A Normal Interview with Dinty W. Moore

Dinty W. Moore demonstrates brevity at its best. He will soon join The Normal School for our Summer Nonfiction Workshop and Publishing Institute on July 16-29, on the campus of Fresno State. Moore will lead workshops, participate in panel discussions, and meet one-on-one with students. Apply now; scholarships and course credit available.

In a normal interview,  Dinty W. Moore  discusses teaching, seedlings, and the drama of attempting to prevail in difficult writing projects.

In a normal interview, Dinty W. Moore discusses teaching, seedlings, and the drama of attempting to prevail in difficult writing projects.

Bonita Hele: You’re a busy writer, speaking frequently at workshops and conferences. How do you find your work at conferences and seminars informs your writing?

Dinty W. Moore: I learn a lot from teaching, both in my regular Ohio University faculty position and teaching around the country at various weekend and week-long workshops. Teaching forces you – if you do it right – to articulate what you believe makes for successful writing, and to seek out practical, craft solutions to common narrative concerns. It keeps my mind alert, I think, or hope.


BH: This July, you will be participating in the CSU Summer Arts program, for The Normal School’s Creative Nonfiction Workshop. Are we allowed a sneak preview of topics or themes you’ll be covering? More broadly, do you have a similar approach to workshops you teach, or do you revise your material each time?

DWM: My plan for my workshop is to help participants generate new work, growing out of a series of brief writing based on prompts I will bring along. (I revise the prompts regularly, so we’ll see what new ideas July brings.)

I like to think of the work produced in a generative workshop as seedlings – little sprouting things that the writer takes home and nurtures, discovering eventually whether one or the other will grow into a 1,000-word essay, a 4,000-word essay, or something longer. But the seedlings are there, for whenever the writer finds the time to dive back into the work.


BH: The online nonfiction journal Brevity has been around for roughly 20 years now. How have you found its shape transforming or reforming over that time?

DWM: Brevity began as a home for conventional narrative nonfiction of a very brief nature, but over the years it has expanded – thanks to the submissions that come in – to include lyric essays, experimental essays, ruminative (Montaigne-ish) essays, literary journalistic works, and work that is hard to define but stunning. Of course, we have transformed into something much larger than I ever anticipated as well, with thousands of regular readers spread across the globe. We’ve published work from writers living in India, Egypt, Ireland, Spain, Dubai, Malaysia, and Japan. I find all of it – the reach, the success, the level of work – to be staggeringly wonderful.


BH: In an interview with Jenny Patton, you remarked on your fascination with the short form. What is the shortest piece you read that still worked, that drew you in as a reader? Is there such a thing as “too short” in the brief art form?

DWM: I’m going to duck the first question.  There are too many examples of “super short” flash and new ones pop up every day.  But no, I don’t think there is a too short limit. Or if there is, someone will prove it wrong.


BH: I’ve read that between first draft and final publication, your essays go through 40 revisions on average. Do you find that as you have developed the writing craft, you don’t revise as much or as deeply as in earlier writings? I guess another way to put it is, is it easier for you to assay these days, or is it as much a journey now as it has ever been?

DWM: No, I still revise almost as much as I did before. Sometimes I may revise even more, because I’ve set my sights higher. I’m one of those writers who works out what he is trying to say in the process of writing and revising, and refining, and rewording, and redefining, and finding new question to ask somewhere in the middle of the revision process.


BH: What excites you most about your current writing project? Is there anything that frustrates you or that you’re finding an inordinate challenge?

DWM: My current writing project is kicking me in the butt right now. Nothing excites me about it but the prospect that someday the tide will turn and I’ll get the better of the project instead of the project having the better of me.


Dinty W. Moore is author of The Story Cure: A Book Doctor’s Pain-Free Guide to Finishing Your Novel or Memoir; the memoir Between Panic & Desire; and many other books. He has published essays and stories in The Southern Review, The Georgia Review, Harpers, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, Arts & Letters, The Normal School, and elsewhere.

Dinty has won many awards for his writing, including a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Fiction. He edits Brevity, an online journal of flash nonfiction, and lives in Athens, Ohio, where he grows heirloom tomatoes and edible dandelions. 


Nonfiction writer Bonita Jewel Hele, a freelance editor for nearly ten years, spends weekday mornings encouraging elementary students to love literature, afternoons as a Graduate Assistant with the Fresno State MFA program, and evenings reading stories to her three children.