03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

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
  2. "Take a friendly attitude toward your thoughts." --Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
  3. "The Mind must be loose." --John Adams
  4. "One perception must immediately and directly lead to a further perception." --Charles Olson, "Projective Verse"
  5. "My writing is a picture of the mind moving." --Philip Whalen
  6. Surprise Mind --Allen Ginsberg
  7. "The old pond, a frog jumps in, Kerplunk!" --Basho
  8. "Magic is the total delight (appreciation) of chance" --Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
  9. "Do I contradict myself?
    Very well, then I contradict myself,
    (I am large. I contain multitudes.)" --Walt Whitman
  10. "...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
  11. "Form is never more than an extension of content." --Robert Creeley to Charles Olson
  12. "Form follows function." --Frank Lloyd Wright
  13. Ordinary Mind includes eternal perceptions. --A.G.
  14. "Nothing is better for being Eternal
    Nor so white as the white that dies of a day." --Louis Zukofsky

  15. Notice what you notice. --A.G.
  16. Catch yourself thinking. --A.G.
  17. Observe what's vivid. --A.G.
  18. Vividness is self-selecting. --A.G.
  19. "Spots of Time" --William Wordsworth
  20. If we don't show anyone we're free to write anything. --A.G.
  21. "My mind is open to itself." --Gelek Rinpoche
  22. "Each on his bed spoke to himself alone, making no sound." --Charles Reznikoff
  23. II. PATH (Method or Recognition)

  24. "No ideas but in things." "...No ideas but in the Facts." --William Carlos Williams
  25. "Close to the nose." --W.C.Williams
  26. "Sight is where the eye hits." --Louis Zukofsky
  27. "Clamp the mind down on objects." --W.C.Williams
  28. "Direct treatment of the thing..." (or object.)" --E.Pound, 1912
  29. "Presentation, not reference..." --Ezra Pound
  30. "Give me a for instance." --Vernacular
  31. "Show not tell." --Vernacular
  32. "The natural object is always the adequate symbol." --Ezra Pound
  33. "Things are symbols of themselves." --Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
  34. "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
  35. "And being old she put a skin/On everything she said." --W.B.Yeats
  36. "Don't think of words when you stop but to see the picture better." --Jack Kerouac
  37. "Details are the Life of Prose." --Jack Kerouac
  38. Intense fragments of spoken idiom, best. --A.G.
  39. "Economy of Words" --Ezra Pound
  40. "Tailoring" --Gregory Corso
  41. Maximum information, minimum number of syllables. --A.G.
  42. Syntax condensed, sound is solid. --A.G.
  43. Savor vowels, appreciate consonants. --A.G.
  44. "Compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome." --Ezra Pound
  45. "...awareness...of the tone leading of the vowels." --Ezra Pound
  46. " attempt to approximate classical quantitative meters..." --Ezra Pound
  47. "Lower limit speech, upper limit song" --Louis Zukofsky
  48. "Phanopoeia, Melopoeia, Logopoeia." --Ezra Pound
  49. "Sight, Sound & Intellect." --Louis Zukofsky
  50. "Only emotion objectified endures." -- Louis Zukofsky
  51. III. FRUITION (Result or Appreciation)

  52. Spiritus = Breathing = Inspiration = Unobstructed Breath
  53. "Alone with the Alone" --Plotinus
  54. Sunyata (Skt.) = Ku (Japanese) = Emptiness
  55. "What's the sound of one hand clapping?" --Zen Koan
  56. "What's the face you had before you were born?" --Zen Koan
  57. Vipassana (Skt.) = Clear Seeing
  58. "Stop the world" --Carlos Casteneda
  59. "The purpose of art is to stop time." --Bob Dylan
  60. "The unspeakable visions of the individual." --J.K.
  61. "I'm going to try speaking some reckless words, and I want you to try to listen recklessly." --Chuang Tzu, (Tr. Burton Watson)
  62. "Candor" --Whitman
  63. "One touch of nature makes the whole world kin." --Shakespeare
  64. "Contact" --A Magazine, Nathaniel West & W.C. Williams, Eds.
  65. "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
  66. Subject is known by what she sees. --A.G.
  67. Others can measure their visions by what we see. --A.G.
  68. Candor ends paranoia. --A.G.
  69. "Willingness to be Fool." --Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
  70. "day & night/you're all right" --Corso
  71. Tyger: "Humility is Beatness." --Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche & A.G.
  72. Lion: "Surprise Mind" --Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche & A.G.
  73. Garuda: "Crazy Wisdom Outrageousness" --Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
  74. Dragon: "Unborn Inscrutability" --Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
  75. "To be men not destroyers" --Ezra Pound
  76. "Speech synchronizes mind & body." --Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
  77. "The Emperor unites Heaven & Earth." --Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
  78. "Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world." --Shelley
  79. "Make it new" --Ezra Pound
  80. "When the mode of music changes, the walls of the city shake" --Plato
  81. "Every third thought shall be my grave" --W. Shakespeare, "The Tempest"
  82. "That in black ink my love may still shine bright" --W. Shakespeare, Sonnets
  83. "Only emotion endures" --Ezra Pound
  84. "Well while I'm here I'll
    do the work--
    and what's the Work?
    To ease the pain of living.
    Everything else, drunken
    dumbshow." --A.G.

  85. "...Kindness, sweetest
    of the small notes

  86. 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.