Geoff Dyer’s Top 10 Tips for Writers

5 November 2014 — 2 Comments

Geoff Dyer's Top 10 Tips for Writers

Geoff Dyer was described in New York Magazine as being “one of our greatest living critics, not of the arts but of life itself, and one of our most original writers – always out there beyond literary Mach 1, breaking the how-things-usually-sound barrier.” He is the author of four novels, two essay collections, and six genre-defying titles (that generally find themselves shelved among the non-fiction). His most recent book, Another Great Day at Sea: Life Aboard the USS George H.W. Bush, was published in May of this year. In 2010 Dyer shared the following writing tips with the Guardian.

  1. Never worry about the commercial possibilities of a project. That stuff is for agents and editors to fret over—or not. Conversation with my American publisher. Me: “I’m writing a book so boring, of such limited commercial appeal, that if you publish it, it will probably cost you your job.” Publisher: “That’s exactly what makes me want to stay in my job.”
  2. Don’t write in public places. In the early 1990s I went to live in Paris. The usual writerly reasons: back then, if you were caught writing in a pub in England, you could get your head kicked in, whereas in Paris, dans les cafés … Since then I’ve developed an aversion to writing in public. I now think it should be done only in private, like any other lavatorial activity.
  3. Don’t be one of those writers who sentence themselves to a lifetime of sucking up to Nabokov.
  4. If you use a computer, constantly refine and expand your autocorrect settings. The only reason I stay loyal to my piece-of-shit computer is that I have invested so much ingenuity into building one of the great auto-correct files in literary history. Perfectly formed and spelt words emerge from a few brief keystrokes: “Niet” becomes “Nietzsche,” “phoy” becomes “photography” and so on. Genius!
  5. Keep a diary. The biggest regret of my writing life is that I have never kept a journal or a diary.
  6. Have regrets. They are fuel. On the page they flare into desire.
  7. Have more than one idea on the go at any one time. If it’s a choice between writing a book and doing nothing I will always choose the latter. It’s only if I have an idea for two books that I choose one rather than the other. I always have to feel that I’m bunking off from something.
  8. Beware of clichés. Not just the clichés that Martin Amis is at war with. There are clichés of response as well as expression. There are clichés of observation and of thought—even of conception. Many novels, even quite a few adequately written ones, are clichés of form which conform to clichés of expectation.
  9. Do it every day. Make a habit of putting your observations into words and gradually this will become instinct. This is the most important rule of all and, naturally, I don’t follow it.
  10. Never ride a bike with the brakes on. If something is proving too difficult, give up and do something else. Try to live without resort to per­severance. But writing is all about perseverance. You’ve got to stick at it. In my 30s I used to go to the gym even though I hated it. The purpose of going to the gym was to postpone the day when I would stop going. That’s what writing is to me: a way of postponing the day when I won’t do it any more, the day when I will sink into a depression so profound it will be indistinguishable from perfect bliss.

Read more writing tips from Hilary MantelPaulo Coelho, Teju ColeMeg Rosoff, Joss Whedon and Neil Gaiman.

Text via The Paris Review. Photo by Jason Oddy.

2 responses to Geoff Dyer’s Top 10 Tips for Writers

  1. “Lavatorial”! This is good stuff.

  2. Everything you say is on point. I shall print your advice and take heed to it. Thank you kindly sir.

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