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Are Writers Born or Made? - Jack Kerouac Quotes

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Every week, I spelunk into the Writer’s Digestarchives 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 Magazine
Jack 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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