Kerouac and The Beats

PARIS: A tragic waste of paper.

JESS: I can’t believe you just said that.

PARIS: Well, it’s true, The Beats’ writing was completely self-indulgent. I have one word for Jack Kerouac – edit.

Jack Kerouac, previously discussed.

There is a myth that his novel On the Road was typed on one long free-form written scroll, without any editing. In fact, the experiences which inspired the novel were first written in a series of notebooks, and the early drafts were worked on for several years.

Dissatisfied with his progress, and impressed by a rambling 10 000-word missive from his pal (and muse) Neal Cassady, Kerouac then decided to write the novel as if it was a letter to a friend, with all the improvisational fluidity of jazz. The first draft was typed up in three weeks on a continuous 120-foot roll of tracing paper that he cut and taped together, single-spaced, and with no paragraph breaks.

In the following years, Kerouac continued to revise this manuscript, and the final published version was considerably shorter, with fictional names given to the real people he wrote about. In 2007, a slightly edited version of the original scroll was published, retaining the real names.

The original scroll was bought in 2001 for $2.43 million by American businessman Jim Irsay, and has been exhibited at various times in museums and libraries in the US, UK, Ireland, and France.

Paris’ comment is reminiscent of Truman Capote’s withering statement about Kerouac, and his supposed lack of editing: “That’s not writing. That’s typing”.

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