Are Writers Born or Made? – Jack Kerouac Quotes

Every week, I spelunk into the Writer’s Digest archives to find the wisest, funniest, or downright strangest moments from our 92 years of publication.

Today: A vintage article and quotes from Jack Kerouac (On the Road), who in January 1962 wrote a piece for WD asking, Are Writers Made or Born? (This week would have marked Kerouac’s 90th birthday. And, if you’re an On the Road fan, a new trailer is out for the upcoming film.)

I’ll include a smattering of highlights from the article below.

The question is always a matter of debate among writers, and Kerouac makes some (unsurprisingly) bold statements. What do you think: Are writers born or made?

Happy Friday!

“There can be no major writer without original genius. Artists of genius, like Jackson Pollock, have painted things that have never been seen before.”

“Geniuses can be scintillating and geniuses can be somber, but it’s that inescapable sorrowful depth that shines through—originality.”

“Five thousand university-trained writers could put their hand to a day in June in Dublin in 1904, or one night’s dreams, and never do with it what Joyce did with it: He was simply born to do it. On the other hand, if the five thousand ‘trained’ writers, plus Joyce, all put their hands to a Reader’s Digest-type article about ‘Vacation Hints’ or ‘Homemaker’s Tips,’ even then I think Joyce would stand out because of his inborn originality of language insight.”

“Anybody can write, but not everybody invents new forms of writing. Gertrude Stein invented a new form of writing and her imitators are just ‘talents.’ Hemingway later invented his own form also. The criterion for judging talent or genius is ephemeral, speaking rationally in this world of graphs, but one gets the feeling definitely when a writer of genius amazes him by strokes of force never seen before and yet hauntingly familiar.”

“Genius gives birth, talent delivers. What Rembrandt or Van Gogh saw in the night can never be seen again. Born writers of the future are amazed already at what they’re seeing now, what we’ll all see in time for the first time, and then see imitated many times by made writers.”

“Oftentimes an originator of new language forms is called ‘pretentious’ by jealous talents. But it ain’t whatcha write, it’s the way atcha write it.”


Jack Kerouac | Writer's Digest MagazineJack Kerouac | Writer's Digest Magazine

For more quotes and wisdoms from other legendary scribes, read our 90-year retrospective here.

WD is also having a giant warehouse sale through March 18. Check out the discounts on books, magazines and other products here.

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One thought on “Are Writers Born or Made? – Jack Kerouac Quotes

  1. NSaber

    Thanks for posting the entire article. I tend to agree with Truman Capote’s critique of Jack Kerouac’s writing, when he said, “That’s not writing, that’s typing.” However, I think Kerouac makes some great points here.
    The violin virtuoso shows his talent when he plays a perfect rendition of Paganini’s Caprice No. 24 in A minor, but Paganini was the genius. Talent does copy genius. On the flip side, however, I find that I was a terrible young writer and I’m a better writer now. I didn’t understand what writing even meant until after much learning, reading and more writing. Maybe genius is born, but it may take time to peel away the layers until it is revealed. And then, maybe genius is a waste of time, because it often actually creates so little.

    I think the genius that happens so rarely is creation and Kerouac seems to say the same thing. So, if you want to be genius, you must go and create and that creation must be from yourself. Then it will not matter if others like it, or understand it, but if a great many do, then they’ll call you genius. Hmmm…:)
    That’s Not Writing, That’s Typing – my article on Kerouac’s stream-of-conscious writing
    100 Beginnings for Writers — My analysis of published novels to learn better writing
    Keep on learning, keep on writing.
    ~Newton Saber


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