The Best Writing Tips Ever

The Best Writing Tips Ever

I've been in publishing for more than 20 years, I've attended my fair share of writer's conferences and workshops, and in my experience, the poet Allen Ginsberg was one of the best writing teachers I ever encountered. What he cared most about in his students was authenticity, and over the years he developed a series of slogans--some of which he wrote, others he took from great poets and writers--to guide people on the path to developing a clear, true and strong voice.

I was lucky enough to know Allen during the last eight years of his life, and one day in his office, I think it was 1990, or 1991, he handed me his list of "Mind Writing Slogans." I was astonished, reading suggestions such as "Notice what you notice," by how closely they resembled instructions in what I would soon discover was Allen's deep meditation practice. In both meditation and in writing, Allen tried to help students learn to watch their mind and express their thoughts spontaneously in order to tap the spring of creativity that produced Ginsberg's greatest work.

I have been sharing these slogans with the writers I've worked with over the years in different publishing houses, and for many authors, they have acted as catalysts, breaking through anything from solving a structural conundrum to bringing a long case of writer's block to an end. When we started the books page, I contacted Ginsberg's literary estate to see if we could post the slogans, and happily, the answer was "yes."

We'd love to hear what you think of these, and if you find them useful.

Two decades' experiences teaching poetics at Naropa Institute, half decade at Brooklyn College, and occasional workshops at Zen Center & Shambhala/Dharmadhatu weekends have been boiled down to brief mottoes from many sources found useful to guide myself and others in the experience of "writing the mind." --Allen Ginsberg


"First thought is best in Art, second in other matters." --William Blake

I. GROUND (Situation, or Primary Perception)

  1. "First Thought, Best Thought" --Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche

  • "Take a friendly attitude toward your thoughts." --Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
  • "The Mind must be loose."--John Adams
  • "One perception must immediately and directly lead to a further perception." --Charles Olson, "Projective Verse"
  • "My writing is a picture of the mind moving." --Philip Whalen
  • Surprise Mind --Allen Ginsberg
  • "The old pond, a frog jumps in, Kerplunk!" --Basho
  • "Magic is the total delight (appreciation) of chance" --Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
  • "Do I contradict myself?
    Very well, then I contradict myself,
    (I am large. I contain multitudes.)" --Walt Whitman
  • "...What quality went to form a man of achievement, especially in literature? ...Negative capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason." --John Keats
  • "Form is never more than an extension of content." --Robert Creeley to Charles Olson
  • "Form follows function." --Frank Lloyd Wright
  • Ordinary Mind includes eternal perceptions. --A.G.
  • "Nothing is better for being Eternal
    Nor so white as the white that dies of a day." --Louis Zukofsky
  • Notice what you notice. --A.G.
  • Catch yourself thinking. --A.G.
  • Observe what's vivid. --A.G.
  • Vividness is self-selecting. --A.G.
  • "Spots of Time" --William Wordsworth
  • If we don't show anyone we're free to write anything. --A.G.
  • "My mind is open to itself." --Gelek Rinpoche
  • "Each on his bed spoke to himself alone, making no sound." --Charles Reznikoff
  • II. PATH (Method or Recognition)

  • "No ideas but in things." "...No ideas but in the Facts." --William Carlos Williams
  • "Close to the nose."--W.C.Williams
  • "Sight is where the eye hits." --Louis Zukofsky
  • "Clamp the mind down on objects."--W.C.Williams
  • "Direct treatment of the thing..." (or object.)" --E.Pound, 1912
  • "Presentation, not reference..."--Ezra Pound
  • "Give me a for instance." --Vernacular
  • "Show not tell."--Vernacular
  • "The natural object is always the adequate symbol." --Ezra Pound
  • "Things are symbols of themselves." --Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
  • "Labor well the minute particulars, take care of the little ones
    He who would do good for another must do it in minute particulars
    General Good is the plea of the Scoundrel Hypocrite and Flatterer
    For Art & Science cannot exist but in minutely organized particulars" --William Blake
  • "And being old she put a skin/On everything she said." --W.B.Yeats
  • "Don't think of words when you stop but to see the picture better."--Jack Kerouac
  • "Details are the Life of Prose."--Jack Kerouac
  • Intense fragments of spoken idiom, best.--A.G.
  • "Economy of Words" --Ezra Pound
  • "Tailoring" --Gregory Corso
  • Maximum information, minimum number of syllables. --A.G.
  • Syntax condensed, sound is solid. --A.G.
  • Savor vowels, appreciate consonants.--A.G.
  • "Compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome." --Ezra Pound
  • "...awareness...of the tone leading of the vowels." --Ezra Pound
  • " attempt to approximate classical quantitative meters..."--Ezra Pound
  • "Lower limit speech, upper limit song"--Louis Zukofsky
  • "Phanopoeia, Melopoeia, Logopoeia." --Ezra Pound
  • "Sight, Sound & Intellect."--Louis Zukofsky
  • "Only emotion objectified endures." -- Louis Zukofsky
  • III. FRUITION (Result or Appreciation)

  • Spiritus = Breathing = Inspiration = Unobstructed Breath
  • "Alone with the Alone" --Plotinus
  • Sunyata (Skt.) = Ku (Japanese) = Emptiness
  • "What's the sound of one hand clapping?" --Zen Koan
  • "What's the face you had before you were born?" --Zen Koan
  • Vipassana (Skt.) = Clear Seeing
  • "Stop the world" --Carlos Casteneda
  • "The purpose of art is to stop time."--Bob Dylan
  • "The unspeakable visions of the individual."--J.K.
  • "I'm going to try speaking some reckless words, and I want you to try to listen recklessly." --Chuang Tzu, (Tr. Burton Watson)
  • "Candor"--Whitman
  • "One touch of nature makes the whole world kin." --Shakespeare
  • "Contact"--A Magazine, Nathaniel West & W.C. Williams, Eds.
  • "God Appears & God is Light
    To those poor Souls who dwell in Night
    But does a Human Form Display
    To those who Dwell in Realms of day." --W. Blake
  • Subject is known by what she sees. --A.G.
  • Others can measure their visions by what we see.--A.G.
  • Candor ends paranoia.--A.G.
  • "Willingness to be Fool."--Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
  • "day & night/you're all right"--Corso
  • Tyger: "Humility is Beatness." --Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche& A.G.
  • Lion: "Surprise Mind" --Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche & A.G.
  • Garuda: "Crazy Wisdom Outrageousness" --Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
  • Dragon: "Unborn Inscrutability" --Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
  • "To be men not destroyers" --Ezra Pound
  • "Speech synchronizes mind & body." --Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
  • "The Emperor unites Heaven & Earth." --Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
  • "Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world." --Shelley
  • "Make it new"--Ezra Pound
  • "When the mode of music changes, the walls of the city shake"--Plato
  • "Every third thought shall be my grave" --W. Shakespeare, "The Tempest"
  • "That in black ink my love may still shine bright" --W. Shakespeare, Sonnets
  • "Only emotion endures"--Ezra Pound
  • "Well while I'm here I'll
    do the work--
    and what's the Work?
    To ease the pain of living.
    Everything else, drunken
  • "...Kindness, sweetest
    of the small notes
  • in the world's ache,
    most modest & gentle
    of the elements

    entered man before history
    and became his daily
    connection, let no man

    tell you otherwise." --Carl Rakosi

    Take a look at what else is going on in Allen Ginsberg's work.

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