Dinty W. Moore: A Most Mindful Writer

Dinty W. Moore is the Director of Creative Writing at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, a town he describes as “the funkadelicious, hillbilly-hippie Appalachian epicenter of the locally-grown, locally-consumed, goats-are-for-cheese, paw-paws-are-for-eatin’, artisanal-salsa, our-farmers-market-rocks-the-hills sub-culture.”

Before he became a writer, Moore worked as a police reporter, a documentary filmmaker, a modern dancer, a zookeeper, and a Greenwich Village waiter. He is the author of The Mindful Writer: Noble Truths of the Writing Life; Crafting the Personal Essay: A Guide for Writing and Publishing Creative Nonfiction; The Accidental Buddhist: Mindfulness, Enlightenment, and Sitting Still, American StyleThe Truth of the Matter: Art and Craft in Creative Nonfiction; The Emperor’s Virtual Clothes: The Naked Truth About Internet Culture; the short story collection Toothpick Men; and the memoir Between Panic & Desire, winner of the Grub Street Nonfiction Book Prize. Moore’s writing has appeared in The Southern Review, The Georgia Review, Harpers, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, The Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine, Gettysburg Review, Utne Reader, and Crazyhorse, among numerous other venues. He is also the editor of Brevity, the journal of concise creative nonfiction.  When he’s not writing, teaching, or editing, Moore grows his own heirloom tomatoes and edible dandelions.

He was interviewed by Nicholas Garnett for Sliver of Stone Magazine.

Nicholas Garnett: As have many writers, you’ve tried a lot of different things in your life, from acting to dance.  I know you say that writing is the only thing you’ve been good at, but how important do you think those experiences have been to your development as a writer?

Dinty Moore: When I was suffering through my early adulthood – the decade between my twentieth birthday and turning 30 – I thought my life was a chaotic sequence of failures. I went from newspaper journalism, to experimental filmmaking, to mopping floors, to modern dance and acting (and waiting tables), and then onto technical writing.  It turns out, though, that this was an ideal arrangement: journalism and technical writing taught me discipline and precision, while the various experiments with being an artist taught me about intuition and about the many ways that artists find their way into a work and the river of meaning.  I am still discovering how lucky I was, despite the sense of aimlessness and failure that marked those years, to have these experiences.

NG: You are an editor and a teacher, as well as a writer.  How do you structure your life to make room for each process?

DM: I learned early on to meet a deadline, no excuses allowed. The writing comes first thing in the morning, so that I can attack other obligations later in the day, when meetings, phone calls, and other distractions are heaviest. I am overloaded these days however, and am looking for ways to let go of certain tasks, to lighten the time commitment so that I can enjoy life a bit more.  That seems to be the litany of our times, though. We are all over-loaded.

NG: You must come across some beautiful writing.  What do think elevates beautiful writing to beautiful storytelling?

DM: That’s the essence of it, isn’t it?  There are good stories, and people who can tell good stories, and then there is attentiveness to language and metaphor, a dexterity with words and the music of words.  When the two come together, it seems almost magical.  Need I say Shakespeare?

NG: In Between Panic and Desire, which you have described as an “unconventional, non-sequential, generational autobiography aka cultural memoir,” you explore your generation’s (which happens to also be mine) shared experience, especially the role of television in providing a common cultural experience. With the splintering of television and the rise of the Internet, this cultural common ground seems to be a thing of the past. What do you think will be the effect of this loss of commonality on our culture?

DM: I’m not sure the cultural commonality is being lost. There are a seemingly infinite number of websites, of course, but it seems the younger generation, the teens and twenty-somethings, still have a shared set of cultural touchstones, the goofy internet memes and parodies, the Pandora experience, various YouTube sensations, and actually, television isn’t going away anytime soon, even though the big networks are no longer at the center of things.  So it is experienced differently than we remember – no more families piled onto the sofa to watch a moon landing – but the commonality may still be there.

NG: In The Mindful Writer, in which you explore the process of writing, you present “The Four Noble Truths For Writers,” one of which is to reduce the ego “from our insistence on controlling both the process of writing and how the world reacts to what we have written.”  How have you been able to reduce the role of your ego from writing, a process that seems so ego driven?

DM: I readily admit the contradiction here. To be a writer demands a certain self-image. “I have written something,” you say, “and I think it is worthwhile for total strangers to devote 15 minutes to reading my essay, or five hours to absorbing my book.”  That takes real ego.  But realizing that what you have written is not “you,” and not even entirely from you, but an amalgamation of many influences, is a first step, as is letting go of trying to force your writing into a particular path within the marketplace.  We write our best work and we put it forward hoping it will find a place, but we cannot control that process any more than we can control rapidly running water. Likewise, we have our best ideas and we do what is needed to flesh them out – research, meditation, reading other work for inspiration – but we can’t always control where a piece of writing goes, and we shouldn’t try to control it. We have to trust in the process, trust in progress, and yes, even trust failure.   We have to understand that much of this lies outside of our own control.