A Brief Explanation of the Cut-up Technique

RE/SEARCH #4/5, 1982

The Cut-Up technique is to writing what collage is to visual art. Its recent use was pioneered by William Burroughs and Brion Gysin, and later David Bowie used it during the 1970s. The basic method is simple — write a piece of work, cut the paper up with scissors, and rearrange the pieces to form new phrases and new meanings.

“The best writing seems to be done almost by accident but writers until the cut-up method was made explicit … had no way to produce the accident of spontaneity. You cannot will spontaneity. But you can introduce the spontaneous factor with a pair of scissors.”

William S. Burroughs, RE/SEARCH #4/5, 1982

Obviously, using this method can and will produce results which you’re not happy with, but the surprising thing is how many of the results are successful. Sometimes all that is needed is a quick read through of the results, adding punctuation and deleting the occasional word to produce the finished results. Purists might complain about editing the cut-up text, but this process is a tool which you can choose to use at any stage in the process of writing.