Writer’s Quote Wednesday – William S. Burroughs

It’s been awhile since I have done a Writer’s Quote Wednesday and I cannot tell how much I have missed it! I haven’t been writing as much as I’d like and now that I am trying to get back into the swing of things I could really use the inspiration, and maybe you could too? This week I have chosen a quote from William S. Burroughs.

Born William Seward Burroughs II, Burroughs was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, painter, and spoken word performer. He was major figure in the “Beat Generation” and has had quite an effect on popular culture. He is considered to be  “one of the most politically trenchant, culturally influential, and innovative artists of the 20th century”.

Burroughs wrote 18 novels and novellas, six collections of short stories and four collections of essays. Five books have been published of his interviews and correspondences. He also collaborated on projects and recordings with numerous performers and musicians, and made many appearances in films.

He was born to a wealthy family in Missouri and began writing essays and journals early in life. He left home in 1932 to attend Harvard University where he studied English and anthropology as a postgraduate. He later attended medical school in Vienna.

He attempted to join the Office of Strategic Services and U.S. Navy in 1942 to serve in World War II but was turned down by both. Afterwards, he would pick up a heroin addiction that would plague him for the rest of his life In 1943 while living in New York City, he befriended Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, the mutually influential foundation of which grew into the Beat Generation, and later the 1960s counterculture.

Most of Burroughs work is semi-autobiographical, mainly having to do with his experiences as an addict while traveling and living all over the world.

One interesting fact about Burroughs is he accidentally killed his second wife, Joan Vollmer, in 1951 in Mexico City, during a drunken attempt at playing William Tell. For those of you who don’t know “playing William Tell” means it’s the game where someone tries to shoot an apple off of another person’s head. Burroughs tried to shoot a water tumbler off of Vollmer’s head, missed, and killed her. She was 28 years old.

Burroughs was convicted of manslaughter and in the introduction to his novel Queer Burroughs writes: “I am forced to the appalling conclusion that I would have never become a writer but for Joan’s death … [S]o the death of Joan brought me into contact with the invader, the Ugly Spirit, and maneuvered me into a lifelong struggle, in which I had no choice except to write my way out”.

Burroughs has been said to be “the most important writer to emerge since the Second World War”, a quite possibly “the only American writer who may be conceivably possessed by genius”.

All writing is in fact cut-ups. A collage of words read, heard, overheard.

– William S. Burroughs

I ran into this quote when I followed a link to a podcast titled “Steal This Episode“. It was all about how, as writers, we should be stealing ideas left and right. I am a big believer in collecting inspiration from many sources and when you think about it you realize that even without trying we do it anyway.

Everything you write is inspired by or directly copied from something else you saw or read or heard. As humans it’s just something we do naturally. We store information, we pull things apart and rearrange them to find new meanings, and then we spit them back out transformed into something else entirely. Something we can call our own.

The trick to being a good writer, I think, is to learn to do this intentionally and efficiently. You must become aware of what information you are storing and using so that the end results can be something you intended and not something made accidentally. You can also learn to do it more frequently and turn the practice into something that you can one day make a living at.

That is what I am doing my best to learn to do now.

Sources: Wikipedia

Original image via https://flic.kr/p/8z23LU


6 Replies to “Writer’s Quote Wednesday – William S. Burroughs”

  1. Lisa, I have missed your wisdom! Welcome back! And, what a quote you picked! Well done. I never thought about writing like that. It is a great visual of a collage of words. That paints a pretty picture. <3


  2. There’s no question in my mind about the importance of the beat generation writer to the shape of the field in the twentieth century. The onus on writers to do ‘the same but different’ has always been an issue. The question is how to find the balance between ‘different’ and ‘inaccessible’. I always thought Kerouac pushed that limit with ‘On The Road’. Today I think that ‘familiar yet innovative’ thrust is still as essential as ever, perhaps the more so given the way the web and social media have changed the nature of the field.


    1. Totally agree here. I haven’t read “On the Road” but I will be adding it to my list. I actually think that as the web and social media has changed it has made it easier for writers and artist to do things that are ‘familiar yet innovative’. Take Twitter and Vine for example. I have seen a lot of people take comedy to a whole other level that just wasn’t possible before using a media that greatly limits the length of time given to express thoughts. It’s not that the jokes are new, it’s just that they are being told in a different way. It’s simply amazing to me :)


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