Augusten Burroughs spoke about the therapeutic nature of writing and the release of the movie version of his book Running with Scissors on Thursday night at the Special Events Center.
He was originally scheduled to speak about his bestselling memoir, Running with Scissors, but because of lawsuits brought by his adopted family, whom the book is mostly about, he was unable to speak about the book. The most he could say was, “Running with Scissors is a true story, and I did not exaggerate.” His adopted family claims he took factual liberties in the book.
The lecture turned out instead to be largely about how writing helped him overcome alcoholism. He described how one morning he woke up with a hangover, sat down at the computer in his apartment littered with alcohol bottles and wrote, “‘You exposed your penis on national television, Max. What am I supposed to do?’ ‘I didn’t expose it, Howard. It sort of peeked out.'” He continued writing, and this became his first book, Sellevision.
He said that the day he started writing Sellevision he drank, but drank less because he was so obsessed with what he was writing. Burroughs then continued, and by the third or fourth day, he was no longer drinking because it was interrupting his writing.
“On the seventh day I finished, and I typed the words ‘The End,’ and that is when everything in my life changed,” Burroughs said.
After Sellevision, he said he pitched the idea of using the journals he wrote while he was recovering from alcoholism while facing other equally difficult situations, which eventually became Dry. Burroughs said that the publishing company loved the idea. To this end, he told them how unusual his childhood was, and they had him write about that.
Burroughs’ mother gave him up to her psychiatrist when he was 12. According to Burroughs, his mother’s psychiatrist needed a psychiatrist, and he grew up with his crazy family in a dilapidated house in western Massachusetts where a pedophile lived in a shack in the back yard. He dropped out of school and had very little contact with the outside world.
Despite Burroughs’ success, he said he had a great deal of trouble writing initially.
“I found myself having all these kind of false starts,” Burroughs said. “It was just too huge. It was too, kind of, awful – I did finally open my journal, and they made me laugh.” He described how reading them brought him back and Dry wrote itself.
Burroughs spoke about the film version of Running with Scissors. He said that he was determined not to release the book for use as a movie. Burroughs said he declined many offers from studios. After meeting director Ryan Murphy, Burroughs eventually decided to let Murphy make the book into a film. Burroughs said Murphy told him their mothers were very similar, and they decided to collaborate.
“So much to my surprise, I optioned Running with Scissors to Ryan Murphy,” Burroughs said.
Murphy is known for directing the television series Nip/Tuck.
Writing has always been central to Burroughs’ life. He said it started when his mother bought him a tape recorder when he was young and he used to tell stories into it. He has used his love of writing to shed light into his world.
“I just think his life has been pretty amazing, and it’s nice to hear he’s sort of made it through everything,” freshman Morgan Dewey said. “It was interesting to hear him talk about the movie, too. That’s going to be really cool.”
Alex Hipworth said afterward, “I’ve never read any of his books, but I’m going to now.”