Welcome new Writers’ Program instructor Aatif Rashid! Aatif is teaching Setting and Description onsite at UCLA (Reg# 372851) this Spring and sat down with us to offer some insight into creative life and his upcoming course.
What do you rely on for those times it’s difficult to find the time, energy, motivation and/or inspiration to write?
I go to my bookshelf and pick up a book that I haven’t read in a long time but remember liking back in the day—something I fell in love with in college or during my early years of becoming a writer—and reread the first few pages, or in some cases just flip to a random passage and reread the sentences. It helps you remember what good prose is beneath all the distractions that the world can give you, the fundamental beauty of the thing we’re trying to make as writers, and it can help remind of you of the reason you wanted to be a writer in the first place.
What’s your favorite book and/or movie?
My favorites change so frequently that it’s hard to pick, but a novel that’s remained consistently at the top (and maybe this is a boring answer) is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. The subpar movie adaptation has unfortunately made it feel a little cultural passé, but every time I go back to the sentences I’m overwhelmed by how good the book really is—beautiful, haunting prose, a sharp mix of humor and tragedy, and a profound insight into American ideology.
Who do you wish you could write like (or: Whose writing discipline do you wish you had)?
I wish I could write like Thomas Pynchon. There’s a wild intensity to his sentences that I’ve rarely seen another writer successfully mimic. In an essay, I once described him as having “a unique, swaggering, vaguely off-kilter prose, like someone balancing objects of varying sizes in a great tower and then gleefully watching as it crashes to the floor, in the process somehow managing to be simultaneously manic and lyrical,” and I definitely still stand by that description.
What excites you most about teaching for the Writers’ Program?
I was a student at the Writers’ Program myself—in 2013, I’d just moved to Los Angeles, and I signed up for a bunch of fiction writing and screenwriting classes with a vague but unfocused dream of being a writer. The classes helped anchor me in a community of writers, taught me the fiction writing fundamentals that I didn’t realize I didn’t know, and gave me the skills to publish my first stories and eventually my debut novel. As a fiction writing teacher, I want to help students who have those same kinds of dreams that I did.
What do you hope your students get from your course?
The course I’m teaching is Setting and Description, and so I want students to ultimately understand how essential description and detail really are to a story. When I was a student, I remember feeling like I’d finally reached an epiphany about writing after I understood the way specific detail helps shape a narrative. I want students to therefore realize that setting and description are not elements of writing ancillary to character and plot but actually equally fundamental.
Thank you to Aatif for taking time to share with us. Look for more instructor interviews coming soon!