How did you become a writer?
I wrote in high school a bit—bad short stories about misunderstood teens and worse news articles for my school’s literary magazine about why marijuana should be legalized. I didn’t write at all for most of my time in the Marines aside from patrol orders and class notes. I didn’t start taking writing seriously until a few years ago—2011 or 12. I got a lot of encouragement from professors and had a story or two accepted to literary magazines and those things kept me coming back to the chair.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).
Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad is the book that made me want to write. Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior was a book that helped me understand early on what creative nonfiction could do. Neil Davison was the professor at Oregon State University who told me I should switch my major from fisheries and wildlife science and study English.
When and where do you write?
Recently, I’ve been writing at night from 9 pm to midnight or so. The house is quiet because my wife goes to bed early. I sit at the desk in our loft and warm up writing longhand in a small journal and then transfer whatever I like to the computer. I usually go back and forth between long hand and computer while I’m writing a few times during a session.
What are you working on now?
I feel like it’s bad luck to say.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
I’ve gone long spans of time not writing, but I don’t know that I’d call those times blocks. Sometimes it takes me a while to work through a problem in a story or essay and it just needs some time. Those things are frustrating as all hell, but I think natural to the process and I never really feel blocked. Though, now I’ll probably end up with a block. Who knew I was so superstitious?
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
What’s your advice to new writers?
Read work outside your preferred genre. Whenever I teach an intro to creative writing course most of my students just want to stay in their lane. If they read science fiction or poetry or literary fiction or nonfiction or whatever they want to just read in that genre. That’s BS and it doesn’t help them become better writers. It can be helpful to read within the genre you’re writing to understand the conventions of the form, but ultimately it’s limiting. Reading widely will open you to influences and concepts you might not realize in such a narrow space.
Matt Young holds an MA in Creative Writing from Miami University and is the recipient of fellowships with Words After War and the Carey Institute for Global Good. His work can be found in Granta, Catapult, Tin House, Word Riot, and elsewhere. He is the author of Eat the Apple, and lives in Olympia, Washington, where he teaches writing.