The remarkable Dave Mullins was the presenter at last week’s Arthaus12 Event Two. Mullins teaches writing and literature at Creighton University and is the author of the novel in short stories, Greetings from Below, which won the 2009 Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction. His stories have appeared in The Yale Review, The Massachusetts Review, New England Review, Cimarron Review, Fiction, Ecotone, and Folio and have twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. If that wasn’t enough, Mullins is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and took a residency at Yaddo.
With that much talent, it came as something of a surprise when Mullins spoke about the laborious diligence, perhaps compulsion, in his approach to writing. He shared with us two volumes of typed drafts, traversing the history of revisions for just one short story. It was fascinating to see the large extent of the revisions that slowly dwindled over 40 or more rounds of iteration before the story was concluded. Mullins also spoke of his dedication to clocking in three hours of work each day. Noting to the minute his start time at his desk, even a restroom or a coffee break prompts a pause in the three hour rundown.
As a means of getting into a creative mindset, Mullins often starts by leafing through some of several of his favorite literary works, which he keeps close to him. When conceiving a character, a scene, an event or a context, Mullins described an almost meditative approach to imagining the circumstances.
It interested me to note that Mullins’s approach combined the sheer stubbornness of commitment to the mechanics of creative output along with the random, meandering ebb and flow of the imagination. Sometimes, you need to let your personal muse wander unencumbered by expectation, and at other times you just have to show up to work and insist your muse find you.