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From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  1,242 ratings  ·  166 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 ...more
Paperback, 269 pages
Published January 9th 2006 by Grove Press (first published March 2nd 2005)
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Average rating 3.93  · 
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Mar 10, 2009 rated it liked it
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
Jul 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Russ Simnick
Jun 25, 2007 rated it it was ok
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
Ksenia Anske
Dec 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Lynda Felder
Apr 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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.

Oct 02, 2012 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Jan 20, 2013 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Sep 07, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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 ...more
Harry Roger Williams III
May 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Feb 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-again
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.
Jul 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 01, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: creativity, writing
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 ...more
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.
Nov 23, 2010 rated it liked it
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.
Aug 03, 2010 rated it it was ok
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.
Darren Angle
Oct 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
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.
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.
Jackson Burnett
Aug 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites, writing
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.
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.
Jul 29, 2007 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing
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.
Jul 16, 2007 rated it did not like it
Shelves: amvets
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.
Dec 15, 2013 rated it liked it
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.
David Parson
Nov 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jun 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-on-craft
So far this is one of the top books on writing that I've read.
Joseph Valoren
Mar 14, 2018 rated it liked 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.
Jul 07, 2017 rated it liked it
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 ...more
David Stephens
Jan 20, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: writing
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
Jul 21, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: about-writing
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
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
Jimmy Bennett
May 25, 2014 rated it did not like it
Well, I got to say, I found the book intriguing at first––the techniques for tapping into that "trance-like state"––but, then he blatantly described Stephen King as a "non-artist". Give me a freaking break. This is the literary snobbery that turns me away from any self-proclaimed artist. Political mudslinging would be a metaphor I would use. I am having trouble continuing anything further in this book, and I am quite disgruntled.

I recall a quote from Stephen King, "I have spent a good many years
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“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 sixteen novels—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, Hell, A Small Hotel, The Hot Country, The Star of Istanbul, The
“there are two of you, one who wants to write and one who doesn’t. The one who wants to write has to keep fooling the one who doesn’t.” 3 likes
“the primary and only necessary way of experiencing a work of literary art is not by “understanding” it in analytical terms; it is by thrumming to the work of art.” 1 likes
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