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Robert Olen Butler, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, teaches graduate fiction at Florida State University -- his version of literary boot camp. In From Where You Dream, Butler reimagines the process of writing as emotional rather than intellectual, and tells writers how to achieve the dreamspace necessary for composing honest, inspired fiction. Proposing that fict Robert Olen Butler, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, teaches graduate fiction at Florida State University -- his version of literary boot camp. In From Where You Dream, Butler reimagines the process of writing as emotional rather than intellectual, and tells writers how to achieve the dreamspace necessary for composing honest, inspired fiction. Proposing that fiction is the exploration of the human condition with yearning as its compass, Butler reinterprets the traditional tools of the craft using the dynamics of desire. Offering a direct view into the mind and craft of a literary master, From Where You Dream is an invaluable tool for the novice and experienced writer alike.


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Robert Olen Butler, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, teaches graduate fiction at Florida State University -- his version of literary boot camp. In From Where You Dream, Butler reimagines the process of writing as emotional rather than intellectual, and tells writers how to achieve the dreamspace necessary for composing honest, inspired fiction. Proposing that fict Robert Olen Butler, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, teaches graduate fiction at Florida State University -- his version of literary boot camp. In From Where You Dream, Butler reimagines the process of writing as emotional rather than intellectual, and tells writers how to achieve the dreamspace necessary for composing honest, inspired fiction. Proposing that fiction is the exploration of the human condition with yearning as its compass, Butler reinterprets the traditional tools of the craft using the dynamics of desire. Offering a direct view into the mind and craft of a literary master, From Where You Dream is an invaluable tool for the novice and experienced writer alike.

30 review for From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction

  1. 5 out of 5

    Bonnie

    3 stars I got some good ideas out of this book. In Part I, The Lectures, I found useful points in the sections: The Zone; Yearning, and A Writer Prepares. In Part II, The Workshop, I thought a few suggestions were valid, mainly in the section, The Written Exercise. Part III, The Stories Analyzed, is when I put the book down. I picked it up again later, long enough to skim the rest of the text. Overall, I found about one-seventh of this book worthwhile. The book is based on a semester’s worth of 3 stars I got some good ideas out of this book. In Part I, The Lectures, I found useful points in the sections: The Zone; Yearning, and A Writer Prepares. In Part II, The Workshop, I thought a few suggestions were valid, mainly in the section, The Written Exercise. Part III, The Stories Analyzed, is when I put the book down. I picked it up again later, long enough to skim the rest of the text. Overall, I found about one-seventh of this book worthwhile. The book is based on a semester’s worth of Butler’s lectures about the methods he employs in his own writing. The tone is therefore casual, but Butler still manages to toss out lines like, “…all the fiction you’ve written is mortally flawed.” Although I did find useful tidbits in Part II, I found it painful reading. The four student volunteers completely opened themselves up to Butler in order to better learn their craft, but even as a reader I cringed for what he put those students through. To be fair, Butler believes he’s doing a good service, and he believes that through his Method, the use of “dreamspace” -- you must achieve a trancelike state in order to write from your unconscious, in order to write inspired fiction -- is based on his assessment that literary fiction is the exploration of the human condition, and yearning its compass. In the section Yearning, he says, “…of the three fundamentals of fiction, there are two that aspiring writers never miss: first, that fiction is about human beings; second, that it’s about human emotion …but the third element, which is missing from virtually every student manuscript I’ve seen, has to do with the phenomenon of desire.” To me, this statement epitomizes the messages that run through this book: there are things to learn, and there is the author’s attitude towards his students. Perhaps this book just wasn’t all that useful for me, personally. But I would still recommend that before spending money, you borrow this book from your local library, and then decide whether or not you think it would be worthwhile as a permanent addition to your bookshelf.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Suzanne

    Maass mentioned this book in Writing 21st Century Fiction, specifically that Butler was the best teacher of "intuitive" writing. I was intrigued. I think this is a wonderful counterpoint to Maass's books, too. Maass's perspective is commercial, whereas Butler's is literary. At least in that last book, Maass came off much like a writing coach (to me), whereas Butler is a teacher. This book is a collection of transcripts of his lectures on writing, as well as some stories being workshopped in his c Maass mentioned this book in Writing 21st Century Fiction, specifically that Butler was the best teacher of "intuitive" writing. I was intrigued. I think this is a wonderful counterpoint to Maass's books, too. Maass's perspective is commercial, whereas Butler's is literary. At least in that last book, Maass came off much like a writing coach (to me), whereas Butler is a teacher. This book is a collection of transcripts of his lectures on writing, as well as some stories being workshopped in his class. Overall, Butler's approach is less about reader reaction and more about reader experience... And those two things are obviously quite similar, but the spin is different. One of my favorite concepts from Maass is microtension, where you make sure every element of every scene has some underlying conflict to keep a quick pace that the reader will respond to by turning pages. With Butler, that same pull is achieved through the emphasis, as you write, on the character's yearning in each scene. If there is no desire of any kind, there is no scene. For the most authentic effect, Butler demands that you get out of your intellectual head and write from the emotional center of every description, action, and piece of dialogue. I have to admit: I was surprised by how fresh his approach seemed. I don't know that it will work for me, but its intuitive, fluid nature might suit my pantsing tendencies better than all the structure/outlining books I've been studying. I'm going to try it. He even suggests an index-carding technique for plotting that still emphasizes discovery (or at least sounds like it does -- we'll see). One of the cornerstones of the technique is much like sense memory in method acting. He encourages method writing, basically, which should result in something rich with description and emotion. Some people are turned off by his reference to accessing the right mental place for this as a trance. It does seem a bit new-agey, I know, but he is referring to that state of flow, when the writing is skipping your rational brain and effortlessly appearing on the page. With practice and regular exercising of the ability, he feels you should be able to enter that state nearly upon command and produce writing that has all the appropriate emotion, yearning, etc. But the chapter that resonated with me most was the one titled "Cinema of the Mind." He likens the building blocks of novels to the building blocks of films. I've certainly come across this concept before, and have read some screenwriting books about plot structure, but here he emphasizes the final product: the visual experience of the movie-goer. As writers, we are the directors choosing the shots. Thinking about this in terms of reader experience really crystallized a few things for me in considering what to put on the page and what to leave out as the first draft is happening. It's very easy to add something to a scene, a description or stage direction of some sort, just because we know that it happens. But is it important? Is it what the audience needs to see? Is it something they already know or can infer? It seems obvious when you hear it, and there's a lot of advice for pantsers that says, "Just put it down and fix it later," but when you end up with 125,000 words and need to pare it down to 80,000, that "later" part is really daunting. If you're the intuitive, pantser type, this perspective can help you be more efficient and save yourself some work later without feeling like you're being forced into making an outline. Anyway, I'm not sure I'd put this one on the favorites shelf quite yet, but with all the writing books I read, it's nice to find something new. I'm looking forward to trying some of the techniques to see how they mesh with my process.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Russ Simnick

    This guy is a genius or insane. I will not be able to tell unless I try his technique. He is a Florida State prof. and this book is a series of lectures. He does capture his audience well when he says if you are reading this book you are probably smarter than everyone you know. You have always been. You probably have different opinions than most of your peers and march to your own drum. You have always been rewarded academically for your literal memory. Yes, yes and yes. However, literal memory This guy is a genius or insane. I will not be able to tell unless I try his technique. He is a Florida State prof. and this book is a series of lectures. He does capture his audience well when he says if you are reading this book you are probably smarter than everyone you know. You have always been. You probably have different opinions than most of your peers and march to your own drum. You have always been rewarded academically for your literal memory. Yes, yes and yes. However, literal memory is the enemy of art. He shows us how to shut it off and tap into a trance state to write. He believes that all novels should be developed this way if they are to be art. According to the author, writing either by detailed planning or discovery (my style) will result in crap. I'm willing to give it a shot as he has dozens of published novels and I have . . . crap.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ksenia Anske

    I’m conflicted about this book. On one hand, it offers excellent examples of prose dissection so as to show you the cinematic way of writing (Hemingway, Atwood…), the plotting (in the shape of a character’s yearning), and several lit crit examples (students’ sketches analyzed). On another, it offers a new way of approaching writing by using “dreamstorming”, and this can be a bit disorienting to beginning writers. I don’t think writers should read books on writing until they’re mature enough to t I’m conflicted about this book. On one hand, it offers excellent examples of prose dissection so as to show you the cinematic way of writing (Hemingway, Atwood…), the plotting (in the shape of a character’s yearning), and several lit crit examples (students’ sketches analyzed). On another, it offers a new way of approaching writing by using “dreamstorming”, and this can be a bit disorienting to beginning writers. I don’t think writers should read books on writing until they’re mature enough to take away great lessons from them. Mind you, this is my personal opinion, and I’ve been writing full time only for 2 years. I might as well be wrong. I don’t remember how this book landed in my lap. Someone recommended it. I would say, if you’re at a place where you’re able to stand your ground in the face of any writing advice, please read it. It will give you invaluable insights. If you’re still shaky and a beginner like me, wait. Put this book on your reading list and take a couple years before getting to it. Build up your own seeing and understanding of the craft before you read this. The methods described here are very specific and powerful, and you will be tempted to try them. They might help you get on your path, they might throw you off. I will, however, say, that The Anecdote Exercise chapter is a must-read for every writer, regardless of experience. It will help you avoid typical “lazy prose” mistakes.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Lynda Felder

    To be an artist means never to avert your eyes. — Akira Kurosawa (page 10) Robert Olen Butler began his career as an actor and teaches what he calls method writing. Method writing correlates with the two principles of Stanislavski’s method acting: 1) the actor’s body is an instrument that must remain supple, strong and prepared, and 2) craft is always secondary to the truth of emotional connection. For method writing, however, it is the artist’s imagination that must remain supple and strong. Butl To be an artist means never to avert your eyes. — Akira Kurosawa (page 10) Robert Olen Butler began his career as an actor and teaches what he calls method writing. Method writing correlates with the two principles of Stanislavski’s method acting: 1) the actor’s body is an instrument that must remain supple, strong and prepared, and 2) craft is always secondary to the truth of emotional connection. For method writing, however, it is the artist’s imagination that must remain supple and strong. Butler tells us that good fiction stirs us up, whereas bad fiction analyzes, explains, and bores us. He says artists should get out of the habit of saying they have ideas; art does not come from ideas. Rather, it comes from our “white hot center,” a place where we dream. Stay out of your head and in the zone. This can be especially difficult for writers, because language is abstract. For other artists (e.g., photographers, painters, and musicians) the medium itself elicits a sensory response. A painter might begin with an idea, but when the paint hits the canvas, what ultimately confronts us is color and texture. Even an abstract painting evokes feelings. In my favorite chapter, “Cinema of the Mind,” Butler compares fiction technique with film technique. With an excerpt from Hemmingway, he shows how a skillful author can quickly move a story along with minimal words. The narrative voice switches from long shots to close ups. There are no slow transitions; Hemingway simply cuts from scene to scene. Using montage, he carefully places one vision next to another to create meaning.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Alan

    I've had this book around for a while and during my holiday I finally dipped into it, and read most of it in a day or so. (I did leave out the students' stories). I do a lot of things that Butler recommends: I try/do go into a trance state for fiction writing; I use cinematic elements, like the speeding up and slowing down of time; I try and avoid abstraction and generalisation; I don't use his card system but I have my own similar 'notebook' system where I go through different drafts in page-a- I've had this book around for a while and during my holiday I finally dipped into it, and read most of it in a day or so. (I did leave out the students' stories). I do a lot of things that Butler recommends: I try/do go into a trance state for fiction writing; I use cinematic elements, like the speeding up and slowing down of time; I try and avoid abstraction and generalisation; I don't use his card system but I have my own similar 'notebook' system where I go through different drafts in page-a-day diaries; I agree there has to be some element of yearning in the character. I agree with Bonnie ( http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/... )that it was excrutiating reading the way he conducted his anecdote seminars with his poor students, but felt it would be a good exercise to do, change an anecdote into a moment by moment sense experience with no analysis. It was interesting to read the bad story and good story he provided. I'm well on the way to being a Butlered writer. So why have I not got a list of titles instead of one book? Because I don't do what he and every other successful author I know recommends - write every day. Until I do I'll just be a dabbler.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Dolly

    For all those who revere postmodern theory, “From Where You Dream” will both inspire and infuriate. Butler is a successful fiction writer who shares some valuable insights about his own craft, and his creative way of piecing together seemingly random, dreamed-up scenes on the structural level is definitely reflective of postmodern literary movement. But in the same lectures, he undermines the diversity of processes that exist among story tellers by arguing there are "fundamental truths" which se For all those who revere postmodern theory, “From Where You Dream” will both inspire and infuriate. Butler is a successful fiction writer who shares some valuable insights about his own craft, and his creative way of piecing together seemingly random, dreamed-up scenes on the structural level is definitely reflective of postmodern literary movement. But in the same lectures, he undermines the diversity of processes that exist among story tellers by arguing there are "fundamental truths" which separate literature from non-literature, thus reinforcing limited and dualistic perspectives on art. Butler argues that artists are sensualists, not intellectuals. He immediately adopts a traditional perspective on the nature of art and intellectualism that is quite alienating to the contemporary aspiring writer – that art and intellectualism are two polar opposites, antithetical concepts that necessary repel each other. What Butler does not consider is that intellectualism is fed by experience – the information we process through our senses. Our ideas (a word which he strongly rejects) are born from what we hear, what we smell, what we see and touch and taste. Intellectualism, therefore, can be deeply sensual, emotional, etc. Indeed, cultural studies are a beautiful example of intellectualism that rises from lived experience and story telling! What Butler should state is that our *intentions* as artists shape the heart of our work. When you approach a project, whether it be a painting or a novel or a poem, and you aim to win accolades, your work falls flat. When you create a story because you want to be a “writer” or “meaningful,” it almost necessitates that your work deflates. What Butler wants his pupils to understand is that when they set out to write a story, it should come naturally and organically from a part of them that earnestly desires to create (or, rather, recreate) experience. Indeed, they shouldn't "set out" to write a story at all, but rather allow the story to emerge from their inner self. This is a powerful concept! Yet should a story about a man who yearns to kill another man emerge from your inner self, you're writing "entertainment fiction." This is because the desire (or *yearning*) of your character is base in nature, limited to a low-brow cultural plane. If, on the other hand, a story about a man searching for his connection to the other or his self, you're writing "true" literature, artistic prose of the higher plane. Butler distinguishes unabashedly between the works of Stephen King and Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway and Jean Paul Sartre. He doesn't explore the possibility for overlap or ambiguity. As a result of his own black and white approach to reading and writing prose, Butler traps himself in contradiction. On the one hand, he urges for pure, visceral reaction to literature -- but on the other hand, he provides scholarly analysis of different works to demonstrate this point. Another example...On the one hand, Butler pushes students to write in an unconscious trance-like state, but then penalizes them for their natural inclination toward statements and descriptions that are less than glorified "moment-to-moment" imaginings of sensual detail. Ultimately, I *was* deeply impacted by Butler’s teachings. I honestly couldn't put this book down because his forceful approach is so absorbing. Butler himself speaks from his “white-hot center” and I appreciate the teacher who walks their own talk. In the same measure, however, I take issue with the way Butler approaches his students and the global community of readers and writers. I would have appreciate Butler's teachings so much more if they weren't presented as the penultimate means of producing *real* art, however Butler chooses to define it.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kita

    I'll start with what I didn't like: Robert Butler is extremely arrogant. He proposes a way to write and declares it the only way to write. It kind of reminded me of those books I'd read when my kids were little where they'd tell you that if you didn't follow certain steps to get your kids to sleep, your kids would grow up to be zombies and would never sleep, ever. Then he goes on to insult numerous people in the industry (for example, he calls Stephen King a "non-artist". Really? I hope to becom I'll start with what I didn't like: Robert Butler is extremely arrogant. He proposes a way to write and declares it the only way to write. It kind of reminded me of those books I'd read when my kids were little where they'd tell you that if you didn't follow certain steps to get your kids to sleep, your kids would grow up to be zombies and would never sleep, ever. Then he goes on to insult numerous people in the industry (for example, he calls Stephen King a "non-artist". Really? I hope to become non-artist enough to write a book like 11/22/63 one day), and finally goes so far to say that basically every other writing professor has it wrong, so then he has to back pedal and admit that he's not talking about his colleagues at Florida State. That said, if you can get through his bluster and arrogance, there's a lot of value in this book, which is basically a transcription of his lectures to students. He talks about achieving the "dreamspace" to write creative, inspired fiction and he does a great job of showing insightful examples of where writers generalize, summarize and keep the reader at a distance. He talks about the "emotional reaction to a work of art...you do not fill in from yourself; you leave yourself. You enter into the character and into the character's sensibility and psychology and spirit and world." And then he discusses ways that this is achieved in writing. It seems that he is a fairly intolerable person, yet a brilliant writer, so it's still worth the read.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Harry Roger Williams III

    Butler offers some fascinating advice and a unique - and very demanding - perspective on composition, specifically fiction writing but with application to all forms of communication. His challenge to a would-be author is not only to "get out of your head," but almost "get out of language." Sounds impossible, but what he really wants us to give up is the constant urge to summarize what happens and then characterize the meaning of the events. We are often told "Show, don't tell," and he expands th Butler offers some fascinating advice and a unique - and very demanding - perspective on composition, specifically fiction writing but with application to all forms of communication. His challenge to a would-be author is not only to "get out of your head," but almost "get out of language." Sounds impossible, but what he really wants us to give up is the constant urge to summarize what happens and then characterize the meaning of the events. We are often told "Show, don't tell," and he expands the charge to include having the reader smell, touch, experience the physical "raw data" along with our character, allowing them to create meaning as a result of their reading. This is much harder than it sounds, and some of his exercises (this book implements his advice by putting us in the classroom with his students) illustrate this difficulty. I had to renew this book several times, because I could only digest small bites at any given time, but every time I dipped in for more I closed the book more satisfied. Compared to this some of the "You can write - it's easy!" offerings seem so shallow unhelpful.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Allison

    Lots of interesting ideas in this, and compellingly presented, but there's an awful lot that rubbed me the wrong way, and I found the examples of work students should "put in a drawer and never look at again" more compelling than the ones that "were full of potential." Goes to show what you get when you write a craft book that tries to make objective judgments of quality. That said, the exercises are useful. A former professor recommended this for me because of the prewriting advice, and that re Lots of interesting ideas in this, and compellingly presented, but there's an awful lot that rubbed me the wrong way, and I found the examples of work students should "put in a drawer and never look at again" more compelling than the ones that "were full of potential." Goes to show what you get when you write a craft book that tries to make objective judgments of quality. That said, the exercises are useful. A former professor recommended this for me because of the prewriting advice, and that really has improved my process. Fast read, anyway, and food for thought. 4 stars for content, would probably not want to have lunch with the author, though I would like to ask him about his casual approach to rape scenes.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    This book must be read from beginning to end. To skim, or try to get a general sense of it will be to lose the power of his tone. He gives measured and specific advice not only on getting to the dreamspace, but his comforting words on dealing with rejection, insights into the state of modern literary fiction never seemed more appropriate. He addresses, as do all master teachers, the importance of reading and he explains how to read— both for pleasure and for criticism. “You should read slowly. Y This book must be read from beginning to end. To skim, or try to get a general sense of it will be to lose the power of his tone. He gives measured and specific advice not only on getting to the dreamspace, but his comforting words on dealing with rejection, insights into the state of modern literary fiction never seemed more appropriate. He addresses, as do all master teachers, the importance of reading and he explains how to read— both for pleasure and for criticism. “You should read slowly. You should never read a work of literary art faster than would allow you to hear the narrative voice in your head. Speed-reading is one reason editors, and not incidentally, book reviewers can be so utterly wrongheaded about a particular work of art.” Butler’s methods are very prescribed; about how to tap into the dreamspace, how and when to write, even how to journal. This might be a turn off for some, but I found it a fascinating insight into one artist's process. Butler argues convincingly for the effectiveness of his methods throughout the book, one of which is using index cards to record scenes and structure the novel. He outlines how to fill out the cards, and why one must not vary from his suggestions. Another example of how specific he gets is in an exercise later in the book where he has a student recall an anecdote with the most sensory detail possible, focusing on where in the body a sense and emotion comes from. He asks his student questions like, “How did you know your brother was behind you?” and “Where did you feel his presence?” There is also a written exercise that focused students on an object that evoked anxiety. These, as well as his discussions of how dreams and films work, illustrate how we already deep down know how to get to the core of a scene, and the corresponding emotion. This was my favorite writing book for many years. I am happy to find that everything that struck me as important when I first picked it up is still very much relevant to today.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Heidi

    Describes beautifully the magical process that produces fiction. Not only does Butler illuminate “dreamstorming” in this book, but he shares specifics about what works and doesn’t work in three stories submitted by his students. Hugely helpful. He also guides four students through an “anecdote exercise,” encouraging them to be the camera’s eye as they tell a personal story at the front of the class, and resist being seduced by the relative ease of generalization, summary, and analysis. Readers ge Describes beautifully the magical process that produces fiction. Not only does Butler illuminate “dreamstorming” in this book, but he shares specifics about what works and doesn’t work in three stories submitted by his students. Hugely helpful. He also guides four students through an “anecdote exercise,” encouraging them to be the camera’s eye as they tell a personal story at the front of the class, and resist being seduced by the relative ease of generalization, summary, and analysis. Readers get to see the exercise in action, to watch the students both fumble and break through. We feel their panic and elation as they (and we) learn a new skill. Entering a writer’s trance through the cinema of the mind, giving up the need to know what’s going to happen, recording moment by moment through the senses, aligning every element of the story with the protagonist’s yearning, requires an open heart and vigilance. I’ve been in the zone a small handful of times and I’ll never stop trying to re-enter. Everything Butler says resonates for me. It is thrilling to have it described so clearly and beautifully. Thank you, editor Janet Burroway, for bringing Butler’s lectures to us. What a tremendous service.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Greta

    An interesting approach to creative writing; the emphasis is on looking within and describing each scene visually instead of using generalities and analysis. It's something we all know but often forget, as many time it's easier to step back from the scene and describe it as dispassionate observer rather than an active participant. The author also suggested "dreamstorming" - going into a "creative trance" (aka the zone)each day and jotting down 6 to 8 words describing various scenes you've visual An interesting approach to creative writing; the emphasis is on looking within and describing each scene visually instead of using generalities and analysis. It's something we all know but often forget, as many time it's easier to step back from the scene and describe it as dispassionate observer rather than an active participant. The author also suggested "dreamstorming" - going into a "creative trance" (aka the zone)each day and jotting down 6 to 8 words describing various scenes you've visualized. At the end of 8-12 weeks, you sequence the scenes to arrive at your story. Haven't tried it personally, so I can't judge the method, but the book itself was inspiring.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Emma Sea

    Way better than I expected. I would buy this again for chapter 8 alone. The format - basically a transcription of Butler's lectures - is effective, with a great sense of his voice. I also loved having an unsuccessful early version of Butler's short story Open Arms with the final version to compare it to. One note: I hate the physical properties of my paperback copy. The front and back covers curled up on themselves in minutes. Now it's doing a half-decent Sister Bertille impression. Way better than I expected. I would buy this again for chapter 8 alone. The format - basically a transcription of Butler's lectures - is effective, with a great sense of his voice. I also loved having an unsuccessful early version of Butler's short story Open Arms with the final version to compare it to. One note: I hate the physical properties of my paperback copy. The front and back covers curled up on themselves in minutes. Now it's doing a half-decent Sister Bertille impression.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Stven

    Mr. Butler's thesis is that writing fiction requires that the author enter a near-dream state so that the writing emerges from the intuitive part of the brain. He is very passionate about this assertion, and apparently the approach works for him, as the cover describes him as a "Pulitzer Prize-winning author," though I admit I have not read any of his fiction. I am not quite convinced, despite his insistence, that this is the ONLY approach to writing fiction.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kristin

    I read this for my "Advanced Fiction Writing" grad class. Olen Butler has a very different approach to writing, and I found his opinions to be quite interesting. He argues that good writing comes from the unconscious, not from "ideas" or from the conscious mind (basically, the opposite of what we have always been taught). Olen Butler has some great ideas, but I think there is a middle ground between writing in a trance and writing with the mind.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Darren Angle

    A goldmine. Distills the intuitive, sensual, hard-to-say process of getting something on paper down to clear instruction on how to induce meditative and dreamy states to allow writing to happen to you and through you, instead of forcing something heady and concept-driven. Easily one of my favorite books on writing. I've read and re-read it twice since I picked it up and the changes in my own writing are apparent.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jackson Burnett

    Robert Olen Butler encourages authors to write from the senses and not from their thoughts. To create create compelling fiction, writers must enter something akin to a dream state, he claims. Even though Butler tends to be dogmatic and didactic at times, this is one of the best books for novelists and short story writers to study and understand.

  19. 5 out of 5

    J.A. Carter-Winward

    Out of all of the books on writing I've ever read, this one changed how I write and continues to shape me as a writer. From the book: "Event echoes detail, sensual moment becomes metaphor, returning, recomposing, reincorporating toward the phenomena of resonance and motif." Incredible. Enough said.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Indilee

    While it had it's good points here and there - his tone comes off as condescending to the readers - which makes it sort of hard to get through it in general. The advice can work for people - but it just didn't mesh with my taste.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Heather Demetrios

    This guy is such a hater. He has great stuff to say about craft and some interesting ideas, but I can't get behind someone who calls any writer that writes genre fiction a "nonartist" and their work "nonart." Not okay with that.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

    I will never finish this book. Butler drives me insane and I just can't cope with writing being this quasi-mystical experience. Or I can't cope with his descriptions of it.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Cristina

    So far this is one of the top books on writing that I've read.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kelsey

    If you can get past the elitism and take the exclusive statements with a grain of salt, there is an interesting method to be learned here.

  25. 4 out of 5

    David Parson

    In my opinion, this is one of the definitive writing books. The advice is simple, yet deep. Sit in the chair, wait for it, wait for it, focus, and then BAM-it'll happen and you'll be happy.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Valoren

    Next stop in my “this easily could have been a pamphlet” tour of self-help lit is a self-help book for authors: Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Olen Butler’s From Where You Dream, a collection of transcribed lectures that outlines Mr. Butler’s philosophy concerning the craft of writing literature, coupled with critique on some of the short fiction composed by students in his Florida State University courses. The word I keep thinking of when I consider Butler is “Svengali”. I cannot help it. Next stop in my “this easily could have been a pamphlet” tour of self-help lit is a self-help book for authors: Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Olen Butler’s From Where You Dream, a collection of transcribed lectures that outlines Mr. Butler’s philosophy concerning the craft of writing literature, coupled with critique on some of the short fiction composed by students in his Florida State University courses. The word I keep thinking of when I consider Butler is “Svengali”. I cannot help it. In the first chapter – the first in a series of lectures to his class, mind – he lavishes praise upon his students for having the wisdom to seek his instruction while at once affirming that in all likelihood, everything they will have written up until that moment is trash. He characterizes the journey of the artist as paramount in difficulty among all human endeavors, and that of the writer as the hardest of all. It is exactly what the kind of person who would seek his instruction would long to hear, that they are uniquely challenged, uniquely talented, and that the way forward is to study at the feet of the master they have come to. This is not an exaggeration – Butler literally compares the author’s journey to that of Michael Jordan having to dunk while vividly imaging his own father’s murder each time. This is author wish-fulfillment, putting the struggle of the artist on an unnecessary pedestal. Art achieves enough without this dick-measuring and grandstanding. The central thesis of Butler’s work is that good fiction is conveyed through sense details. The unique provenance of narrative, he posits, is to seamlessly blend the exterior and interior sensory worlds to create an integrative, emotionally resonant experience. I am in near perfect agreement with this, but Butler takes this idea to extremes, blithely stating that any work that comes from the intellect instead of from a place of raw emotion is simple garbage. He encourages his students to throw out any work that does not come from a state of high emotional attunement, “flow”, and has some rather disparaging words for what he terms “genre fiction”, while at the same time pointing out that writers of these forms tend to do better with conveying emotionality than do “literary” writers. Butler spends one lecture talking about “the zone”, the term he uses to describe a state that is conducive to flow. This amounts mostly to personal anecdotes qualified with an addendum that recurs throughout this book, a throat-clearing “Of course, this is what works for me, you do what works for you.” This generous, democratic attitude only extends as far as the means by which one follows his formula, however: the formula, itself, is irreducible. The third lecture concerns the subject of yearning, which Butler suggests is the element missing from most fiction he has read, and the element for which the lack of will ruin a story. Character must desire something, he says, lest the story be elaborate set dressing around a series of causally connected events. I don’t argue with this position, but has this ever been revolutionary? Perhaps it’s because I write lowbrow “genre fiction” that I’ve never had cause to question this truism, but it is a priori evident to me that one’s protagonist must want something, else they be a passenger in their own story. The fourth and fifth lectures emphasize the filmic nature of narrative composition, encouraging writers to visualize the material they are writing in the “cinema of the mind”, and discusses how he prepares to write a story, his method. The former subject is plainspoken, but hardly revolutionary, and the latter provides what could be a few useful tools for the plotting and construction of a narrative, what more or less boils down to “write out all your plot beats on note cards, then attach a few sensory details to each card, then arrange them in a desired order and start writing”. Overblown pamphlet material. The remainder of the book is taken up with literary critique. We are given a number of examples by students in Mr. Butler’s class that are then discussed among the assembled students. The advice Butler gives is consistent with his message and he makes some astute observations about pacing, content, descriptive language, etc., but nothing revolutionary. The stories that are up for critique are mildly interesting, as tiny, slice of life character studies, but none of them seem to say anything. Like a Paul Thomas Anderson movie, but devoid of the greater subtextual meaning. Moreover, the slavish devotion to the first person perspective that all of the narrative work in this book apes combined with the singular emphasis on emotional description simply reads as a little dull. I do not care about anything happening in the stories, complete though they are, because all there is to care about is a mildly irritating experience seen through the eyes of another person. If this is high literary art, then I’m comfortable in the gutter. Overall, Butler has some very good points to make about the craft of fiction. I find his emphasis on sense details to be very useful, but his singular fixation on it seems to me akin to setting out to fix everything in your house with the same wrench because it’s such a very good wrench that you like so very well. Characters should want something; writers should take their craft seriously; and it can be very helpful to visualize a narrative as though it were a film. This is not groundbreaking stuff, nor was it in 2005, when this book was initially published. In the final portion of this book, Butler invokes what he claims is a standard response made by sumo wrestlers when asked about their performance going into a match: “I do my brand of sumo, and I do my best.” Rather taken with this idea, Butler suggests that so, too, must each writer perform their own “brand of sumo”, and do their best at it. I think my brand of sumo involves taking Mr. Butler’s devotion to a method that has clearly worked out okay for him with a bit of salt.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Shannon

    I enjoyed reading how he writes, but, as Butler promises, it's not an easy approach to writing. One of his techniques seemed very helpful. He recommends imagining the scenes, giving them a few word title and writing the title on note cards. Then picking 5 note cards, or a small number, and writing those scenes. Once done, go back through the other scenes and pick five more. His point was that the manuscript is fluid and if you write beginning to end according to a set outline, you can write your I enjoyed reading how he writes, but, as Butler promises, it's not an easy approach to writing. One of his techniques seemed very helpful. He recommends imagining the scenes, giving them a few word title and writing the title on note cards. Then picking 5 note cards, or a small number, and writing those scenes. Once done, go back through the other scenes and pick five more. His point was that the manuscript is fluid and if you write beginning to end according to a set outline, you can write yourself into a corner. His method allows for changes to structure based on the previously written scenes.

  28. 5 out of 5

    David Stephens

    Transcribed during his graduate writing classes at Florida State University, From Where You Dream contains the lecture transcripts of Pulitzer Prize winning writer Robert Olen Butler as well as some sample writing from his students and his subsequent criticism of it. Butler believes that "Artists are not intellectuals. [They] are sensualists," which leads him to the belief that neither Stephen King nor Jean Paul Sartre are real artists. Butler insists that analytical thinking and literal memory Transcribed during his graduate writing classes at Florida State University, From Where You Dream contains the lecture transcripts of Pulitzer Prize winning writer Robert Olen Butler as well as some sample writing from his students and his subsequent criticism of it. Butler believes that "Artists are not intellectuals. [They] are sensualists," which leads him to the belief that neither Stephen King nor Jean Paul Sartre are real artists. Butler insists that analytical thinking and literal memory need to be discarded for artists to create worthwhile fiction. Art culls sensual impressions from the subconscious; it can't be created from the head. Characters are established not only from their desires but also from how their desires are reflected in the sensory details around them the writer chooses to focus on. Butler has formed a fairly radical notion of fiction writing here. And, while it is at times intriguing and thought-provoking, overall, I find myself being turned off by his narrow-minded approach and the parts of his discussions that become borderline pretentious. He doesn't just suggest that his techniques are possible ways of producing art; he declares they are the only way. If writers use their intellects to form ideas and write, they are wrong without question, and what they have created is not art. However, if readers can take Butler's ideas about writing as helpful suggestions, he offers some pretty useful advice. For instance, he describes a technique where he gets himself in the mindset of his character. While in this trance-like state, he jots down brief situations the character might be in, stressing aspects that evoke sensual experiences. Once he has many of these situations (up to two hundred or so), he begins putting them in the order they would make sense for the story. He revises these numerous times as he proceeds so he is revising small parts of the structure from beginning to end, not an entire draft at once. He also illustrates how much fiction functions like cinema. Writers form the setting like an establishing shot in a movie. Then, they pan from long shots to close ups and vary the speed at which the story progresses like slow-motion and regularly-paced sequences. Thinking about the composition in these terms helps to see which words, sentences, or even paragraphs need to be cut, as they only provide extraneous information. But, again, Butler believes his philosophy is the way writing has to be. Maybe his ideas simply go over my head; he is, after all, the award-winning writer, and I am not. Nevertheless, he still hasn't convinced me that there is never a time to write or revise with the intellect. It seems better to me to find a nice balance between the head and heart to arrive at the fullest composition possible.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Robert Olen Butler is a writer of note, particularly well known for his award-winning short stories. He used to be a Method actor, and he employs techniques of Method acting in his writing method (pun intentional). While there are a few gems of advice in here, this is by far the most pretentious writing book I have ever read and parts were absolutely insufferable. His fault is not that he's a bad writer, in fact much of his advice is good, but that he shows so little respect for other creators a Robert Olen Butler is a writer of note, particularly well known for his award-winning short stories. He used to be a Method actor, and he employs techniques of Method acting in his writing method (pun intentional). While there are a few gems of advice in here, this is by far the most pretentious writing book I have ever read and parts were absolutely insufferable. His fault is not that he's a bad writer, in fact much of his advice is good, but that he shows so little respect for other creators and artists. He assumes his way is the only way. He also talks about certain ideas - such as the filmic/dramatic qualities of writing and of achieving FLOW states to write - which were written about previously and more clearly than here. And he confers an unnecessary mystique to writing which I found both hokey and misleading. Butler makes sweeping generalizations about "entertainment writing" - genre writing, in particular - based on very little evidence of having read quality genre writing. He premises that only "literary fiction" is "artistic," and puts-down overly "intellectual" writers like Sartre along with the "entertainment" authors like Stephen King. He puts dreamy, "sensual" artists on a pedestal and smacks down those who plan and outline and sweat through drafts, yet in the end, he's a planner, too. Also, I found his assumptions about literary writers to be poorly researched. Many of the writers he ascribes "dreamy" and "sensual" qualities to actually outlined, planned, and intellectualized. We have evidence of this through the private papers, interviews, and so on they left behind. Useful tips Butler offers: - How to integrate sensory experiences into your writing without providing an intellectual barrier to interpret them for the reader. - How to achieve a FLOW state through certain healthy writing habits. - How to organize your writing as it develops. - How to incorporate memory and flashes of fears/beliefs/hopes into your writing. But I'd advise that any reader take his advice with more than a pinch of salt.

  30. 4 out of 5

    C Hellisen

    When I was working on a book just for me (Mundus, which I've since abandoned but plan to toss out and rewrite using the concepts here), I used to wake up every morning before the sun rose, go sit outside and close my eyes, and let myself sink into this hypnotic state, trying to follow the dream fish into the darkest waters. By the time my eyelids were warm I would have some strange and wonderful scene to jot down. I used to call this dreamstorming. So when my friend Cat Knutsson recommended this b When I was working on a book just for me (Mundus, which I've since abandoned but plan to toss out and rewrite using the concepts here), I used to wake up every morning before the sun rose, go sit outside and close my eyes, and let myself sink into this hypnotic state, trying to follow the dream fish into the darkest waters. By the time my eyelids were warm I would have some strange and wonderful scene to jot down. I used to call this dreamstorming. So when my friend Cat Knutsson recommended this book, and within a few pages Butler was talking about trance states and dreamstorming, I was already pretty receptive to what he had to say. As a pantser with a tendency to come unstuck when the story falters, but who hates outlining because it leaves me feeling restricted, I really really like the technique Butler outlines in this book. I'm going to give this a shot, this pre-drafting of dreams, and use the index cards suggestions. It's a pretty short book - a good chunk of it is explaining how he works, and his belief about when writing transcends mere entertainment (and like all lit. people, the dismissal of genre is there - as it was with Gardner's On Becoming a Novelist, another craft book that I loved). He wants us to understand that it is desire and sensuality that drives a novel (read to get a better understanding of what he means here - we're not talking the obvious sexual connotations), and he spends a lot of time using examples to show this. This may feel like padding, but for me it worked simply because I learn best by example - I need to be shown what people mean when they say something. There were definite light bulb moments for me, but if you're obsessed with plotting and outlining and starting with theme or idea (something I have never been able to do, so this book came as something of a relief to me) then you'll probably find the stuff he's talking about artsy-fartsy, and his dismissal of "head" novels to be rather stinging.

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