Welcome new Writers’ Program instructors Melissa Larsen and Radhika Sharma! Radhika and Melissa are both teaching sections of Novel I in our Remote Instruction format, with live Zoom class meetings on this Fall. Radhika is teaching Wednesdays, 7-10pm PT (Reg# 382611) and Melissa is teaching Mondays, 7-10pm PT (Reg# 382610).
They sat down with us to offer some insight into creative life and their upcoming course.
WP: What sparks your creativity?
Melissa Larsen: I would like to believe that everything in my life contributes to my creativity. Creativity usually comes from the ether of daily life, sometimes in the form of a lightning bolt of inspiration, but most of the time from the grinding of sitting at a desk, doing the work. I have noticed, though, that I think most clearly either in times of movement—whether that’s a form of exercise such as running, walking, or practicing yoga, or literal movement, such as driving, taking the subway, or even flying on a plane—or reading, particularly by Stephen King. There’s just something about his storytelling and narrative charm that cuts right to my heart. I think differently when I’m in the middle of one of his stories.
Radhika Sharma: The impulse to give shape and form to the new, the nebulous and the miraculous gives impetus to my creativity. I have been writing and reading for as long as I can remember – writing provides a structure and anchor to my life that I deeply appreciate and cherish. When I write I feel that beauty and harmony are always within reach!
What do you rely on for those times it’s difficult to find the time, energy, motivation, and/or inspiration to write?
Melissa: When it comes to motivation and inspiration: The habits I described above definitely help me refill my creative well. I seek out new stories, in book form or in film, and mostly I just jot down notes in a notebook. What interests me? Where is the excitement in writing?
When it comes to time and energy: I do as much as I can. Maybe that translates to only a few minutes of actually putting words to a page, maybe it’s taking more notes, maybes it’s talking it out with a writing friend. In my experience, though, work generates work. Whenever I return to writing after a fallow period, it takes about week for the rusty gears of my brain to shift, painfully, into place. After a week or two, I find my rhythm (and energy!).
Radhika: This is a wonderful question! Yes, I think writing is difficult even in the best of times and often the challenge is compounded by a lack of time or resources. I have found that the best way to approach this challenge is to take it step-by-step. Start and complete small projects. Outline bigger projects and create milestones. Be frugal with your resources. Be meticulous with your time. Write a little each day. Be less self-critical and allow yourself to flower. Storytelling and writing can be extraordinary tools for positive change if we allow ourselves the freedom to create and blossom!
What’s your favorite book and/or movie?
Melissa: From reading experience alone, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Everything Matters! by Ron Currie, Jr. stand out. I would love to read those for the first time again. Generally speaking, I am an enormous fan of Stephen King, Tana French, Elena Ferrante, and Daphne du Maurier. I will read whatever they have written or will write. Pure obsession and pure storytelling magic!
Radhika: The list is long but to name just a few: Persuasion by Jane Austen, all of Tagore’s works, The Collected Stories of William Trevor, The Guide by R. K. Narayan, and Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan. I have watched quite a bit of movies and appreciate eclectic offerings. Some examples include Roman Holiday, The Castaway, Inception, Kandukondain Kandukondain, Sholay, and so many more! I also read a lot of nonfiction and rare manuscripts.
What’s your favorite quote about writing?
Melissa: Please forgive me for turning this into a Stephen King-centric interview (I am in the middle of rereading The Tommyknockers, so he is on my mind!), but I find myself constantly returning to this quote from The Gunslinger: “Go on then, there are other worlds than these.”
It’s not even a quote about writing! But it resonates with me so deeply. I repeat it to myself when I need help drafting, when I need inspiration, and when I’m excited about what I’m working on. I’ve written the quote out on a Post-It I keep on my desk. It applies to all moods, and it holds a deep truth about writing: keep going.
Radhika: One of my favorite teachers once said to me ….“A page a day is a book a year!”
This quote about writing underscores the importance of consistency and discipline and the almost magical effects of their combined practice.
Who do you wish you could write like?
Radhika: I wish I could write like Rabindranath Tagore, Jane Austen and Charles Dickens and mirror their immense affection for all human relationships and their extraordinary command of the language. Calvino, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Salman Rushdie are also some of my other favorite writers!
What excites you most about teaching for the Writers’ Program?
Melissa: Taking risks and diving deep into the inner workings of a story. There is such a uniquely exhilarating energy to a writing workshop, because it requires such vulnerability, sensitivity, and a sense of adventure. We are all working toward the same basic goal, but we all arrive with our own tastes, prejudices, limitations, and ideas. The magic comes from the conversation, the way we inhabit each others’ stories and help each other through the darker, more opaque sides of writing.
I could not have written my first novel without the help and the inspiration of my MFA workshop. I needed the deadlines, the structure, and that inspiration. You learn so much on an individual level from reading other novels-in-progress (i.e. what you would like to try, what you don’t like, etc.) but you also learn on a collective level when the conversation takes on its own life.
Radhika: I feel very humbled, awed, and honored to receive this opportunity to teach for the Writers’ Program. The Writers’ Program is unique both in its depth and breadth and unrivaled in its commitment to the craft. The opportunity to serve students and to assist and nurture their individual and collective creative journeys is a matter of great joy and pride for me. I am also very delighted to be a part of a wonderful, learning community of teachers, faculty and administrators who are incredibly supportive and ensure that every engagement becomes a learning and enriching experience.
What do you hope students get from your course?
Melissa: I hope that students leave the course with both a greater understanding of storytelling techniques and their own stories (how to move forward in their novel without the workshop!) but also, perhaps more importantly, a new writing community.
Radhika: It is my aspiration that my students will receive a strong craft tool kit and writing/creative vocabulary at the completion of each course(s). I hope my students complete the course(s) feeling an enormous sense of confidence in their own creative skills and talents and in their ability to engage in creative discourse. I also hope that they feel extremely welcome and nurtured in the writing community and delight in their knowledge that they will always have a mentor and friend in me.
Radhika: Creativity is our innate nature. Always remember to have fun and enjoy the journey! Write with confidence and the accolades will naturally follow.
Thank you to Radhika & Melissa for taking time to share with us. Look for more instructor interviews coming soon!