Dustin Illingworth’s writing has appeared in a variety of outlets including The Atlantic, Paris Review, the Times Literary Supplement, Los Angeles Times, and the Los Angeles Review of Books. He is the managing editor of The Scofield, and a contributing editor at Literary Hub. Dustin lives in Newport Beach, California and is currently finishing a debut novel.
You can also read a list of Dustin Illingworth's Top Reads of 2016 here.
Interviewed by Lee Wright
LW: What motivates your writing?
DI: It is something I try not to look at too closely. If the motivations behind one’s obsessions become fully intelligible, their power is somehow weakened. If pressed, I would say I write fiction to rescue time. Even if what I reclaim isn’t completely satisfying, the effort represents a stand against the loss we are always in the midst of.
LW: You are in the process of finishing a debut novel. Have you kept to a strict writing schedule?
DI: I believe a writer is someone who finds a way to write every day. Ideas are cheap and plentiful, and inspiration pales in comparison to work ethic. My own schedule is very well-defined due to my having a day job. I write every evening after work from six to ten, and much longer on weekends.
LW: In a piece about the Journals of John Cheever, you wrote that Cheever was “a natural miniaturist, a collector of set pieces.” How effective is this style of writing?
DI: I think writers possess natural capacities, and the best writing arises from an artist discovering the ideal formal vehicle for their vision. Cheever’s digressive richness makes for some of the greatest short fiction ever written, whereas I always feel like his novels are threatening to dissolve into fragmented incident. He can’t help but meander.
LW: What makes for a good piece of creative non-fiction?
DI: As someone who loathes the personal essay, my favourite non-fiction situates art as existing in conversation with other art rather than (strictly) with oneself. Elizabeth Hardwick is my ideal essayist, a writer whose work moves beyond mere analysis into a kind of luxurious intuition. It is beautiful, often ambiguous, and possessed of a tensile strength.
LW: Is fiction harder to write?
DI: Infinitely so. An essay or review is a discrete, self-contained piece of writing—if you’ve written enough of them, you begin to have a feeling for pacing, transition, where to include the offhand flourish or coup de grace, etc. A novel, though, is a torment unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Fiction rubs your nose in your own ineptitude day after day. Again, it is as much an act of endurance as a work of inspiration.
LW: How did you develop your writing in the early days?
DI: I read (and continue to read) writers who are vastly superior to me. Writing daily and reading those who have achieved an authoritative style are the only ways I know how to improve as a writer. Reading Shirley Hazzard or Mavis Gallant or John Hawkes or Malcolm Lowry impresses upon me how poor of a writer I am, and how far I need to go.
LW: What has been the most valuable piece of advice you’ve received as a writer?
DI: “Write as if this were your only book, your last book. Into it put everything you were saving—everything precious, every scrap of capital, every penny as it were. Don’t be afraid of being left with nothing.” André Gide wrote this, and James Salter memorably condensed it: “Save nothing.”
About the interviewer
Lee Wright was born in Nuneaton, Warwickshire in 1980 and has been writing both fiction and non-fiction since 2008. He is taking an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester in 2017.