How to write like Kafka: “Follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly”

How to write like Kafka: “Follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly”

How to write like Kafka

Perhaps I should not wish this on you. How to write like Kafka, that is.

After all, no one would accuse Kafka of being a happy person. He asked his friend Max Brod to burn all his manuscripts upon his death. Fortunately for us, Brod ignored this and had them published.

But perhaps you would like your writing to be more Kafkaesque. You enjoy mixing fun themes of alienation, existential anxiety, guilt, and absurdity.

“What’s Kafkaesque is when you enter a surreal world in which all your control patterns, all your plans, the whole way in which you have configured your own behavior, begins to fall to pieces, when you find yourself against a force that does not lend itself to the way you perceive the world.

“You don’t give up, you don’t lie down and die. What you do is struggle against this with all of your equipment, with whatever you have. But of course you don’t stand a chance. That’s Kafkaesque.” — Frederick R. Karl, author of Franz Kafka: Representative Man

So, if like me you enjoy imagining or writing about what it would be like to wake as a giant cockroach ( Ungeziefer ) read on…

Be obsessed

“Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.”
Franz Kafka

How to write like Kafka

Stay well hidden

I need solitude for my writing; not ‘like a hermit’ — that wouldn’t be enough — but like a dead man.”
Franz Kafka

Wring emotions from your bones

“I am constantly trying to communicate something incommunicable, to explain something inexplicable, to tell about something I only feel in my bones and which can only be experienced in those bones. Basically it is nothing other than this fear we have so often talked about, but fear spread to everything, fear of the greatest as of the smallest, fear, paralyzing fear of pronouncing a word, although this fear may not only be fear but also a longing for something greater than all that is fearful.” ― Franz Kafka, Letters to Milena

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A good blow to the head

“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is my belief.” ― Franz Kafka

how to write like kafka

By Atelier Jacobi: Sigismund Jacobi (1860–1935) ( [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Be quiet

“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” ― Franz Kafka


Be not moved

“Writing is a deeper sleep than death.
Just as one wouldn’t pull a corpse from its grave,
I can’t be dragged from my desk at night.”
Franz Kafka

No squirrels

“Evil is whatever distracts.”
Franz Kafka

Statue de Kafka par Jaroslav Rona, Prague, Republique techeque

Religious fever

“Writing is prayer.”
Franz Kafka

Sympathy for the devil

“Perhaps there is another kind of writing, I only know this one, in the night, when anxiety does not let me sleep, I only know this one. And what is devilish in it seems to me quite clear. It is the vanity and the craving for enjoyment, which is forever whirring around oneself or even around someone else…and enjoying it. The wish that a naive person sometimes has: “I would like to die and watch others crying over me,” is what such a writer constantly experiences: he dies (or he does not live) and continually cries over himself”
Franz Kafka

Emerge from the underworld

“Each of us has his own way of emerging from the underworld, mine is by writing. That’s why the only way I can keep going, if at all, is by writing, not through rest and sleep. I am far more likely to achieve peace of mind through writing than the capacity to write through peace.”
Franz Kafka, Letters to Felice‎

How to write like Kafka writing prompt:

Painters are often instructed to learn to paint by imitating the masters. However, this advice is seldom given to creative writers for fear of plagiarism. Writers are therefore handicapped by this lack of ancestor connection, in addition to the pressure and perceived need of producing something entirely unique. Throw this uniqueness requirement out of the window for today:

Use one of the Kafka quotes above and write a nonfiction piece about how it moved you or relates to your own writing process. Or, take one line of Kafka’s fiction and use it for a short story start. Think about what is absurd about your own life and write about that.

Possible Research Questions

  • Does The Metamorphosis inform the present human condition through the symbols and metaphors of scapegoat, the unclean, sacrifice?
  • Does The Metamorphosis describe and create a technology of the monstrous?
  • What might this work suggest about the collective unconscious, and what can the modern reader glean from this?

A Really Short Kafka Bibliography

  • Glatzer, N. N., & Kafka, F. (1971). The complete stories. Schocken Books, New York.
  • Kafka, F., & Brod, M. (1988). The diaries, 1910–1923. New York: Schocken Books.
  • Kafka, F., & Brod, M. (1991). The blue octavo notebooks. Cambridge, MA: Exact Change.
  • Kafka, F., & Corngold, S. (1996). The metamorphosis: Translation, backgrounds and contexts, criticism. New York: W.W. Norton.
  • Kafka, F., & Mitchell, B. (1998). The trial: A new translation, based on the restored text ; translated and with a preface by Breon Mitchell.
  • Pawel, E. (1984). The nightmare of reason: A life of Franz Kafka. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux.
  • Preece, J. (2002). The Cambridge companion to Kafka. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Jungian Interpretations:

  • Sokel, Walter H. (2002). The Myth of Power and the Self: Essays on Franz Kafka. Detroit: Wayne State UP.
  • Thweatt, J. (March 01, 1982). Sharp, Daryl. The Secret Raven: Conflict and Transformation in the Life of Franz Kafka. Toronto, Inner City Books, 1980. The San Francisco Jung Institute Library Journal, 3, 3, 41–54.
  • Whitlark, J. (1991). Behind the great wall: A post-Jungian approach to Kafkaesque literature. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.

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