Tuesday, April 17, 2012

1/2 Dozen for Dinty W. Moore

Ever humble and gifted, Dinty W. Moore gives us a look at his process, his past, and his mindful relationship with the page and language.
(You also may want to check out his new book on writing, The Mindful Writer -- a beautiful book, filled with gems.)

Here is a 1/2 Dozen with Dinty W. Moore.

Some writers hate to write. Other writers love being engaged in the creative process. How would you describe your relationship with the page?

The blank page is the scariest and most challenging location of all, and creating something out of nothing, generating entirely new material is for me painful, endlessly frustrating, and often results in self-loathing. Even after having written probably one-hundred essays and stories and published six or so books, I usually conclude somewhere in the “write something entirely new” stage that I simply don’t have anything to say, don’t really know how to write, and am not smart enough to solve the simplest narrative problems.

And then somehow I fill up many, many pages – through stubbornness, primarily – and it is time to revise. At that stage, I am happy as a three-year-old in a sandbox. Revision is glorious. I love moving the words on the page, rearranging vast chunks of prose, flipping the ending and the opening, finding even better ways to say what I’ve said somewhat shabbily. My dream life would be to wake up to find that the shoemaker’s elves had created a first draft while I slept, and all I needed to do was put in weeks and weeks of revision, trying to help the shape and beauty to show itself through the thicket.

What’s your advice to someone who’s fallen in love with a writer?

Run, run, as fast as you can. But if you are really in love, and can’t run, understand a few things:

1) The artistic life can resemble bi-polarity, with highs and lows, and sudden swings.

2) If the artist you love seems sullen and gloomy; it is likely not about you but a bad day at work.

3) There are times that the artist you love needs your honest opinion on a work-in-progress and there are times they just need you to smile and say “That’s great. Just keep working.” Try to learn which one is which.

Writing Tip #17 for Aspiring Writers – or #47 or #2. Your pick.

“Do you think I can be a writer?” students will sometimes ask me. They think they are asking about innate talent, or raw intelligence, or whether they exhibit a sufficient amount of remarkable thought and insight.

My answer is much simpler than that, however. “I don’t know,” I say to them. “Do you love playing with words?”

It is the very texture of language, the primal clay of verbs, nouns, sentences, the tactile sensation of combining those words into a poem or story, that in the end will bring a writer her most satisfaction.

What kind of child were you, inside of what kind of childhood, and how did it shape you as a writer?

I was a loner, the youngest, in a house with no books, so I would sit in the front sunroom every afternoon at three p.m. and wait for the mail to come tumbling through the little brass mail slot. Then I would read the magazines. Since I was the only male in the house, those magazines tended to be Seventeen, Glamour, and Ladies Home Journal, but I was hungry for words. Finally, someone subscribed to Reader’s Digest, and my range expanded. It wasn’t until high school that I got a library card and began choosing my own reading material.

As a teacher, trying to instill a sense of sentence construction, pacing, punctuation, and word choice in my students, I realize now that what was important was that I was reading. It would probably have been better if I had been reading Jack London or some other literary work, but I was reading words and sentences, and learning, and absorbing how this language works. So, thanks Seventeen.

What other jobs have you had -- other than writing or teaching writing? Did one of these help shape you as a writer?

I didn’t go to graduate school or become serious about my writing until age 30, so that left me lots of time to bounce around. The list includes zookeeper, Greenwich Village waiter, journalist, and janitor. For a stretch, I earned my rent money as a modern dancer. The odd thing about dance as an art form is that a dancer, with someone else doing the choreography, resembles the words on the page more than he resembles the one who is writing. So I was revised upon, pushed here and there, asked to become a synonym (“Move your arms this way, not that way,” “Try it backwards,” or “Keep that same emotion but enter more slowly.”) I learned a lot about the creative process in the dance studio, about intuition, about not becoming too attached to anything, because it all may change the next day when the choreographer comes in with a new idea.

Faith. Do you consider yourself religious? If so, how does that manifest in your work and/or your process?

I consider myself a Buddhist, but Buddhism is not really a religion, since there is no deity, no worship. It is a way of living your life. My new book, The Mindful Writer, attempts to answer this very question, concluding that what I learned about being an artist opened me to the dharma path, more than Buddhism in any way changing the way I write. There is nothing spiritual in the act of writing for me, other than the profound joy that I’ve been given this gift and this opportunity.

Dinty W. Moore, is author of The Mindful Writer: Noble Truths of the Writing Life, as well as the memoir Between Panic & Desire, winner of the Grub Street Nonfiction Book Prize in 2009. He worked briefly as a police reporter, a documentary filmmaker, a modern dancer, a zookeeper, and a Greenwich Village waiter, before deciding he was lousy at all of those jobs and really wanted to write memoir and short stories.



To read more 1/2 Dozens by novelists, essayists, poets,