Tag Archives: Geoff Dyer

Words from the Singapore Writer’s Festival 2014

I’m exhausted and exhilarated after a full weekend of workshops, panels, performances, readings, and discussions at the Singapore Writer’s Festival. Time is short, as I have work pending and things I should be doing other than writing a blog – so until I can reflect on the experience with more ease and depth, here’s a few comments from the past few days to get minds thinking and imagination igniting:

‘I don’t think people aspire to be an essayist, because there’s nothing ‘special’ about the essay. It’s the first form we’re taught at school when we’re about twelve or thirteen – it’s the first building block of education: we’re given facts and we write it up, as homework… And you have a career and now in middle age, you look back and go ‘Shit! It’s been thirty years of homework.’   Geoff Dyer.

On a panel about morality, Man Booker prize shortlisted novelist Karen Joy Fowler said:

‘The project of literature and art is to acknowledge other lives and extend tolerance and celebration about our differences….The project of art and literature is to extend the circle of empathy…’

In a masterclass I was fortunate to attend with Paul Muldoon (see previous blog), he concluded the session with:

‘What’s not possible if you honour the poem that wants to write itself, if you give it the chance? Allow it to have its way with you.’

There were many panels and discussions around the issue of gender and writing, and ‘Woman at the Crossroad’ – moments of profound change, after which nothing is the same again. Reflecting on such a moment in her own life, the novelist Lee Su Kim said, on giving up journalism to become a fiction writer:

‘I was a journalist and I realised I wanted to write paragraphs, not soundbites.’

On a sister panel, about the pleasures and burdens of being a female poet, Marilyn Chin woke up the audience in more ways than one with her statement:

‘I am not afraid of my womaness, nor the F word – Feminism. I am not afraid of race, or gender, or sexuality. I write the truth. I write with my bodily juices, because when I write, I should use everything I have, and it’s all woman.’

I will reflect more on the festival over future posts…. Meanwhile hope you enjoyed these morsels.

One hundred and fifty ‘rules’ for writing fiction: 111 – 114

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More thoughts from those who have done it on how to do it….

111.)  A short story must have single mood and every sentence must build towards it.  (Edgar Allan Poe).

112). Do change your mind. Good ideas are often murdered by better ones. I was working on a novel about a band called the Partitions. Then I decided to call them the Commitments. (Roddy Doyle).

113). For one thousand nights, before you sleep: Read one short story a night. Read one poem a night. Read one essay a night, from very diverse fields: politics, philosophy, religion, biology, anthropology, psychology, and so on. At the end of the one-thousand nights you’ll be full of stuff! All this stuff will be bouncing around in your head, and you’ll be able to come up with lots of new ideas. (Ray Bradbury).

114). 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.” (Geoff Dyer).

One hundred ‘rules’ for writing fiction: 47-51

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Further words on ‘how to’ or ‘how not to’  or ‘how I do’ from interviews with fiction writers.

47, You can never read your own book with the innocent anticipation that comes with that first delicious page of a new book, because you wrote the thing. You’ve been backstage. You’ve seen how the rabbits were smuggled into the hat. Therefore ask a reading friend or two to look at it before you give it to anyone in the publishing business. This friend should not be someone with whom you have a ­romantic relationship, unless you want to break up. (Margaret Atwood).

48. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water. (Kurt Vonnegut).

49. I’m trying to get better at the plotting, because I don’t think it’s my natural strength. I would say I have sort of a natural gift for character, and following one person’s point of view at a time, and dialogue, but I’m not naturally good at strong plot. So something like Room I’ve done a lot more planning on. And it’s not cold-blooded planning; it’s more like planning a military campaign or something. It’s quite exciting, because what you’re trying to do is to keep up the reader’s energy at every point. You’re looking for those spots where things would sag or get lost or come off the rails. You’re trying to keep up the momentum. Playwriting is very good training for that, because people are quite indulgent in a novel of any softening in your pace—they can just choose to read faster, or to take a break from it and come back. But in a theatre, your audience is trapped there. So if you’ve got any bits that feel dull, the audience will literally shift and cough. Even if they don’t walk out, you can tell that they’re restless, so you have to really shape your play well, or they’ll be shifting in their seats. (Emma Donahue).

50. 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. (Geoff Dyer).

51. Editing is as important as the writing. I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil. (Truman Capote).

One hundred ‘rules’ for writing fiction: 16-21

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Further thoughts and quotations on writing I’ve collected over the years:

16. Have more than two irons in the fire at any time. I try to be reading research material for a project that’s forming whilst revising or working on a developed project – that way if I want a day off from something, I’m still being productive. It’s good to feel I’m playing truant – whilst also knowing I’m moving forward. (KOR)

17. Avoid prologues: they can be ­annoying, especially a prologue ­following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in non-fiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want. There is a prologue in John Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday, but it’s OK because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: “I like a lot of talk in a book and I don’t like to have nobody tell me what the guy that’s talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks.”  (Elmore Leonard)

18.  Find your best time of the day for writing and write. Don’t let anything else interfere. Afterwards it won’t matter to you that the kitchen is a mess.    (Esther Freud)

19. Take something to write on. Paper is good. In a pinch, pieces of wood or your arm will do.  (Margaret Atwood)

20. All through my career I’ve written 1,000 words a day – even if I’ve a hangover. You’ve got to discipline yourself if you’re professional. There’s no other way.   (J.G.Ballard)

21. Have regrets. They are fuel. On the page they flare into desire.  (Geoff Dyer)