Burroughs’ Advice For Writers

Burroughs in 1959 by Loomis Dean

For me- and I’m sure many other writers relate to this – writing is as much an external process as an internal one. I see writing as an essential living, breathing component, something I have to get out of my system. I often have a need to lasso thoughts in case they attempt to escape.

Perhaps William Seward Burroughs would agree with me on this. He was all about capturing the first thought and getting it down on paper. He created characters inside liminal spaces, hallucinatory prose which emulated psychedelic states, regarding his panoply of outcasts as “company”. Famous for taking on and popularising the Dadaist method of cut-up technique, which Bowie also sometimes used in the mid -seventies as inspiration for lyrics, Burroughs acted as mentor to many writers and artists.

His first major message was simple. “Most people don’t notice what’s going on around them. That’s my principal message to writers: for god’s sake, keep your eyes open”.

As someone who often found himself on the wrong side of the law, thanks to his penchant for weapons and drug use, he was naturally suspicious of authority figures. He regarded politicians with a gimlet eye, as only a wise, philosophical man like him could, stating: “Artists, to my mind, are the real architects of change, and not the political legislators who implement change after the fact.”

Herself an admirer of Rimbaud, the Beat poets and Burroughs in particular, a young Patti Smith sought advice early in her career as a performance poet. Burroughs told her: “Build a good name. Keep your name clean. Don’t make compromises, don’t worry about making a bunch of money or being successful – be concerned with doing good work and make the right choices and protect your work. And if you build a good name, eventually that name will be its own currency.” To which Smith quipped with a laugh,” But William, I’m a Smith!” They stayed film friends for many years.

Smith and Burroughs at Ed Sanders’ Beatnik party, Max’s, New York, 1975. Photo: Getty

It has often been said that if you need sound advice, ask a priest. So who better to go to for advice about good writing than Tom The Priest ? Avoid that Dr Benway though, he’s a wrong ‘un…

Published by loreleiirvine

I'm a freelance arts monkey. Come see my brain vomit.

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