The 1963 Novelist

beat generation

It’s a blessing that the old days are behind us. Back then, writing was strange, life-altering, completely crazy and not very healthy. I think today’s writers have found a better way. Still, it’s fun to remember.

Do not try this silliness at home. Ever.

I’m thinking 1963 or so. Near the end of the Beat Generation. I’m remembering how it all worked, the protocols, the habits and customs for chasing the muse. Looking back, it seems bizarre and downright alien. I’m surprised so many of us survived it.

The protocols were known to most writers, adored by many, but mostly useless to real creativity. They served a purpose unique to that generation and time.

The Beat Generation

Get loaded. Step one was critical. Get stoned, drunk, flocked, strung-out, zipped, flayed, and buzzed. At least one of those was necessary. The great writers, the real inspirations, did several at once. It was a regular ritual. Of course, we all knew we would never die, so why not let it all loose? The point was to unleash the muse so you could a-muse yourself and stun all your writer friends with unanticipated feats of creativity.

Get together. After the zipping came the get-together. There were haunts. Secret places that only writer-artists frequented. Well, there were a few artists on the scene. The rest of us were wannabes. But that didn’t matter. We could talk the talk, walk the walk with the best of them. Coffee houses were primo spots. Similar hangs. Anywhere the muse would gather with intensity. It had to be dark, flooded with cool music, and stand apart from all tourists and normal folk.

Bitch about the world. You had to be dissatisfied to be a real writer. There was no point in being happy about the Universe, except when you were super-duper-loaded, which was considered uncool. Bitch, moan, groan, grumble and mumble. It was the secondary fuel to get your writer friends talking. Since talking didn’t come naturally, the zippy state of mind and the secret haunt would always do the trick, if you could whine effectively. If you didn’t have a stick up your posterior, you just weren’t cool. If you weren’t cool, you weren’t an artist. The key was to be dissatisfied. You could never be an important writer unless everything was wrong.

The Beat Museum on Broadway Street in San Fran...

Get a little higher. Now that everyone was gathered, time to refuel. Whatever it was that got your high going, it was time to do more of it. That usually meant drinking. We weren’t all that experimental back then. That came later, when the hippies took over and gave us all the boot. Forget wine. Go right to the hard, and do it hard. If you used water or ice, you were a wimp. Wimps could never be real writers.

Spew crappy ideas. This was key. Throw out some really stupid writing ideas. The crazier the better. There was a twofold purpose here. First, you didn’t want to give away the real thing, that special story line you knew would change the world. So, you threw out pure doo-doo. Second, it was a special test of artistry. Back then, really dumb ideas could become really popular, overnight. Sometimes they actually weren’t so dumb. Sometimes they were innovative and ground-breaking. So, throw it out there and see who bites. But always keep the really good stuff in your back pocket. This was not yet the Love Generation. It was Beat or get eaten.

Destroy the crappy ideas. You guessed it. Next was the Roman-style death of all ideas. Each one had to be addressed. Each was torn apart, ridiculed, dissected and usually impaled. If the idea wasn’t all that dull, it got the slightest head nod from the group just before it was put to death. That didn’t happen often. It was usually a feeding frenzy. Nothing was spared.


A little more juice. Time for refills, all around. Getting late now. Gotta keep the muse alive and jumping. The desperate group-search for the next extraordinary idea has, once again, fallen on its backside.

Out come the notebooks. Everyone scribbled for a few moments. Nothing was legible but it was vital to scribble, to seal the deal by doing what all important writers were known to do – take notes. Everyone had these little blue notebooks, the kind that could easily slip into a jacket pocket. If you didn’t have one of those, you were an outcast, unclean, never destined to be a successful writer. So they all scribbled. Never show your notebook to anyone. Never.

Weed time. The bold ones go around the corner and smoke. The others order one more from the well. A huge act of defiance out there with the weeders. They were bold, avant-garde, the real deal. Inside, the last round for the rest of us, so go out with mucho gusto. The muse is somewhere else, trying to get sober.

Back to bitching. Just for a few moments.

Getting drowsy.

Getting bored.

Time to go home and write something.

See you tomorrow.


13 thoughts on “The 1963 Novelist

  1. Very witty post. You know, I don’t think creative writers have changed that much. Technology has, of course. But some of us still carry our little notebooks along with those ancient devices called pens and pencils. A high percentage of writers are still rebels or mentally suspect in some way.

    • I suspect you’re right. It’s just that things got a wee bit out of hand back in the day. We all had a wild hair up there and had to get rid of it some way. Actually, I still have a little blue notebook in my pocket. But, I’m a geezer, so you’ll have to forgive me. Thanks for your comment.

  2. Being cool was and is the heaviest burden we bore for the art. It is essentially destructive, part of the hallowed tradition of “weeding out.” I wonder how many delightful stories were lost that way?

    • I think tons were lost. On the other hand, one can make the argument that nothing gets lost, it only gets put into some other form. Who knows? Not me. I was just never cool enough to figure it all out. Thanks for your comment.

  3. Y’see, I could never do all that stuff … to me it was conforming with non-conformity. God knows what I was but it was never running with any herd of any sort. ‘Spose I was just uncool … but I was obscenely proud of being made that way.

    • I hear you, and it’s a good point. Cool is over-rated anyway. It’s the hubris of the young. What was most impressive is that we were all moving in the same direction of artistic freedom. There was an intensity to it that’s hard to describe. For a short time, we set aside all our differences and just chased art as hard as we could. Thanks for your comment.

  4. I have to laugh, because I know exactly how it went down in the hang spots. Thank god I didn’t take up writing seriously until I was in my 30’s. By then we didn’t have to get so wasted to brainstorm and today…I’ve never seen such a straight lot – probably why we are able to get so much writing done. I wouldn’t change a thing.

  5. Pingback: Wrestling the Muse | Kim Koning | The Official Website

  6. Pingback: Beat Generation Rollover of 1965 | Crows Dream

  7. Pingback: Wrestling the Muse | Kim Koning

  8. I am loving your posts on Beat G. I was a bit too young (having been born in 1954), and grew up in the wrong part of the country (the Midwest) to really be a part of that scene. I do recall my mother telling me once in the early sixties that she was afraid I was going to grow up to be a ‘beatnik’. A few years later she was afraid I was turning into a ‘hippie’. I think I sort of became a combination of the two LOL. Thanks again for the great posts and the pictures too.

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