Lorrie Moore is the author of the story collections Birds of America, Like Life and Self-Help, and the novels Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? and Anagrams. Her work has won honours from the Lannan Foundation and the American Academy of Arts and Letters, as well as the Irish Times International Prize for Fiction, the Rea Award for the Short Story and the PEN/Malamud Award. She is a professor of English at Vanderbilt University. Photo via Lane Christiansen.
I can write whenever I’ve had a cup of coffee. Coffee is key. I always say to my students, ‘Don’t waste your coffee on your friends.’ Don’t meet your friends for coffee, meet them for beer. Beer’s not good for writing–but coffee…you need that hour after you drink a cup of coffee when things are firing in your brain. Don’t waste that on your friends.
I think writing is a conservative art. You can’t play with the materials in the same way visual artists do. I mean, you could, but you’re not going to get anything that is interesting to others. Experiments in abstracting language and abstracting narrative have never really been successful. It can be boring to read.
A lot of people think writers are about words, but that’s not really true. People say to you, ‘You work with words, you’re good with words,’ and yet, as a writer, you don’t feel like you’re good with words. You feel like you’re struggling with them. You have feelings and stories and observations–then, the language is something you pull in.
I work on one story at a time, although I’ve written stories while I had a novel going on. I just have the habit of stories. I can’t say, ‘Go away. I’ll write you later.’ If you don’t write it, it will evaporate.
You never really know if a story is going to work out. You just feel the momentum and the energy and you think, ‘I can feel this’ and ‘I can do this’ and it’s a leap of faith that other people will connect to it. Not every story is for everyone and not every book is for everyone.
Writers have to work story by story. They can’t compare their older stories with their newer stories. It’s too crazy. It’s just like a mother raising her kids. You have to cook the meals. You can’t get all involved like, ‘Are these meals different from meals I used to cook 20 years ago?’ There’s no time for that. You have to put food on the table. [Laughs] That’s the coffee talking.
–Lorrie Moore, as told to Studio Beat
Check out Lorrie Moore’s latest collection of short stories, Bark (February 2014).
Read her story, “How to Become a Writer” here.
Special thanks to IOFA at Harbourfront Centre.