09/19/2012 02:33 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How Rick Moody Writes

2012-09-19-rick_moody.jpegEarlier this year, Dylan Greif interviewed Rick Moody for his MFA thesis at RISD. Dylan's work explores the design of new writing systems for the digital age.

The conversation with Moody (whose story 'Some Contemporary Characters' was published by Electric Literature in 2009) occurred over a period of about two weeks via email, with an exchange almost every day. Moody discussed his work and thoughts on writing tools and where literature is heading in the digital age. We edited the interview into a more traditional Q&A format for your reading convenience.

Dylan Greif: What do you consider your essential writing tools?

Rick Moody: I'm not sure any tool is essential, or, to put it another way, every time I assume a certain tool is essential a situation presents itself in which I have to make do without. This reminds me of something John Cheever says in an interview about writers and their offices. How the more ornate office often corresponds to the less productive writer, etc. I have written things in appalling circumstances. In the worst motels, on scraps of paper and envelopes. And oftentimes the reduced circumstance takes me to creative places I wouldn't go otherwise. So I have no tool that I rely on permanently and without variation. I would perhaps--being reductive and honest to a partial degree--have said Microsoft Word was an essential tool, at least I would have said it a few years ago. Because Word made possible instant italics and other formatting capabilities that created the high Rick Moody style of 1995-2000. But I have been mired in identity-theft-related computer problems recently, and so I have made do with Open Office lately, and that seems acceptable, if homely. I used to be a PC guy, but I am typing these lines on a Powerbook, and I would say I was a laptop guy except that I have written things on my iPod lately. And if I had a smartphone (I don't), I'm betting I would write things on there too. Also: I have been writing songs a lot, recently, on the Voice Memo program on my iPod, and some lyrics that way besides. And I have been dictating ideas on there as well. So of course this means: technology helps. But I also think: an excess of reliance on technology hinders, and that it is useful to let go of technology and see where that gets you. I would write on birch bark, by hand, if I didn't think my handwriting had a tendency to conceal mistakes. There is no one place I write (I'm in my girlfriend's apartment right now), there is no one style in which I write, there is no one tool I use to write, and there is no one form in which I write, and it's not even a guarantee, on any given day, that my work will be constituted in writing. Which means: that I want to be open to surprise, to change, to adaptation, to novelty.

DG: I understand you enjoy writing with certain limitations. In composing "Boys," every sentence required the word "boys" if not the full phrase "boys enter the house". "The Double Zero" and "Pan's Fair Throng" were written on assignment. What do you gain from limitations like these?

RM: Yes, limitations, somewhat haphazardly imposed, are a great thing. You know the famous remark of Robert Frost about free-verse? That it's like playing tennis with the net down? For me, the limitations you are referring to are playing tennis with the net up. If you erect one of these impediments to progress, you have to come up with a work- around, and the work-around often causes you to think in new ways about your subject. In a way, the impediments cause metaphor to happen, and I often suddenly think anew when I am forced into metaphor and analogy to say what I was going to say in a more direct way. And metaphor is where all the beauty takes place, right? I don't know, yet, if an iPod causes the same systemization of metaphor yet. I have not used the iPod to try to write anything long. But you may know that I wrote a story in Twitter posts a couple of years back. I didn't actually use Twitter then, and I still don't, but I loved the 140- character box, and once I started using it, for a while, I couldn't stop. I suppose these limitations are a variation on the kinds of games that the Oulipians played in France in the seventies, but in my case the limitations are imposed in order to generate story. The whole thing falls to pieces if narration is impossible. So the goal in "Boys" is to tell the story of the boys, not just to compile variations on the sentence "Boys enter the house." That assignment would be too easy.

For the rest of this interview and more, visit The Outlet, the blog of Electric Literature.