Paul Mills–Interview

Describe your creative space. Do you work at home, in public spaces, etc.?

If I’m working to a tight deadline, it doesn’t matter where I work; I can be productive anywhere. At other times though, I find there are too many distractions if I try to write at home, so I often find a coffee shop, or a pub or even a park to write in. (A park may not seem like an obvious choice, but there’s no wifi, so you have nothing to do other than writing!)

What kind of materials do you use? Do you write by hand or type? What is your favorite writing utensil?

I always write on my laptop.

What is your routine for writing?

Routine? Ha haaa ha ha ha ha ha ha! Routine! Ha ha ha!

No. I have no routine. If I have a story I’m really passionate about, I’ll find the time to write it by setting aside some spare hours in the evenings or weekends to sit down and write. This results in maybe one story a year, which is a distinctly unsatisfying average. So to get myself to write more, I recently started finding ways to give myself deadlines. At first, this meant entering competitions, but I still wasn’t getting that much written. So a little over a year ago, I set myself a goal of writing a story a month for a year, and to make sure I stuck to this, I set up a club on the internet of like-minded people, and every month I gave us all a prompt and a deadline. The knowledge that the other club members were expecting me to write a story gave me the motivation I needed to force myself to meet the deadline. Typically, I’d do pretty much nothing for the first three weeks, and then get the story written in a mad rush in the days coming up to the deadline, and at least once I stayed up until six o’clock in the morning on the night of the deadline to get my story finished. (I figured that so long as I finished it before I went to bed, it counted as having met the deadline.)

It worked out really well for me. I find that having a deadline forces me not only to make time to write, but also to come up with ideas I would not have had otherwise. I now have twelve new stories (admittedly, of variable quality) that I never would have written otherwise.

How long have you been writing? When did you start writing?

I guess I’ve written on and off since I was a kid. After university I started writing more regularly because I joined a writing group, and we met weekly to share what we had written that week. It meant that if I went more than a week without writing anything, I felt a bit foolish, because I’d be coming in to the meeting saying ‘Um… I didn’t write anything again this week. So, er, who’s next?’ But it’s hard to find groups like that that meet weekly, and when I moved to a different city, I found I pretty much stopped writing. I only started writing more seriously again within the last couple of years, because I started my one-story-a-month project.

Who is your intended, or ideal, audience? Who do you write for?

I write for myself. I figure that if I succeed in writing something that I would enjoy reading, the chances are that there’ll be other people out there who would enjoy reading it too.

What inspires you to write? If you are blocked, what do you do?

It’s difficult to generalise about what inspires me. The story “Slow Fade,” in this edition of The Magnolia Review, was written because the first sentence just appeared in my head, and I figured I could write an interesting story from it, but that’s not how I usually come up with stories. Often I have a message I want to convey and I try to write a story that illustrates the message.

If I get blocked, I go for a long walk. It works for me. That said, I rarely get very blocked if I have a deadline looming.

What other things do you do besides writing? Do you dance or play golf, etc.?

I play the piano. Well sort of. What you’re supposed to do when you’re learning an instrument is start off with easy pieces and get gradually harder, but I couldn’t be bothered with that, so I started with Maple Leaf Rag, by Scott Joplin, which is not an easy piece at all. I’ve learnt it, but it took me about a year of going through the sheet music chord by chord, painfully slowly, then very gradually getting faster and faster. Now when people hear me play it, they’re very impressed, and they assume I’m a fantastic pianist—they don’t realise that it’s the only piece I can play!

What is your favorite part of the creative process?

I love the whole thing. I love thinking about stories I could write; I love the mental effort of actually putting the plot in order, making sure all the information is in there; I love reading over what I’ve done; and I get a huge kick out of hearing positive feedback from other people.

What is your advice to aspiring writers?

Read as much as you can, write as much as you can. That’s it, really.


Check out Paul’s work in Volume 4, Issue 2.

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