Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Dinty Moore

Welcome to Writerhead Wednesday, a weekly feature in which a brilliant, charming, remarkable author talks about her/his writerhead…a precious opportunity for looky-loos around the world to sneak into the creative noggins of talented writers and (ever so gently) muck about.


Now ssshhhh, don’t y’all start raising a ruckus just because Dinty Moore (yes, THE Dinty Moore!!!) is here at Writerhead. Yes, it’s true, he’s…

But despite all that, you still can’t venture into Dinty’s writerhead whooping and hollering like a gaggle of writers and readers gone wild (see Dinty’s answer to question #2 below). This kind of hallowed ground deserves a little respect and consideration.

So if you’re ready to show a little of each, we’ll proceed.

As Dinty says, “Breathe deeply, friends.”

1. Describe your state of writerhead (the where, the when, the how, the what, the internal, the external).

Writerhead is when the writing is talking back to me and I have to listen. I have to listen even more than I have to listen to my wife Renita when she asks if I want cereal or yogurt for breakfast and whether I want it now or want it left for me on the kitchen counter. (Yeah, I know, I’m lucky that way.) Back when I primarily wrote fiction, it was the characters talking back to me, suggesting what might happen next, or what they might say. Those were golden moments. Now that I’m primarily always in nonfiction mode, it is the ideas talking back to me, suggesting ramifications or reversals, and sometimes it feels like it is me talking back to me, the crotchety old man in one corner of my brain (me) arguing with the optimist (also me) in another corner and both shushing me (also me) up so I can hear what they have to say, because in their view (which is also my view) what they have to say is more important than anything I was going to come up with on my own.

2. What happens if someone/something interrupts writerhead? (a spouse, a lover, a barking dog, an electrical outage, a baby’s cry, a phone call, a leg cramp, a dried-up pen, a computer crash, etc.)

I ignore phone calls, dog barks, lightning storms, and all lesser stimuli, but someone in my office doorway asking me a direct question is hard to overlook. The first thing that happens is that I wave my arms in front of my face as if I had been attacked by gnats. I am startled, surprised to find a keyboard and a computer screen in front of me, and flabbergasted at the sound of an actual voice, instead of those voices emanating from the musty back alleys of my inner consciousness. And then I either splutter, “Wait, wait, one minute until I get this down,” or I look so startled that my spouse backs off and calls her best friend and gossips about what a freak I am. (Actually, that’s a lie. She has great regard for the artistic process.) When my daughter was little and I would stagger out of my office mid-morning looking like I had been on an all-night whiskey binge, my wife would calmly explain that, “Daddy is in story land. He’ll be okay after he showers.”

3. Using a simile or metaphor, compare your writerhead to something.

Writerhead is like an endorphin high from exercise, without the aching leg muscles, or a marijuana high, without the paranoia, guilt, shame, and dirty ashtrays. Writerhead is like getting up out of your chair, crawling into your own ear, and wandering around inside of your own brain for two or twenty minutes, and the whole time you are also sitting in that chair, typing notes on what you’ve found.

BIO: Dinty W. Moore is author of numerous books, including The Mindful Writer: Noble Truths of the Writing Life, Crafting the Personal Essay: A Guide for Writing and Publishing Creative Nonfiction, and the memoir Between Panic & Desire, winner of the Grub Street Nonfiction Book Prize. He recently edited THE ROSE METAL PRESS FIELD GUIDE TO WRITING FLASH NONFICTION: Advice and Essential Exercises from Respected Writers, Editors, and Teachers.

Having failed as a zookeeper, modern dancer, Greenwich Village waiter, filmmaker, and wire service journalist, he now writes essays and stories. He has been published 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.

Dinty lives in Athens, Ohio, 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, where he grows his own heirloom tomatoes and edible dandelions, and teaches a crop of brilliant undergraduate and stunningly talented graduate students as director of Ohio University’s BA, MA, and PhD in Creative Writing program.

CONNECT: To find out more about Dinty, visit his website. He is also the editor of one of my favorite online literary magazines, Brevity, “a small magazine with large ambitions.” You can also give him a high-five on Twitter (@brevitymag).

 


Mojo Monday: Lady Gaga Prefers to Remember in an Artistic Way

It’s Mojo Monday, and as always, I’ve got a little something-something to lift your creative spirits, buoy you up, help you get your mojo on, and nudge (or better yet, catapult) you into writerhead.


I think a lot about how writers’ heads work (duh…writerhead) so it was impossible for me not to steal this video from the blog at Brevity magazine. It’s just too “writerheadish” not to feature here. So thanks, Dinty Moore, for bringing it to my attention! And thanks, Lady Gaga!

Writers, how do you remember?

Mojo Monday: Get Inspired…Do Something

It’s Mojo Monday, and as always, I’ve got a little something-something to lift your creative spirits, buoy you up, help you get your mojo on, and nudge (or better yet, catapult) you into writerhead.


Last Thursday evening, I gave my first-ever Writerhead presentation at PechaKucha at River Tree Arts in Kennebunkport, Maine. It was fantabulous! (I’ll be talking about Writerhead again in a few weeks at the Pennwriters Conference in Lancaster, PA. Come on out!)

One of the things I (re-)realized during the presentation was that DOING something creative gets me into writerhead. There I was, getting into writerhead while giving a presentation about writerhead.

So for you today? Two creative opportunities for you to DO something…and the promise that DOING something will help shift you into writerhead.

KICK-ASS CREATIVE OPPORTUNITY #1 / The “Immersion” Writing Contest at Brevity.com

Details from Brevity.com.

“To celebrate Robin Hemley’s new book, A Field Guide for Immersion Writing: Memoir, Journalism, and Travel, we are launching a quick contest. You have one month, until May 11th, to immerse yourself, in something. If it is water, be sure that you can swim. If it is honey, watch out for bears.

“Here are the details:

“For centuries writers have used participatory experience as a lens through which to better see the world at large and as a means of exploring the self. Immersion writing encompasses Immersion Memoir (in which the writer uses participatory experience to write about the Self), Immersion Journalism (in which the writer uses the Self to write about the world), and Travel Writing (a bit of both: the writer in the world and the world in the writer). Types of immersion writing within these broad categories include: the Reenactment, the Experiment, the Quest, the Investigation, and the Infiltration.”

For complete details, visit Brevity. (Quickie Info: 500 words due by May 11, 2012! Get busy! Immerse yourself!)

Bonus: You could win a showercap!

* * * *

KICK-ASS CREATIVE OPPORTUNITY #2 / “The Great Outdoors Photo Competition”

Yep, photos, not writing for this contest. Of the great, grand, gorgeous outdoors.

Photos of a cutthroat trout, bison, the sky, a lily, your cousin leaping over a creek, elk in rut, green leaves, etc.

For complete details, visit The Great Outdoors Photo Competition. (Quickie Info: Photos due by May 10, 2012.)

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Image: arztsamui / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Ned Stuckey-French

Welcome to Writerhead Wednesday, a weekly feature in which a brilliant, charming, remarkable author talks about her/his writerhead…a precious opportunity for looky-loos around the world to sneak into the creative noggins of talented writers and (ever so gently) muck about.


Back in February, I featured fiction writer Elizabeth Stuckey-French here on Writerhead Wednesday. Today, I’m thrilled to welcome the other half of that brilliant writerly equation: Elizabeth’s husband, Ned Stuckey-French. I’ve been a fan of Ned’s work for a good while, but recently I’ve also become a fan of his insightful (and funny ha ha) commentary about nonfiction / creative nonfiction / essays / truth / etc. (You can often find him over at Brevity magazine…)

So kick back, my writerhead fans, and enjoy…because as I suspected, Ned’s description of his writerhead is like everything else he writes: addictive.

Now, shush!

1. Describe your state of writerhead (the where, the when, the how, the what, the internal, the external).

When she answered this question for you, my wife, Elizabeth, said her writerhead never turned off. The same is true for me, but mine is different. Mine is less purely imaginative and more relentlessly interpretive. She’s a fiction writer; I’m a nonfiction writer, an essayist, and cultural historian. I’m also more of an analyzer and an arguer than she is. Which is not to say I don’t imagine. I do and much of what I love about the cultural history I write is that I get to spend long afternoons with Thurber and E. B. White in their little office at the New Yorker, smelling cigarette smoke and listening to the paper wads hit the metal trash can, or drinking with Dottie Parker and Bob Benchley at the Algonquin as we try to ignore the oogling tourists.

Much of the time, however, my writerhead is trying to think about what I really think, what I really believe. I am an essayist and so skepticism is where I live. I turn things over constantly. I am constantly watching myself, listening to myself. A part of me is always sitting in the press box of my own game, doing play-by-play and color commentary. It started when I was a kid shooting baskets in the driveway. 3 – 2 – 1… French stops, pops. It’s good!

But if am skeptical and questioning, I am also hopeful. I’m a very political person and believe in possibility of progress. Elizabeth teases me constantly about how earnest I am. I am the son of Stevensonian Democrats. My family vacationed in Concord and Lexington, Valley Forge, and DC. We saw Sunrise at Campobello at the drive-in movie. My mom was a poll watcher for the League of Women Voters and as a toddler I sat with her on Election Day and colored pictures. Later, I was a Student Council nerd, shook Bobby Kennedy’s hand a month before he was shot, and then, transformed by the Sixties, became a communist trade union organizer for ten years. So, in my writerhead, I’m constantly refining my position, questioning myself, and others, and trying to figure out what makes sense and is convincing. Is that fair? Is this what I think? I am always, always turning such questions over in my head. They are my version of Montaigne’s Que sais-je?, or What do I know?

2. What happens if someone/something interrupts writerhead? (a spouse, a lover, a barking dog, an electrical outage, a baby’s cry, a phone call, a leg cramp, a dried-up pen, a computer crash, etc.)

Life is all interruptions, or as John Lennon so nicely put it, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Life is about adjustment and so is writing. Or maybe revision is the better word. You make a plan and head off this way and then you’re interrupted by a grammatical error, some faulty logic, a limp and silly adjective, and you want to fix it. But, you’ve got to keep going to the end, knowing all the while that your first draft is mostly potholes and speed bumps. But, if you’ve got to keep the editor out of the room till you get a first draft (which Anne Lamott has so helpfully reminded us is always shitty), you must eventually let them back in. I’ve got two editors, by the way, a male and a female. She looks like a 7th grade English teacher. Her hair is up in a bun, where she keeps an extra pencil. He wears a green visor and looks like Bartleby. And while both are scolds, they are also part of my writerhead team.

So, writing is writing, but it is also revision. Montaigne did three editions of his essays, never cutting, only adding. An essay is a conversation, with your reader and yourself. It’s a fireside chat, a late night bull session that solves the world’s problems. In this conversation, you say something, then interrupt yourself or ask a question and then follow that digression. The talk eddies and curls and maybe it circles back and maybe it doesn’t, but it always keeps rollin’ along.

3. Using a simile or metaphor, compare your writerhead to something.

Well, I guess I’ve already offered a few—time travel, press box and game, conversation with self, river—but here’s another. Borges said, “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” Writerhead is Paradise. It’s where I like to be, and it’s kind of a library where I’m a kid again. I wander the aisles looking for one book, another catches my eye, I pull it down and begin reading, and soon find myself somewhere else, perhaps back at the Algonquin where everyone is a writer and so I start writing too.

BIO: Ned Stuckey-French teaches at Florida State University and is book review editor of Fourth Genre. He is the author of The American Essay in the American Century (Missouri, 2011), co-editor (with Carl Klaus) of Essayists on the Essay: Four Centuries of Commentary (Iowa, 2012), and coauthor (with Janet Burroway and Elizabeth Stuckey-French) of Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft (Longman, 8th edition). His articles and essays have appeared in journals and magazines such as In These Times, Missouri Review, Iowa Review, culturefront, Pinch, and Guernica, and have been listed three times among the notable essays of the year in Best American Essays.

To learn more, visit Ned’s website. You can also give him a nod at his Facebook page or the Facebook page for his most recent book The American Essay in the American Century.