Reflection and Advice by Solange Baker

As our nonfiction unit comes to a close, so does my time in Creative Writing II. In a week, we’ll be in our playwriting unit (this year taught by Sara Broady), which is taught to the whole of Creative Writing. I’ve had the same conversation with several of the other Creative Writing Seniors about our sudden realization that our four-year ride at the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts is rapidly coming to a close.

This coming week is my last in Creative Writing II, in a month or two I’ll know where I’m going to college, in two months I’ll have my last show (April 26, our playwriting show), the day after is prom, and a month later I graduate. It’s a bittersweet feeling. I’m excited to graduate, to start a new chapter in my life in a new place with new people. But on the other hand, I’m deeply saddened by the idea of leaving San Francisco, leaving my friends and my family, my pets, all that has been my world for the past nearly eighteen years. I’m trying to live in the moment and appreciate what’s happening now, it’s hard with the chaos of financial aid, scholarships, and general life. But as I approach the great old age of eighteen, I’ve taken some time to reflect on my time in Creative Writing.

Three pieces of advice I have for current/future members of the department on your time in Creative Writing:

  1. Learn to workshop: Workshopping is the core of Creative Writing. You improve by both having your piece edited and editing the work of your peers. At first it’s a daunting concept; other people (older than me, better writers than me) are going to read and critique my work? But learning to distance yourself from your work and understanding that the edits you get are not malicious but born from passion and a genuine interest in helping your work succeed is important. Learn when to take edits and when to leave them; when to know that yes, this Junior is right this paragraph is convoluted and has way to many adjectives, versus knowing to maintain your artistic integrity.
  2. Take opportunities: Heather and other teachers will present opportunities to you both within SOTA and outside of SOTA. If they interest you, take them. No matter if they seem intimidating or if you don’t think you’ll get into the program or whatever it may be, take the opportunity. You never know where it may lead you. My Freshman year I auditioned for an original play along with three other Creative Writers. I got paid to act in the production, which was wonderful, but it was also an enriching experience. I improved my performance abilities, made connections, and could say I felt proud of what I accomplished. My Sophomore year I performed at the Nourse Theater with Youth Speaks for their 20th Annual Bring the Noise event. I don’t get terribly bad stage fright, but that was one of the scariest things I’ve done. Looking out at a sea of 1600 people made me dizzy, but performing and hearing an audience respond to my work was euphoric and beyond well worth all the hours of rehearsal and anxiety.
  3. Focus on your own work/Don’t try to emulate others: It’s hard not to compare yourself to others: how many times people have been published, how many edits they get on their papers, grades they get on their assignments. In an environment like SOTA you’re surrounded by extraordinarily talented teenagers and it’s easy to forget that a) this is not a normal school and b) you’re one of those extraordinarily talented teenagers. Comparing yourself to others does absolutely nothing but make you feel bad about yourself. Art is subjective. Getting published doesn’t automatically make someone a better writer than you and getting published doesn’t make you a better writer than anyone else. And besides, sitting around complaining that you think everyone else is better than you isn’t how you improve your craft. A mistake I made in Creative Writing was that I got caught up in what other people were doing. Consequently, I stopped writing the way I wanted to and started writing what I thought other people wanted. The results were not my best work. Once I regained my voice, realized that trying to emulate others was boring and that I have my own skill set to offer, I started producing work that I was genuinely proud of for the first time in a long time.

Although it may not feel like it in the moment, high school goes by fast. My biggest piece of advice is this: make the most of it, whatever that may mean to you.

Solange Baker, class of 2019

Creative Nonfiction in Creative Writing II by Eva Whitney

 

My first semester in Creative Writing II has proved to expand and challenge my writing like never before. Every sentence, thought, or mere word I wrote down was shared with the entire group, something I always struggled with. In our poetry unit, my work progressively got more and more personal as my peers began to feel more like a family, and I came to the realization that writing is a never-ending process, and no one will judge me for presenting a poor first draft, or for writing my truth is the rawest way possible. The result of our poetry unit was a chapbook of eight or so poems. Though I read through it and noticed countless edits I’d like to make, I couldn’t help but pride myself in this small, neat package of Eva.

However, even though I was comfortable with writing about my own experiences, when it came time for our next unit, I dreaded it. Creative Nonfiction sounded like embellished essays, or a heightened version of an English class assignment. I pictured prompts like, “what is the greatest challenge you’ve overcome?” or “what achievement are you most proud of?” I’ve written my fair share of these empty essays for applications, or in the dungeon of my freshman year English class, and I feared that they were following me into the one class I actually had creative freedom in.

I soon learned that Creative Nonfiction does not include essays that are just beefy on imagery, or chock-full of thesaurus synonyms, they are fiction pieces—that are entirely factual. Ploi Pirapokin, our Creative Nonfiction Artist-in-Residence, dished out essays daily—from the acclaimed epic of “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” by Gay Talese to “How Blac Chyna Beat the Kardashians at Their Own Game” from Buzzfeed News. I noticed that Creative Nonfiction was the most ubiquitous of all writing forms—once I began writing it, I saw it in Instagram captions of people wallowing in their insecurities, the newspaper that lives on my kitchen table, or letters from my grandmother describing her backyard.

But how do I make my own, boring life interesting to read? I had to teach myself how to shape my seemingly standard experiences into a narrative, creating characters, a climax, and a resolution, all while sticking to the truth. I began reevaluating memories I once overlooked or labeled as unworthy of sharing. Here is an excerpt from my very first in-class prompt in this unit, detailing the mundane tasks that my family adheres to without ever discussing them:

“What my parents and I don’t talk about is our household tasks. We’ve just sort of fallen into a routine. It is simply a fact that my father takes the trash out and weeds the front garden on Tuesday, my mother makes dinner, and that I do anything in between. Sometimes, after dinner, I find myself floating to the sink almost instinctively to wash the dishes. I’ll wake up abruptly in the middle of the night when the dishwasher completes a cycle, wishing that stacking plates wasn’t as loud as my uncle on NBA finals night. And I’ve been hearing my father open the laundry closet in the middle of the night—the creak of the door is very distinct. It is not often that we run into many issues with our tasks, but when we do, I become aware of the high level of order we are able to maintain without any discussion. When guests come over, my father retreats to the kitchen and my mother entertains. It is always so troubling to see my father emerging with a delicate tray of tea. For a moment, I think, “Gee, Mom looks different!” Or when there is a night that I simply cannot wash the dishes, I find myself unable to concentrate knowing some stranger is doing the rinsing. I’ve been known to burst through the door, prying the sponge out of my replacement dishwasher’s hands, admitting defeat…”

It is easy to take the more dramatic and humorous route in Creative Nonfiction, perhaps to shy away from revealing too much about yourself, or to show nonchalance about a situation. But my classmates have motivated me through their work to explore the memories that are more difficult to share. Slowly, I am approaching larger and larger truths about myself in my work.

Writing poetry in the beginning of the school year taught me how to explore personal topics covertly, but Creative Nonfiction has encouraged me to write about myself overtly, and it is one of the most liberating feelings ever.

Eva Whitney, class of 2020

My Burgeoning Love For Creative Non-Fiction Through A Bon Appetit Op-Ed by max chu

AS OF writing this blog post, Creative Writing Two is in the third week of our creative non-fiction unit. Ploi Pirapokin has returned for her second year as an artist-in-residence to lead us through what it means to write non-fiction, as many of the CW-2ers are out of their depth.

LIKE MOST people, I was raised on fiction. My mother was a massive supporter of children’s books, and classics like Goodnight Moon and Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type were nightly adieus to dreamland for my sister and I. In second grade, my sister brought in the family collection of Berenstain Bears for her 100 days 100 objects project. From there, we moved to early readers like Geronimo Stilton and Animorphs, and finally to the gatekeeper of children’s literature, Harry Potter. With such a strong (yet typical) fiction reading base, the path to writing, and then to SOTA, is one that many in the department surely share. Due to these similarities, this is why I believe that the move to a creative non-fiction mindset has been such a trial.

MY FIRST encounter with creative non-fiction, and yours as well, is with advertising. Day one, your first step out of the hospital, you’re suddenly berated upon by shop lights and big colorful billboards and even names of stores, asking you, baby, to spit up your hard-earned capital to stimulate the economy–a stark contrast to the conservationist lifestyle you were living before in the womb. The second run-in with creative non-fiction I had was with local news. My mother’s a devotee to the regional local news wherever we go. Over the winter at my grandparent’s condo in Florida, my mother was ecstatic that she could reach both the Tampa local news as well as New York One, despite the fact that we were hundreds of miles from New York City. Naturally progressing forward, there were SSAT essays, and a news unit in eighth grade, and finally there was House Meal.

AN OP-ED written by n in the winter of 2017, I did have to read the piece a couple of times before I really fell in love, but once I did, I fell hard. Tamar Adler’s Everyone Should Have A House Meal describes the most baseline part of a relationship: food. This is not the Valentine’s Day gaudy supper, but every single other night. The house meal “is a meal that one automatically falls back on whenever there is no other plan.” This concept resonated so vigorously within me, as relatable, poignant, and introspective, that I had to find more like it! Books of essays began creeping their way into my to-read pile, and I began to pay more attention to the local news every morning. I began to read the news on my phone, or at least take it past just glancing at headlines, and what I found shocked me!

What constitutes as creative is broader than I could have ever imagined, and I love it! To describe mundae events as intriguing is as much as of an art as to create them out of thin air! We’ve only just begun, but I know I’m going to love Ploi’s creative non-fiction unit!

 

Max Chu, class of 2020

Open Submissions Call

For all interested in submitting work:

The editors of Conte, an online journal of narrative writing founded in 2005, announce an open submissions call for poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction for our sixteenth issue, slated for publication in Winter 2011-2012. Recent contributors include Norman Dubie, Erika Meitner, Bruce Weigl, Robert Wrigley, Jim Daniels, E. Ethelbert Miller, William Hathaway, and Roger Weingarten, among others.

Visit www.conteonline.net for specific submission guidelines and past issues. We accept simultaneous submissions through Submishmash, and strive to respond within three months. We look forward to reading your work!

-Reba