Paul A. Hamilton is a writer and technology worker living in Northern California with his wife and two daughters. His stories feature broken people, reassembled worlds, beautiful monsters, and hideous love. He gets his inspiration by impersonating an old-timey bartender, listening to stories told by lonely strangers. When not writing, he can be found reading, drawing, taking photographs, or riding roller coasters.
1. How long have you been writing and what got you started?
I’ve been writing in some form or another since I was a kid. As far back as elementary school I’d answer the question, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” by saying, “a writer.” Then, at some point after high school, I stopped writing fiction for a while. I still wrote, but it was mostly just blogging.
About six years ago when my first daughter was born, I had this conviction that I needed to instill in my children the notion that pursuing their dreams was more than okay. That it was practically an imperative. And that often realizing dreams was about putting effort into them. It was an epiphany for me, too. I wasn’t putting any effort into my dreams, so I was poised to be a rotten role model. So I cleared out some distractions and have been focusing on writing—and dreaming—ever since.
2. What is the best piece of advice you have for new writers?
Destroy your notion of talent as the measure for success. I think a lot of writers think there’s a one-time grant of innate ability given at birth, and that dictates how likely they are to achieve their goals. But writing is a skill. It’s learned by writing a lot and reading a lot. Time and effort. That’s all. People who are praised a lot early on for their talent can quickly get discouraged when they realize the world is lousy with “talented” writers. If they stop getting complimented on their inborn skill, they give up. People who succeed with their creative efforts are those who don’t have time for external validation because they’re too busy creating and working hard to get even better.
3. Are there any writing resources, such as books or websites, you’d like to recommend?
My favorite book about writing is On Writing by Stephen King. King gets dismissed a lot because he’s a populist but I’d take his career over someone “important” like Franzen any day. He’s got a lot of great, practical advice about making your prose friendly to readers and getting out of the way of the story. Which is really what matters in the end.
Another place I like to go for writing tips is the Writing Excuses podcast. It’s got a speculative fiction bent because most of the hosts traffic in that genre, but plenty of their advice applies to all kinds of writers. I also follow Chuck Wendig’s blog on TerribleMinds. He’s crass and funny and inspiring.
4. What is your favorite type of fiction and who are your favorite authors?
I try to read all over the place so I don’t get stuck in a rut or get too immersed in the trappings of any particular genre. That said, I tend to gravitate to mysteries and thrillers; those with some kind of speculative element are preferred.
As for authors, I’m very fond of Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, Raymond Carver, Octavia Butler, Vajra Chandrasekera, Cat Rambo, Natalia Theodoridou, and Gillian Flynn. I’m sure I’m forgetting a whole bunch.
5. What tips do you have for finding time to write?
I’m a sneaky writer. I have a crazy schedule and two small children so I just squeeze it in wherever I can. I write on my breaks at work; I get up early and write before anyone else is awake; I slip off to coffee shops when no one’s looking. But the biggest tip I have is to just decide if writing is important enough to you to make room for it. One of the things I did when I decided to commit to pursuing writing was I quit playing video games. I used to put in hours and hours every week and I realized I couldn’t do both, so I had to pick which one was more important to me.
6. Do you prefer to outline a story in advance or write on the fly? Why?
It depends on the length of the story I have in mind. I typically don’t outline short stories because I can more or less keep the threads of the narrative in my head as I write. For longer work, I need some kind of roadmap or I end up veering off into crazytown and I’ll have a magical realism noir novella that turns into a steampunk cozy mystery by the end.
7. How do you deal with rejections?
Individually, rejections don’t bother me. It’s very rare to get a pure insight on why a certain story wasn’t accepted at a particular market at a specific time. Editors are readers, they connect with a piece based on subjective criteria so what doesn’t work for one person may be right up someone else’s alley. A single rejection is just another opportunity to find the right match.
What does kind of drag me down is when I get a lot of rejections in a row or when one specific piece I really like struggles to find a home. I deal with those situations mostly by throwing effort at them. If I haven’t had much success in general I’ll focus on writing something new or I’ll play a game where I see how many markets I can submit to simultaneously. I’ll go on a binge and read the latest issue of some of my favorite target markets to put myself in the mindset of what the slush readers are picking as the best of the best. For individual stories that are racking up the rejections, I usually send it back through the beta readers, try to see if there’s something off with it that might need to be fixed.
8. What are your writing goals for the next twelve months?
After a couple of years of focusing mostly on short fiction, I’m aiming to finish and polish a novel I can use to query agents by the end of the year.
9. For the next five years?
My five year plan includes (qualifying for and) joining SFWA, self-publishing something, having a novel traditionally published, and editing at least one print anthology.
10. Is there anything you’d like to plug? Feel free to share a link.
In addition to writing, I’ve begun publishing some microfiction recently. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to get some amazing writers to contribute already, but I’m still looking for more two-hundred-ish word stories. Readers and writers both should check out http://200ccs.ironsoap.com/