From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction
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From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction

3.82 of 5 stars 3.82  ·  rating details  ·  603 ratings  ·  102 reviews
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 fi...more
ebook, 288 pages
Published December 1st 2007 by Grove Press (first published March 2nd 2005)
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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...more
Russ Simnick
Jun 28, 2007 Russ Simnick rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: aspiring novelists
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...more
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...more
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...more
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-...more
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...more
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...more
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...more
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...more
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.
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.
Cristina
So far this is one of the top books on writing that I've read.
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...more
Matthew Williams
Another "how-to" book on writing... While some of Butler's techniques are commonplace, the motive behind them is anything but. As someone who does place value on process, strategy, analysis, and actionable steps when it comes to the creative process, I struggled a bit with at the outset of this book, with Butler talking about "getting into your trance" and finding your "white hot center." But the overall effect of this treatise, which was originally a series of lectures that have been transcribe...more
Cat 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...more
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...more
Sheila
This is one of the best writer resources I have read. Butler gets to the heart of great writing: the ability to evoke a sensory experience in the reader; how to show, not tell. And he lays out the process of achieving this, getting in touch with your subconscious. Loved his advice on letting an idea percolate in the mind until the motivation presents itself instead of writing it out before you understand the gist of the story. The book was compiled by recording a series of Butler's writing lectu...more
Heidi Landry Phelps
Told through a series of lectures Butler explains how writing should come from the unconscious, a dream state, the white hot center from within yourself. He states how fiction should be told with a filmic perspective and how a novel is really one big emotion. He discusses a technique to develop a story that involves dreamstorming; using sensual experience to create scenes. His philosophy has a New Age feel of spiritualness, an overall theme of letting go of the brain, the thinking, when writing.
Stven
Aug 03, 2010 Stven rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Stven by: library
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.
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.
Latanya Mcqueen
I dislike a lot of these self-help, writers on writing, type of books. It seems like nowadays every writer with any kind of success has one, and the wisdom in them is often all the same. Robert Olen Butler's From Where You Dream, however, is different. I read it a couple years ago and I've adopted a lot of the practices in creating my own work. If you're going to read one of these books, this is the one to get.
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.
Julie Ehlers
I don't expect to follow all the directives in here (you will never get me to use index cards! Never!), but in terms of both getting something on the page and having a prayer of it actually being good, this is probably the most useful book on writing I've read so far.
Casondra
This book will become a part of my writer's library. The advice in here is so refreshingly new for me and worthy that I shared with my writer's group. I would love to take a writing class from Mr. Butler. Stuck in your writing? Need a new approach. Read this.
Maggie


Pretentious and slightly anti-intellectual but also useful. Useful in the way it championed emotion and feeling. Useful in the phrase dream space and dreamscape. Useful in its description of yearning.
Thomas
Do mystical words like “white-hot center” and “yearning” and “trance” make you squirm in your chair, or light up from within? From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction is a collection of lectures Robert Olen Butler delivered while at Florida State University. Janet Burroway, whose text on writing fiction is a cornerstone for workshops around the nation, edited the lectures from their original “extempore” delivery into what is a cohesive and fascinating look at how Robert Olen Butler b...more
Elizabeth
I like the way Antonio Damasio's five mental states that access emotion work as a a backbone for RO Bulter's, in this book, recommendations for accessing the subconscious and short-circuiting the analytical, over-thinking "creative" brain processes, or better said, the processes that cause the creative to become muddled by analytical thinking. IT's an odd paradox, that artists of words have as their medium that most left-brained of things, language. Sometimes the book gives me that embarrassed f...more
Tiffany
I poured over this book like a good novel. Robert Olen Butler explained to me where I have been going wrong with my writing - I am thinking. Writing isn't creating, it's imagining. Add to that his often repeated advice to avoid abstraction, generalization, summary, analysis, and interpretation and he has given any writer a recipe for success. This is another book that will permanently live next to my computer.
Stephanie
Mr. Butler alienated me in the first quarter of the book by taking time to put down genre authors. He wanted to make a distinction between pure "literary" fiction and, you know, those stories that are written in an attempt to have a specific effect on the audience. Since most of the contemporary literary fiction I have read is boring and pretentious and focused on the bleakest, dreariest, soul-sucking parts of life...I was not impressed by this distinction. And some of the author's advice seems...more
Emily Huffman
I mean, he has some good points. But he comes across as kind of a butthole professor (maybe he's alright IRL, though). So I'll give it an even three stars. I was especially intrigued by his method of plotting--I'll have to give it a try when I have the luxury of time. HA!
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90820
“I’ll never stop believing it: Robert Olen Butler is the best living American writer, period.”
– Jeff Guinn, Fort Worth Star-Telegram


Robert Olen Butler has published eleven novels which includes The Alleys of Eden, Sun Dogs, Countrymen of Bones, On Distant Ground, Wabash, The Deuce, They Whisper, The Deep Green Sea, Mr. Spaceman, Fair Warning, and Hell, as well as five volumes of short fiction; Tab...more
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