Will Mackin is a native of Marmora, New Jersey. His first book, Bring Out the Dog, won the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for the best debut short story collection of 2018. When he’s not attempting to write he works in a steel mill in Ohio.
Hi Will, thanks for joining us today. We’re excited to talk to you about your writing routine and process. For those who may not know, can you please tell us a little bit about yourself?
I grew up in New Jersey, went to college in Colorado, and joined the navy shortly after graduation. While on active duty I flew a jet called the Prowler and served on a SEAL team. I was also a Pentagon speechwriter and a ROTC instructor. Since my retirement from the navy I’ve been working as a contractor, doing performance consulting on oil rigs and, most recently, in a steel mill. My wife and I have been together since high school. We live in New Mexico with our two adult children.
Can you take us through the creative process behind your first book, Bring Out the Dog?
Originally, I envisioned the book as non-fiction. I wanted to create a true portrayal of my experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, or as true a portrayal as possible. With distance and perspective, however, I learned that what I’d envisioned was impossible. Once I accepted that, my imagination asserted itself. Connections and patterns appeared and the stories took better shape.
What does a typical day look like for you when you’re writing?
I wake up between 4 and 5am and microwave a cup of vitamin D milk plus vanilla creamer for two minutes. I pour that steaming mixture, which smells like cotton candy, over two teaspoons of Folgers instant. I realize that this is unhealthy, and I have tried everything short of electrotherapy to kick the habit. But the only thing that comes close to tasting anywhere near as good is the espresso they serve at gas stations along the Italian autostrada.
I take my coffee to the garage, open my laptop, and boot up a game of hearts. I try to shoot the moon four times in a row. Sometimes I come close, but it’s always that fourth hand where I can’t trade away my middle cards that gets me.
If, the day before, I finished writing on a good note then it’s easy for me to pick up where I left off. If not, I might need a few more games of hearts to get going. I write until lunch then I try to tackle a project around the house, or I’ll try to fix one of the cars. We have three Toyotas that are all over 20 years old. One of them is always broken down.
Do you have a word count that you like to hit each writing day?
I try to hit 1000 words per day, of which maybe 150 wind up being usable.
Whenever you hit a roadblock during a writing session, what are some of the methods you use to get back into the flow of things?
I always have more than one thing going at a time. Right now I have three short stories and an attempt at a novel saved on my desktop. I switch back and forth between these things that are each at a different stage of completion. The downside is that nothing ever seems to get done but at least I don’t get stuck.
What does your writing workspace look like?
I write in the garage, which sounds more austere than it is.
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