As you have probably figured out from the banner or from other pages on this website, I am a freelance writer who specializes in writing about mathematics and science. I have written two trade books, The Universe in Zero Words and The Big Splat, or How Our Moon Came to Be, as well as lots of articles that you can explore by clicking on the navigation bar.
But some of you, especially aspiring writers, might still be wondering: How did I get started as a freelance writer? This is a story that I love to tell, so settle right down…
How I Became a Writer
Writing is my second career, but it was my first love. As a kid, all I wanted to be was a writer. I wrote “books” that my mother typed up when I was as young as five. In fourth grade, when we were expected to write three or four reports during the year, I wrote a hundred and one. Clearly I had the writing bug at a young age. Nevertheless, my academic career took a different direction. I loved mathematics too, and earned a doctorate from Princeton. I taught math for six years at Duke University and seven years at Kenyon College in Ohio. I enjoyed it, but I have to say I never felt that teaching was my true calling.
When I was denied tenure at Kenyon, it was both a wake-up call and a chance to get things right. The most valuable advice I received was: “Think of what you wanted to do when you were a child, and try to make that happen.” So when I found out about the Science Communication Program at the University of California at Santa Cruz, suddenly all the pieces of the puzzle clicked together. I could be a writer, as I had always wanted to be, and still make use of my knowledge of math and science. At UCSC I learned about journalism and made the contacts I needed to hit the ground running.
An internship at American Scientist in the summer of 1997 gave me some practical experience in writing and editing with a deadline. Since the fall of 1997, I have been a full-time freelance writer. Some of the other magazines I have written for are Discover, Smithsonian, Science, and New Scientist.
Although writing articles is my bread and butter (as it is for most freelancers), there is a certain cachet that only writing a book can provide. Remember my first forays into writing at age five? Those were books, not magazine articles! So it was the realization of a personal dream when John Wiley & Sons published my first book for a popular audience, called The Big Splat, or How Our Moon Came to Be, in 2003. For my second book, The Universe in Zero Words, I have returned to the (for me) more familiar ground of mathematics, giving a personal view of what I consider to be the 24 greatest equations in history.
Besides these two books, I also collaborated with geologists Barbara Murck and Brian Skinner on a textbook published by Wiley, called Visualizing Geology. Finally, I am the writer of a biennial series of books published by the American Mathematical Society called What’s Happening in the Mathematical Sciences (or WHIMS, as I like to call it for short).
Want to read more about me? Why?? (Just kidding!) Click on through to:
- The Tenure Chase Papers (The unexpectedly interesting story of how I was denied tenure at Kenyon. According to www.phds.org, this is “required reading for all academics and would-be academics.”)
- The Story of The Big Splat
- The Story of The Universe in Zero Words
- Prizes and Other Recognition (This page is guaranteed to bring yawns to everyone but me and my mother.)
- Everything else you wanted to know about Dana Mackenzie. (Interests, hobbies, family, exclusive video footage of my cat Max.)