Tag Archives: Kerouac

My Kerouac Experiment: Writing a Novel One Paragraph at a Time

Every time I begin a new project, I try to do something new that will make me think differently about the way I write, or to practice writing about people or things with which I’m unfamiliar. Now that I’ve finished the first draft of my thesis novel for my MFA, I started on a new project. Two actually. I first started a horror/thriller novel, and the POV would be through that of a Jewish woman. People who know me know that Judaism is nothing new for my stories, but women are something I’ve rarely written about or through. Though I’ve written short stories with female protagonists, I’ve not done so for a novel-length project. However, after writing the first thirty pages, a desire to write another novel became too strong to resist. So my experiment with writing through a female’s POV for a novel has been put on hold for a few months while I delve into a new project, which means a new experiment(s).

Now I’m writing a literary war novel, and have three personal experiments going on.

Experiment One: write through multiple POVs.

Experiment Two: write through a child’s POV.

Experiment Three: write like Jack Kerouac

So I’m not trying to write like Kerouac in terms of style, content, word choice, etc. My current experiment has to do with simply getting the first draft on paper without worrying about revising, correcting grammar, or anything that takes away from getting the story out from beginning to end. I didn’t find this difficult to begin with, but sometimes I waste too much time on things other than writing new content. Here’s what my experiment is: write an entire novel in a single paragraph, á la, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road: The Original Scroll.

Kerouac’s On the Road was originally typed out on several sheets of paper taped together to form a single scroll.

It’s no secret On The Road is one of my favorite novels. I’ve read the most well-known version twice, the one with altered names and such. However, I’ve always been curious as to what Kerouac’s original novel is like. I recently purchased On The Road: The Original Scroll. It’s not the easiest book to read, much harder than the popular version, but it’s still interesting. Why is this version for difficult to read? The entire novel is one paragraph.

Here’s the description from Amazon:

Typed out as one long, single-spaced paragraph on eight long sheets of tracing paper that he later taped together to form a 120-foot scroll, this document is among the most significant, celebrated, and provocative artifacts in contemporary American literary history. . . .

. . . The differences between the two versions [of On The Road] are principally ones of significant detail and altered emphasis. The scroll is slightly longer and has a heightened linguistic virtuosity and a more sexually frenetic tone. It also uses the real names of Kerouac’s friends instead of the fictional names he later invented for them.

After starting the new book I’d been wanting to write, I wanted to see what my writing would be like if I attempted to write my new novel in one paragraph–no chapter, section, or paragraph breaks. What have I learned now that I’m 45,000 words into the story? Damn, writing the story in one paragraph is freaking hard, but I get more words out in a day than I typically had when I thought about all the superficial aspects of writing.

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When typing out a novel as one paragraph the search bar becomes a very good friend. I mean it. So good a friend you start wondering if you love her. Then you visit Kay Jewelers where you buy a ring that costs three times more than your monthly salary. Once at home, you start the computer and word processor, and propose by typing in “will u marry me? :).”  She tells you “No Matches Found,” which hurts more than anything, because she obviously doesn’t reciprocate the love, and has blatantly told you that you and her do not match. Or maybe this was just me.

Of course, paragraph breaks, chapter breaks, etc., are not just superficial and play important roles, but they aren’t completely necessary unless you’re the type of person who cannot write a book without editing as you go along. Some people do better that way. I’m not one of those people. If I don’t get the whole story out before revising, writing becomes a chore and so difficult it sometimes takes me a while to get back to it. By writing every day and focusing on moving forward rather than looking back, I get more story out and quicker, but most importantly, I have more fun.

What typing the first half of the book as a single paragraph has taught me is to remember how much fun it is to get a story out of my head and onto paper. It’s too difficult to go back to revise when a story is written this way. Of course, I have a separate document full of notes about what I need to do once the first draft is finished (which means this draft is probably more accurately described as a pre-draft). Some of the notes are ideas to think about, points to insert, changes, etc. I’ve been having a lot of fun writing lately. It did take a week to get used to writing this way, but, at least for me, it’s been worth it.

I have a feeling my story will benefit during the revision stage as well because of this experiment. It’s often easy to scan over things that need fixing during revision, which necessitates multiple drafts. Perhaps by writing a novel as one paragraph, when I go to revision I’ll be looking at the story more closely than ever because not only will I be looking at the big picture, but the small points as well because I will be looking and reading carefully for where paragraph, chapter, and section breaks would work best. While multiple drafts will still be necessary, maybe I’ll have a rather decent one after the first revision. This is something I will speak about more once I reach this stage and find out if I’m correct or not.

So far, I’m enjoying this experiment, but that may change later when I begin revising. I do recommend attempting it and seeing if it helps or not. Right now, I feel my story has only benefited from this technique.