Welcome new Writers’ Program instructors Malia Márquez and Dan López! Malia and Dan are both teaching sections of Novel I in our asynchronous, deadline-driven online format starting September 28. They sat down with us to offer some insight into creative life and their upcoming course.
WP: What sparks your creativity?
Malia: Dreams (day and night ones), music, and quiet space in the mornings to think and write.
Dan: It might sound cheesy, but I find creativity in other works of art. When I’m feeling particularly blocked on a writing project, I like to revisit a beloved novel or story. Reading good writing always jumpstarts my creativity. I also get a lot of inspiration from architecture. I always say that in another life I would’ve been an architect. Sadly, I can neither draw nor am I good at math, so I must content myself with simply appreciating the forms.
What do you rely on for those times it’s difficult to find the time, energy, motivation and/or inspiration to write?
Malia: Hot drinks, long walks, and reminding myself that every time I’ve thought I might not ever be able to write again, I’ve been wrong.
Dan: I live a pretty simple life, so I rarely have the excuse of not being able to find the time. However, I’m an excellent procrastinator. While I think procrastinating can be useful—even necessary—for creativity, when I feel myself starting to get grumpy for no reason, it’s usually a clear indicator that I’ve put off writing for long enough and it’s time to get back to the page. My favorite trick is a simple one: write everyday. I know, I know. It’s a cliche and everybody says it. But my version is very easy to stick to. I don’t do word or page counts. The only rule I follow is to make one change or addition each day. That can be as simple as writing a sentence or editing punctuation. Revising counts in my system. The point is to commit to doing something each day. Once you’ve tricked yourself into writing mode, you’ll likely do a lot more than just the one addition or change. But, even if you don’t, you can still feel like you accomplished something. Oh, also, I give myself one day a week off.
What’s your favorite book and/or movie?
Malia: I don’t have a favorite book or movie. That is to say, I have old beloveds and new favorites, and whatever is striking my mood at the moment. A few recent(ish) highlights: The Art of Losing by Alice Zeniter, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk, When We Were Birds by Ayanna Lloyd Banwo, A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell. Everything Everywhere All at Once is by far the best movie I’ve seen in a long time.
Dan: Prater Violet by Christopher Isherwood is a book I come back to a lot. It’s a good book, but few people would consider it his greatest work. It’s kind of quiet and not much happens, but the writing is flawless. I found it at an important time in my writing life. I was contemplating giving up writing for good and then I read this book. It completely revitalized me. I’m a writer because of Prater Violet.
What’s your favorite quote about writing?
Malia: “Literature is strewn with the wreckage of those who have minded beyond reason the opinion of others.”
? Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
Who do you wish you could write like (or: Whose writing discipline do you wish you had)?
Malia: I’m in awe of authors of thoughtful, engaging, well-researched non-fiction. I’m always hungry for an in-depth, journalistic read that opens my mind to things I previously knew nothing, or very little, about.
Dan: I’m very envious of Haruki Murakami’s discipline. Like me, he doesn’t plan out his books. He discovers what they’re about as he’s writing them. Unlike me, he’s good about sticking to a schedule and is prolific.
What excites you most about teaching for the Writers’ Program?
Malia: My undergraduate degree is in visual arts and I used to be a high school art and film studies teacher. Writing as a serious pursuit was something I came to “late.” I was always drawn to the art of storytelling, always wanted to write, but writing a novel seemed… insurmountable. It was something my hero(in)es did, mysterious alchemy that seemed beyond me. The challenge was to find a way in. And there are so many. One doesn’t need a conventional literary education to write well. If there’s any undertaking that benefits from varied life experience, it’s writing! I’m honored and excited to have the opportunity to support students in the process of finding their own particular writing paths.
Dan: I never went to grad school. I don’t have an MFA. My training as a writer has largely come from taking classes at institutions like the Writers’ Program and through the ad hoc writer’s community I’ve built over the years. I firmly believe that you don’t need credentials or connections to write. You just need the drive to do it. I love places that provide a forum to foster that drive outside the traditional path.
What do you hope your students get from your course(s)?
Malia: A big part of carrying a writing project through to completion is determination and persistence. But you can’t bully art. So there’s a balancing act of practicing gentleness as well as discernment, along with the sheer hard work of it. I hope my courses help to spark inspiration, provide tools for managing the inevitable doubts and obstacles that arise, and help to remind students that it’s all part of the process.
Dan: First and foremost, I hope my students get energized to write. Writing, especially novels, is not something that happens overnight. It takes a lot of time and a lot of perseverance. When I teach, I always approach it from that mindset. I like to think of my teaching style as equal parts instruction and cheerleading. My students don’t need me to outline the classic story structure for them or provide an objective definition of point of view in fiction. They have infinite resources that can provide that. My job is to help them understand what they’re trying to do and encourage them to keep going.
Thank you to Malia and Dan for taking time to share with us. Look for more instructor interviews coming soon!