voice of someone who knows the value of their freedom. But hey we get caught in trying to replicate someone else’s freedom, how ironic is that? Even still it’s the infection we like, what zooms in our veins and frees us for a few seconds and if we can only get up that speed and then jump the rails of where Kerouac was headed and veer off on our own impossible direction all alone and terrified of what we might say… that’s the thing. Speaking before we think, getting in trouble for long buried thoughts at large on the streets causing havoc with conventional thinking. Wow, we need to hear this kind of blessed mania every now and again or perhaps everymorning before tea. This is only five minutes, not fifteen, but i’m going to take this momentum and get cracking on my new crap-lit novel without further a doo-doo.

    • AliceFleury

      Love this. It only took you 5 minutes? Geez I took more than 20 to write the few sentences I posted. I understood you better than Kerouc, which I didn’t get at all. I read it more than twice.

    • “blessed mania” – that’s great

    • Kerouac is so boundless it’s hard not to sucked into his stream of unconventional method and rhythm.

  • Larry Blumen

    I like these beliefs. I wouldn’t want to choose just one. I’m reading the original “On the Road” now—he’d be a lousy writer, if not for his beat-driven, wild enthusiasm for life that was fueled by Ginsberg and Cassady. I see Kerouac as a sentimentalist.

  • I was half-expecting him to write, “Never write without Benzedrine on hand.”

  • Kathleen Cassen Mickelson

    Hey, Joe – I have to tell you that #25 is not supposed to be blank. The Kerouac list is 30 items long (I’m looking at my copy of The Portable Beat Reader as I type this) – there’s an accidental number shift in your list right there. I’m a huge fan of Kerouac and my favorite in that list is, “You’re a Genius all the time.” My other favorite in that list is, “No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge” Right on, write on.

  • Wanda Kiernan

    Don’t think just do.
    Let it flow freely.
    Fill up a page.
    Don’t be self-conscious.
    Don’t let the left brain take control.
    Let the right brain have some fun.
    Don’t edit yet.
    Paint with words, and when you do don’t worry about staying within the lines.
    Inhale and when you exhale write whatever is coming out of you.
    Close your eyes and let your fingers do the walking across the keyboard.
    Finger tips typing, hands writing; let it all come from within, without hesitation.
    Daydream all day.
    Let your characters speak to you.
    What about writer’s block? Kick it until it falls out of the way. It’s just trying to hide something really nice on the other side.
    Feel good.
    All the senses come alive on the page.
    Think about an orange – see the color, touch the waxy skin, smell the citrus, taste the tartness, hear the peel separating from the slices.
    Weights are lifted from mind and body.

    • I think I like your list better than Kerouac’s. I especially liked “don’t think just do” and kicking writer’s block until it falls away.

    • “Daydream all day.” I would so love to, Wanda. Thx.

    • “Paint with words” YES.

  • Carey Rowland

    The literary establishment’s obsession with Kerouac is where they went wrong. We’ll spend our whole life correcting the mislead notion. Life is much more than just busting social taboos, being on the road too much and existing in a perpetual state of inebriation. Jack was just yr typical skid row dharma bum, nothing more. Wr still suffering from his mistakes.

    • Obsession? He never gained any literary acceptance til YEARS after his death. There is still a large majority that still do not consider him literary. He was so much more than a dharma bum. His prose is something to be admired and respected.

    • I agree that life is more than busting social taboos. In busting them, Kerouac created new ones – as if ALL establishment was wrong. But some of society’s taboos were WRONG. Rather than suffer from his mistakes, how about we learn from them, as well as learn from the things he did right?

      And the his “yr”s were an early form of the texting abbreviations we use now. He was a man ahead of his time.

  • Kanekoa82

    I sit in front of my computer and stare. Fear leads to hesitation. Hesitation turns into delay. And delay conjures up excuses. Why am I scared to let my voice be heard? Is it cause I stuttered when I was boy or was it because I was told I had nothing to say? Stand, smile, and agree through your teeth. Don’t let your family, friends or the world know you exist. Maybe it was the way I spoke, coming from a home of high school dropouts doesn’t breed intelligence. Or does it? Maybe it’s the abuse I received. Hey you dummy, you’re never going to achieve. So why do I love to write? How is it, I’m afraid of something I love? Is it because it served as an avenue toward healing when I was a teenager? Or maybe it’s because it slowed my thoughts down long enough for me to express my true self? If writing is an expression of ones soul, maybe I’m fearful because others will tell me that my soul isn’t worth seeing.

    • Guest

      Thank you Kanekoa82. You showed me a glimpse of a kindred soul. A soul worth seeing.

      • Kanekoa82

        Thank you for the words of encouragement.

    • Oh my Kanekoa82, yes, yes, and yes. Every word you wrote is painstakingly true. Soo, what are we to do?? I’m still at a loss even though I look at the screen and ‘try’ everyday. You?

    • This is a stream of consciousness that has bled from every writer’s brain. I’m sure we can all lend a relative eye to this. Thanks for sharing.

  • Writing indulges my bipolar tendencies. On paper, my moods can swing wherever they want with no judgment from my pen. My feelings can soar as high as they want and my moods can bottom out without psychological, physical or financial repercussions.

    Often my thoughts are in a race with my hands, me frantically scrawling words across a napkin, Post-It or envelope lest I lose the idea. I worry, like a mother worries about her child running too far ahead. Will he get lost? Will I be able to find her again?

    Like monkeys swinging aimlessly through the trees, so are my thoughts. They’re having fun, but they don’t accomplish much; they aren’t complete; they’re only fragments – not of any real use. But if I give my ideas free reign to move from branch to branch, hang by their tails, and jump freely within a limited stretch of forest, they burn off nervous energy. Once they settle down, they are more focused and able to be tamed and taught. They don’t necessarily color within the lines, but they at least stay on the page.

    • Livvy

      Love it!

  • Was it CS Lewis said “Dip it in a story.”? No matter, live your life and dip away when it comes time to write. One day write a DQ cone dipped in chocolate. Then leave it upside down to melt. Another day, open the hood of your car. Use your oil dipstick and hope your writing hits between the marks. Sometimes you gotta drill down through sand and rock to tap a whole new vein of groudnwater before any dipping can be done and then the damn thing shoots up like a geyeser and sprays you in the face. Keep a long rope handy for when the floodwater drains away; the well will still be there.

  • Sladkomn

    Thanks for this glimpse into the mind. You can’t beat the Beat aesthetic. (But do we all want to sound like Kerouac?)

    • Orson

      We all don’t have to sound like Kerouac; we all call learn from him. We each should sound like ourselves. After all, George R. R. Martin learned from J. R. R. Tolkien.

  • Yvette Carol

    Hello family! I’m back!!
    Joe, thank you for this list. Kerouac seriously rocks.
    My fave on the list is Be in love with yr life. I think it’s only when you get to this stage that you should write for other people to read. That’s the way I see it. Writing journals and stories for yourself and your family are a different animal. To me, writing books and story for other people to read should only come from this place of happiness, of loving your life…because anything else is using the reader as your therapist which is not cool. Only a deeply sorted individual would put this so high on their list. Kerouac is THE man!

    As for a ‘poetic riff on the writing life’… hmm, yet another challenge on the Write Practice huh….I’ll give it a go.

    Be present.
    Dig deep.
    Look further.
    Be fresh.
    Live much.
    Think again.
    Stop still.
    Peel back.


  • Rebecca Hoffman

    I have nominated you for the Liebster Blog Award!

  • Yay!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  • Kim Robinson

    25 holds a special place in my heart. <3

  • #19 “Accept loss forever.” What better day than Good Friday to underline this note! I don’t even call myself a Christian but I can see that Jesus emptied himself of everything as a ticket to heaven. The only ticket! In a smaller way, all protagonists make a similar discovery — that life opens up in the aftermath of failure. So why is so much writing concerned with success? I think because we’re all bamboozled into believing success bring happiness. Hello?

    • Gary G Little

      It’s the “and they lived happily ever after”. Happy is never for ever. Happy is your first Christmas and you get that toy you want. Happiness is your first birthday, the coin under you pillow for that first tooth. Happiness is graduation, your first orgasm, your first child. Happiness is retirement. But like that orgasm happiness is so very fleeting. I remember standing in my bedroom once and saying to myself I was as happy as I had every been, and one month later my wife committed suicide. Happiness is ephemeral, fleeting, hold to it when you have it, but it will never last.

  • Helaine Grenova

    I was wondering if anyone knows about a good writer camp for this summer in the east coast. Spicifically Pennsylvania or Maryland

  • ZolaJasper

    Write from the heart. Read daily. Write what you dream. Write what you wish to see. Write what you see. Write from a different perspective. Write with a friend. Write about your fears. Write about your worst experience. Write with vulnerability. Love grammar. Write about your dinner. Spew, don’t edit. Listen to conversations, and write what you hear, but add a twist. Write in nature. Write about the seasons. Read poetry. Write a journal entry every day. Reach for the stars. Steal someone’s life. Invent someone’s life. Ask questions. Stay quiet. Notice your feelings. Take note of your bad side and turn it into a character. Write when you are really sad, happy, angry and hateful, write it all down. Keep a notepad by your bed, and keep track of your thoughts. Write the good, the bad and the ugly. Eat chocolate. Drink wine. Dance too much, and laugh too much. Get out of your comfort zone–try something new and write about it. Don’t be a recluse.

    • Maybe we have to write like you say — which excites me! — in order to get to the heart.

    • Susan W A

      write on!

  • Inspiring stuff.

  • Orson

    “You’re a genius all the time.” This quote stands out to me by far as it is something I believe can reside in all people either via unsought blessing or dedicated cultivation. Much of the inspiration I gather tend to always come from brilliant souls who doesn’t fixate themselves with the label of “genius”; the brilliance and genius would radiate from the quality and relevance of their words commingled with insight, hindsight, or foresight. Once one has attained success and distinguished honors in an endeavor, he or she has an unspoken obligation to encourage the next generation in striving toward a noble ambition.

    • Susan W A

      “… It is something I believe can reside in all people either via unsought blessing or dedicated cultivation”

      Brilliant … nay … genius.

      Thank you for that inspiring insight.

  • 709writer

    One of my favorites is # 13. “Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition.” For me, it is really, really, reeeeally hard to fight the inner editor. I have always been a perfectionist, so relaxing and just letting my hands type what is in my mind is a challenge. One thing that helps is to physically write something–then feel more free to make mistakes. Great article!

  • 709writer

    Unrelated to writing question: how do I change my profile picture? I can’t seem to find the button for it.

    • Gary G Little

      There is a down pointing icon to the right of your name “709writer” at the top of the comment section. Click on it. Select “Edit Profile”, then click on the avatar. That should take you to a window that will allow you to select a file containing your graphic, photo, or whatever.

  • Close your eyes and run

    Fold your clothes then throw them in a dumpster

    Rhyme with chime

    Forget the back of your eyelids

    Brush your teeth with your opposite hand

    Pilot a kite to the clouds and let it go, leave a note on its string

    Water a parking lot

    Purchase a pet parrot, say goodbye and let it fly

    Leave your car unlocked

    Eat dirt

    Breath with your pen

    Write in crayon symbols

    Put your favorite outfit on, then hop in the shower fully clothed

    Author a paper letter to your friend, packed full of truths, like your going to just burn it in the end then send it

    Drive in your car to store in reverse

    compliment a stranger


    Sleep with your head where your feet usually are

    Paint one day

    Walk into a dust storm with your eyes closes, open them wide once inside.

    Follow the tumbleweed.

    • M.Flynn… Wonderful. I’m living the day wackbord and I’ll meet you at dawn, on the ceiling. Don’t catch me if I fall.

      • Take a spin on the ceiling fan while your up there. I’ll be behind the sun, eclipsing some alien earth thousands of miles away.

    • Susan W A

      Great. Each one of these stands on its own. Among others, I like:
      Breath[e] with your pen
      Put your favorite outfit on, then hop in the shower fully clothed
      Paint one day
      Follow the tumbleweed

      I’m glad the tumbleweed brought me by your door today.

    • A very profound piece of writing. I like the imagery a lot, too.

  • I Wind My Mind Around The World’s Festering Tomb Diminished by Time
    By Kiki Stamatiou a. k. a. Joanna Maharis

    I wind my mind around the world’s festering tomb diminished by time. It’s buried inside the ancient ruins. I draw on the knowledge life experience has brought my way throughout the aching years of turmoil festering up in my soul.

    Far reaching are the dreams of a visionary to overcome the battles going on inside my mind when tides of the ocean come crashing down upon my head. I hunger for the hands of the Lord to raise my soul up from the illusions spinning my mind in a whirlwind. The more the fever rises, the hotter my fire, and the more thoughts come into being. I trickle every drop onto this page as the world empowers me to strive towards perfection one outbreak at a time.

    For all is this Kingdom’s grace rising out of the ashes withholding my light burning up the sun in the sky during the dawning of a new day. Through every word I write, I strive to create pictures surrounding me in my room at night when I sleep. Shadows hover above my bed to watch over every move I make when tossing and turning, trying to get peace of the spirit. With every breath I take, they savor the bits of air, turning it into the balm ordered by the Life Giving Spirit in the festering hours of the heart bleeding from the voice of thunder. It is enraptured by the power steeling my airways in this vessel holding apart from all unholy beings feeding on my spirit, and absorbing into my mind.

    The visions of fire used to haunt my entire being. So, I put my voice to pen and paper, creating every memory haunting from life, and delivering me from the peril of my past.

    Now, my spirit and soul are stronger than ever, and the delight of life burns through my veins. My heart rejoice with every word struck unto this screen by the keys I tap, to convey messages of hope throughout the world.

    I gaze into my own eyes upon viewing my reflection in the mirror washing over me with tides of emotion. My soul and spirit were cleansed by the truth I laid out before all to see. For it is now the portrait of who I have become, who I will always be, as long as the sun continues to rise.

    For the life of a writer isn’t always an easy road. I’ve learned this lesson all too well throughout the years. However, it is one I found necessary to do, because I need to write like I need air to breathe. It is my life, and it is the air I breathe. The power within me compels me to speak with every image my words create. I’m no longer the withered being I was years ago. I’ve written, and I’m whole through every choice my fingers have made before the key board when striking out the music of my heart. Days be done when the moon rises and the sun falls. However, the moon shall go down, and the sun will rise. It’s a never ending cycle.

    © Copyright, Kiki Stamatiou, 2015

    • Susan W A

      …the rhythm …words swirling around, flowing one to the next to the next … Ideas / experiences go forth to bring an understanding, provided to all from within

      Beautifully expressed, Kiki..

      • Thank you so much, Susan W A. I appreciate your kind words.

  • Neil Waring

    Interesting guy and great look at life

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  • Justin Charron

    you are only a writer until you put the pen down. Never put the pen down.

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  • Sam Base

    All writers are bad. All writers are bad until somebody appreciates them and even then they’re still bad to somebody somewhere. All writers are bad and it’s okay.