Ignatius Valentine Aloysius has just completed his MFA in Creative Writing from Northwestern University, where he received the Distinguished Thesis Award. Ignatius was also awarded a Ragdale residency in February 2015 as an interdisciplinary artist, and was named the 2014 Writer-in-Residence at el Ranchito Cielito con Nopales in La Union, New Mexico. He’ll be speaking on both our “To MFA or Not to MFA?” and “Residencies, Contests & Grants, Oh My!” panels at CWC 2015! Read his Q&A below for a taste of what he’ll bring to this year’s conference.
What does a day of writing look like for you? What’s your process?
I write best after a dream or when I have just woken up from a decent night’s sleep, when my mind and heart are undisturbed. My best times to write are pre-dawn/dawn and late at night when things are quiet and I can hear the cicadas. It’s not unusual to be up at two a.m. working on something I’ve written that I cannot put down, because I’m afraid I’ll miss the power of the moment that inspired the piece in the first place. With difficult passages I’ll sometimes put on my headphones and listen to Arvo Pärt or Nine Inch Nails, something like that. It depends. But on a good day I can write for hours uninterrupted and get a lot done. My mind has to be in a right place to write meaningfully. Distractions bother me.
As a writer, what decision/habit/advice has had the greatest impact on your career?
Persistence to keep writing, that’s how you get things finished. It’s easy to put off writing for another day. Talk is cheap. And don’t take rejections personally, although this was and is always hard for me to do. As well, kill your adverbs…well, the ones ending in -ly most of all. Adverbs are important modifiers and qualifiers though, and we do need them. And, overwriting is good for a finished draft but never for a final draft. There’s a difference. Edit, edit, edit; slash and burn. Overwriting is my problem, although that’s a good problem to have, I suppose. As William Gass does in his brilliant writing, I have learned to pay very close attention to my choice of words and their purpose on the page.
What’s a tip for getting a writing residency?
Know why you’re applying, and have a plan to accomplish something while you’re at a residency, because that plan is what you’ll put forward with your application. Be realistic, and have a compelling artist’s statement and samples that show your intent and experience, even if it’s your first time.
Why did you choose to get an MFA?
Starting in 2001, I spent a whole decade writing fiction without any guidance or help from anyone. I wrote blindly and worked cathartically. And then I had four novels. I got rejections from them and also from short stories I’d extract and send in. I was very dissatisfied and faced hopelessness with my writing. I knew I was good but something wasn’t working, all my pistons weren’t firing correctly and in unison with each other. I applied to MFA programs and got rejected. I was beside myself and thought I should give up, but something inside told me to stick with it. Then I received an honorable mention from Glimmer Train. A glimmer of light! I applied to Northwestern University’s Creative Writing Program (in my backyard, really), and was lucky to get in. That program helped reinforce what I already knew but it also showed me how to hone my skills through valuable workshop discussions and revisions. When you’re working with the right people and with great teachers and talented, like-minded peers, magic happens. I owe so much to them.
Why should people attend the Chicago Writers Conference?
A writing conference gives you the opportunity to accelerate your learning or writing skill in a short time and brings you face to face with people who have their hands in the publishing world. The Chicago Writers Conference is your access point for that. You’ll choose workshops that matter to you with good authors and teachers you’ll meet outside academia, and you attend panel discussions that help to broaden your understanding of the creative world.
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