A Little Fuel For My Fire, Dyer Style


Lately I have been running through a list – I have to keep a book of them, literally – of projects, ideas, tasks and goals that I’d like to accomplish before the end of April rolls around.  Regrettably, I am sure there will be some items that get bumped into June, but I am trying to limit that occurence.

Geoff Dyer, the author of Paris Trance and Yoga For People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It, was a visiting professor at the University of Iowa the fall semester of 2012 – and his English wit and sensibility speaks volumes to me in his saying (see the image above): “Have regrets.  They are fuel.  On the page they flare into desire.”

Too many times, I find myself regretting that I didn’t prioritize some part of my writing in a different order, or I missed a word that my fingers bungled on the keyboard and ‘spell-check’ saw it as correct (when “and” should have just been “an”), or I had “life” issues bump a writing session altogether on a set-aside day.  But, then I sat down and looked at what Dyer had to say and felt a little flame begin to grow.

Dyer had ten little rules for writing fiction that he publicly shared.  I can’t say I agree with all of them (aside from his quote on regrets)…but here are a few I believe help me fuel my fire as a writer:

Dyer said, “Keep a diary. The biggest regret of my writing life is that I have never kept a journal or a diary.” One thing I have done a ton of, throughout my life, is journaling.  If it’s a good rule for writers to write “what they know”, I literally have volumes of crap to wade through to find an interesting tidbit or emotional breakdown in scribbled scrawl.  One thing that has been constant in my journaling is a litany of ideas I have had for good starts to stories.  Dyer may be onto something here – if I can just stop adding more entries to find time to step back in time and look over previous entries.

Dyer thought writing in public potentially hazardous, and said (after comparing getting the danger of feet to head in England versus Paris cafés), “I now think it should be done only in private, like any other lavatorial activity.” Hmmm.  Lavatorial?  Like showering, shaving and the other “S” that typically completes the Big Three?  I admit, limiting distractions (no, honey, the dog does NOT need to go out again just yet) is a must if you want to write cohesive sentences with proper flow.  I have never “written” in a lavatory, and I am happy to admit that I will not carry a laptop in there, either.

As for computers (including laptops, tablets and smart-phones these days), Dyer said, “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!”. How many times have you felt like calling your dumber-than-a-box-of-rocks computing/writing device marketed as a 21st Century electronic brain what Dyer said when it corrected “broken” to “broccoli” or vice versa?  Be honest!  I have turned off all auto-correct on my devices because – if I am going to make a typing error – by golly, it’s going to be a human mistake.

I have no issue with the following Dyer advice:  “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.”  

Me too! Bunking off right into the comforts of my queen-size bed in silence, darkness and warm-fuzzy blankets.  I will the vivid dreams to flood my mind in 3-D (sometimes 4-D) colorful brilliance.  Some of my best ideas come from the bizarre dreams I have that are not only plotted out (magic), but have protagonists and villains and sometimes, characters from books and movies.  And, this is the best part, I talk – out loud – to them, to the dismay of my furry children and spouse.

And my brain – look out Intel.  Your Pentium microchips simply can not handle the burn my brain creates in its firestorm of flowing ideas.  Now, who can build a machine that can tap into my brain directly and record this stuff because I am telling you – you could be rich (especially if you sold the contents as comedy).

If I don’t have at least five ideas going around in my brain at all times, someone should consult the hospital to see if I am in intensive care.

Dyer said that writing should be an everyday thing, “a habit of putting your observations into words…” I know a lot of my observations, especially those made at Wal-Mart (my seventh level of Hell – thank you Dante), should NEVER be written unless I want the heavens to spew brimstone and lightning and turn me to an ash pile.  At least Dyer was honest when he admitted he never followed this piece of advice.

His last tidbit was about never riding a bicycle with the brakes on.  He compared doing so to making the writing process so restrictive (smell the burning rubber?) that most would just give up, stop trying.  He wasn’t talking about a spin class, but did mention he went to the gym and hated it.  His point? Writing takes perseverance.  Do it today so that you don’t sit down one day and say, ‘hey, I can’t do that anymore’.

“That’s what writing is to me: a way of postponing the day when I won’t do it any more,” Dyer wrote, “the day when I will sink into a depression so profound it will be indistinguishable from perfect bliss.”

I am not sure if he’s being sarcastic at the end, there.  I am pretty sure my depression will be easily distinguishable from my bliss.  Maybe it was the profoundness…is that a word?

And I can relate to the ‘not being able to do a thing’ sentiment.  I have arthritis in my writing hand that makes using a pen nearly crippling after a few minutes.  I remember when I loved writing in a brand new notebook with a slick pen that would glide across the page. Thankfully, I can still type.  I have had to give up a lot of sports I was really good at, even if I hated practices.  I look back and think, “I would love to do that again,” and maybe this time be a bit more free in spirit and a little less reckless with my body.

So, thank you Geoff Dyer – you’ve lit the spark.  I promise to only throw the really embarrassing journal entries and mistyped words into the flames.  I will enjoy my private writing spaces and remember to light things up today before the embers burn out.  And mainly, I will allow myself a few regrets – even if I have bad observations at Wal-Mart, because good fuel makes the hottest fire – and ‘Smores taste better over open flame.

(Read Dyer’s 10 Rules Here)


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