Dinty W. Moore: Writing Essays with Brevity

aaw-dintywmooreDinty W. Moore discusses how his many professions formed him as an author, the role of “divine dissatisfaction” in art, and what’s creative about creative nonfiction. And he does so briefly, of course. Because how else would the publisher of Brevity conduct himself.

What attracted you to become an essayist, as opposed to a poet or a playwright or a fiction writer?

Well, the truth is, essayist was my sixth or seventh choice, after journalist, filmmaker, acting student, modern dancer, failed novelist. I knew that I wanted to be an artist, that I wanted to share my view of the world, but it took me until age 35 to figure out exactly how I might do it best. Once I started writing what was just then beginning to be called “creative nonfiction,” the tumblers began to fall into place. The form seemed very comfortable, flexible, rich.

When I think of essayists, I think of them writing in a meditative, expansive way. What interested you in writing essays with brevity?

Brevity is my magazine, promoting very brief essays, 750 words or less. The fact that I edit the magazine, and love the work we publish, doesn’t mean I find it easy to write in the brief forms. Writing essays with brevity is still very much a challenge.

What are the essential ingredients of a good flash essay?

Tight language, vivid description, strong nouns and verbs, and a sense of urgency.

How do the elements of storytelling in good flash nonfiction differ from those in a good flash fiction, or do they?

The only difference, I think, is in the role of the first-person narrator: in nonfiction, the persona of the author merges with the author’s voice to create a “narrator,” and readers will perceive this narrator differently than they perceive a fictional character speaking on the page. When an author has control, this nuanced difference can be a very powerful element of the story.

You’re a man of many professions. You started out as a journalist. Did being a journalist teach you anything about the art of brevity or storytelling?

Being a journalist gave me a thick skin: I don’t think of my writing as sacrosanct, inviolate personal expression. I love being edited. If an editor has ideas on how to make my words sing more sweetly, I’m all ears.

You were once a modern dancer. Did dancing teach you anything about writing?

The odd experience of being a dancer is that you are not the “creator” in the room most of the time, but simply an element being manipulated by the choreographer. “Move here, do this, do it faster, now slower, now get down low and try it backwards.” Imagine the dancer as a line of text, and the choreographer is constantly experimenting with rearranging the line, moving it up or down in the stanza, exploding it and then creating four new lines from the scattered fragments. As a dancer, I learned what it was like to be words, or paint, or notes on a scale. It was a very interesting way for me to find my way into the artist’s mind.

I’ve heard you refer to what Martha Graham says is an artist’s “divine dissatisfaction.” Tell me how that helps a writer. Or can it also shut a writer down?

It is all a matter of timing. Letting that divinely dissatisfied critical voice enter your process in early drafts will just close you up, create writer’s block. But in the end, before you send your work off to the editor, or reader, being dissatisfied, relentless, unable to rest until every word is the precise right word in the exact right order, is the difference between a college admissions essay and Joan Didion.

What’s creative about creative nonfiction?

The frame, the structure, the word choices, the rhythm of sentences, scenes, the mixture of showing and telling, the choice between reflective point-of-view or innocent point-of-view, the decision of where to begin the story, of where to end it, the choice of which intimate details to include, how you describe them, the images and metaphors you create. God, just about everything. Except the story itself. That part is true.

For more, see Moore’s 100-word essay Danny Boy.

One Response to “Dinty W. Moore: Writing Essays with Brevity”

  1. Susan Parry says:

    Dinty….I am a good friend of your sister Susan who has encouraged me for a long time to check out your website/wisdom, etc. I finally am and feel the connection provides an epiphany of sorts as I am a reluctant writer who wants to move forward with all I have pent up in me to write about. You inspire me, and I thank you!

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