Williams S. Burroughs on Dreams and Writing About Them

What a trippy man William S. Burroughs was. Not just because he used a lot of drugs, but because he also made super effective use of dreams as creative inspo.

I remember reading Naked Lunch in University and feeling like it was a bizarre, dream-like experience. Nothing in it felt quite in it’s right place, in an eerie, kind of magical realism way, (the insect typewriter, the foliage-filled apartment, the constant changing of everything that’s usually constant in film) but it all kind of fit together and made sense. Like a dream. Then I discovered that Burroughs faithfully kept a dream journal. Obv!

He used his dream journal to fuel his work, too. In this lecture he actually says, “I’ve in fact picked up a book in a dream and read it and then I’m able sometimes to transcribe that later when I’m awake.”


So, I’ve never come close to doing anything remotely like writing a full-on novel from a dream, but I do write about my dreams often. I think it’s an interesting and experimental way to write – you’re not entirely the guide, but you are. You’re just getting to know what you already came up with.

Burroughs shares a built-in writing prompt in this lecture:

“I made a collection of dream phrases, those words that occurred in dreams are often just words between sleeping and waking and you get a peculiar sort of grammar. If I can remember: where naked troubadours shoot snotty baboons, is one.”

In the liminal space where our subconsious ramblings meet our rational minds, the strange grammar of some deep self emerges. This can be a huge source of personal insight. Words are huge symbols.

I like the idea of collecting the random statements and words that come up in this dream space, because it’s a really not-overwhelming way to dive into the subconscious. (And it’s about as much as I have time for in the morning.) This is what a dream journal should be, I think. Sometimes, when it comes to diving into journalling, less is more.

Download the full 90 mins of this lecture here.

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