Category Archives: Student Writing

How to Write by Nate Smith

Q: How do I write a great novel/novella/essay/article?

This is a big question, but I’ve broken it down into 4 easy steps:

  1. Read lots of books! You can’t be a great writer unless you’re a great reader first. find a few authors who you really enjoy reading and hone in on why you enjoy their work.
  1. Create an outline. Writing is hard when you don’t know what you want to say! Outlines make the writing process more efficient and help keep you organized.
  1. Sit down and write. Start at the beginning. Realize you hate your first sentence and delete it. Start again, but this time think for a few minutes before you start. Type a new sentence. You hate this sentence too, so you delete it. Repeat this cycle a couple more times, thinking, typing, deleting. Declare yourself sick with writer’s block and watch an episode of Mad Men instead. You were too slow to stop Netlfix’s autoplay so you watch a second episode of Mad Men as well. Justify it by telling yourself that you’ll start writing again after this episode. You don’t. It’s midnight by the time the credits roll, and you’re too tired at this point. Sleep on it and hope for for inspiration in the morning. You wake up with no inspiration. Go to school, then work,, and forget completely that you were going to write about that pressing subject you wanted to so badly last night. Get home, eat dinner, finally find that little post-it note you stuck to your monitor reminding you that you were going to write and boot up your word processor. Encounter the same problem you did last night, give up, watch more Mad Men, and then go to bed. You have created about 20 different introductions at this point, all of which are shitty. Repeat, trying different inspirational tips you find online in order to overcome this block. You take long showers now, because you read somewhere that Judy Blume does that for ideas. You try retyping the Great Gatsby to get a feel for great writing, but give up after page 17. Repeat, with various ideas. One night, a few weeks later, you’re taking out the recycling and a piece of paper falls out of your bin. It’s a scrapped first sentence from your (unsuccessful) “pen and paper” phase. Reading it now, though, it’s actually pretty good. You start writing the rest of your magnum opus off this sentence, and by midnight, you have not seen a single minute of Breaking Bad (you finished Mad Men a few days ago) and now have a first draft. Fall asleep with a sense accomplishment for the first time in months. You keep working on your writing every night. A few weeks later, you find an old second draft. You haven’t realized it, but the final version is totally different from this draft: the sentences are crisper, the themes are clearer, and the introduction is totally different. You read this draft again and remember how hard it was for you to write that introduction, how much time you spent laboring meticulously over every single word, only to change in in a future revision. And then you realize that it doesn’t matter what you start out writing, that it would be edited later anyways. You just needed to start.
  1. Check for typos! Everyone makes little mistakes in their writing. Be sure to triple proofread before you publish!

 

Please like & share:

To Not Remember Is Not A Crime by Maxine Flasher-Duzgunes

I don’t remember my wall of sticky notes and witty quotations, because all the dates have days but no months.

I don’t remember how I’d write in between the graph paper with numbers, and outside the lines with words.

I don’t remember how those thoughts made it to my wall of sticky notes and witty quotations. I guess everyone made it happen that way.

 

I don’t remember my 3rd grade poetry. Frankly, I must have told myself to forget it.

I don’t remember my light up shoes or my Mary Janes.

I don’t remember my jump rope or my favorite basketball that goes flat minutes after you fill it up with air.

I don’t remember my sunglasses liking the top of my head so much better than my eyes.

I don’t remember when candy was a luxury, and apples were a form of distress.

I don’t remember my lips smiling, as they do here. Maybe it was because of my overbite, or maybe it was because only now did someone decide to pull my cheeks by both ends.

I don’t remember making friendship bracelets. I didn’t know how. Someone must have taught me though.

I don’t remember opening birthday gifts like I was dismantling a bomb. I didn’t tear them open, like any other kid would. I wasn’t demanding of anyone. I didn’t have a wish list, well, not a realistic one.

I don’t remember eating so many pita chips that I decided to do pushups to make up for the extra carbs.

I don’t remember loving chocolate covered blueberries. I bought them, but I didn’t love them.

I don’t remember stuffing toilet paper in my mouth and chewing it like gum. I don’t remember that.

 

I don’t remember waltzing in my room to the lead of an imaginary boy, at an imaginary middle school, in an imaginary 7th grade.

I don’t remember writing poems to that imaginary boy, and throwing pens and wads of binder paper.

I don’t remember being asked to sit in the corner by the sub because I was throwing pens and wads of binder paper.

I don’t remember wearing a poncho for the imaginary boy, and tightening my jeans, and laughing unnecessarily at space.

I don’t remember the imaginary boy lying. Who would remember that? I definitely would not.

I don’t remember saying that this boy was imaginary.

 

I don’t remember learning how to ride a bike when I was eleven-years-old, because I was seven-years-old and it was a scooter.

I don’t remember picking at my nails. No one does, until there’s nothing left.

I don’t remember sticking a handstand like a gymnast or a spastic English teacher.

 

I don’t remember hugging a guy until it was set choreography, and every dancer blushed.

I don’t remember seeing so many veins in my hand, dirt in the creases behind my ears.

I don’t remember writing a play until I figured out I was in one.

I don’t remember what my t-shirt says. I know what it says:

“I remember.”

 

 

Please like & share:

An Unstable Name By Maxine Flasher-Duzgunes

Give me a conceptual name, like Tilden, or Evangeline. Soft, lounging in the woods with the rabbit folk, eerie. Reminds me of those English mores, where the fog hangs like chandeliers, and the manors make silhouettes in the paper sky. Those names provoke something: if at all the curiosity that Mary found in the Secret Garden, the fortunate awakening of ideas as they mixed with imaginary music.

When someone calls me from down the street, I won’t feel overused, bagged, scanned, then bagged again. When I sign a receipt, I’ll need something seamless that weaves ink and prints shadows in the air. I want people to question me, like the non-habitual solicitor or campaigner knocking on doors. I like the fact that two asymmetrical eyes and a set of letters do not tell anyone who you are. In shortest, I don’t want it to be easy for a playwright to script my reactions, for an author to recall my worst feature in his first chapter.

Tilden. It rings off your tongue when you sip tea out of fine bone china and accidentally hit your nail against the rim. It’s delicate, but also quite inconspicuous. I could hop into a conversation without revealing much about my place, whether I was raised on a pedestal or a plastic chair. It will look good engraved: on rings, trophies, tombstones, because ears like to hear it, even when they’re not listening.

The other, more time consuming choice would be Evangeline. Leaves room for nicknames, which pose a viable threat. However, it is widespread, and it speaks in worldly voices. It suggests deep heritage, thick antique blood. It would be an experiment to try it out: in delis, club meetings.

Only trouble is I wouldn’t be able to change it after it was exposed. It would stick in people’s minds like trauma, stick in people’s mouths like malt and molasses. Even if I tried to rebury their assumptions, they would solely end up resurfacing. And I’d be left, hopelessly alone, with a faulty name. With chasms and unforeseen sidewalk cracks. I’d trip on the wrong vowels, and the consonants would chase me down the fire escape. I’d come across alleys where even posters would bare a slight reflection. The bartenders would remember. They’d scrub the edge of the counter with a dish rag and say, “What’ll it be?” followed by the un-coincidental sounding of my name. That horrid pronunciation, street ridden by dialects, dragged in the back of a pickup ‘till it was stripped clean of anything: creativity, proper inspiration, a form of possibility. Gone.

I guess I should have chosen earlier. I guess I could have chosen earlier. Good thing my parents chose for me.

Please like & share:

Abbotts Lagoon, Point Reyes by Maxine Flasher-Duzgunes

Got a look at innocence on the

Road today, when a baby

Coyote stopped our car, and no

One felt “missing” like those

 

Neighborhood cats. People were

Learning to make cheese down at

The creamery while we bought

Sandwiches and drove to the

 

Beach. It was a colorful

Tundra; hills you might see

Under the feet of Teletubbies,

Cow paddies tinting the air.

 

The reeds became chorus girls,

The dragonflies hummed “Little

Mermaid” covers, and the wind

Conducted angrily. To a point

 

Where the footsteps on the dunes

Re-scattered every few minutes,

The lagoon rippled, as always:

Passing clouds betraying their

 

Positions, the possibility of a rogue

Cow writing the tide. She was a

Black and white creature from

One of the pastures: must

 

Have yielded the poison oak,

Jumped the fence…I bet her

Mother worries. It was sur-

Prising to make out egrets

 

Instead of sheep through my

Binoculars. To find the

Geese silent and the gulls

Screeching “bloody murder”.

 

For Hitchcock was wise

When he specified which

Bird he wanted, and which

Auditioner would go off-screen.

 

Today, I said the waves

Were “course”, and they over-

Lapped like insufficient data.

The snowy plover was not

 

Found, the finch was hidden,

And the people were just

Plain unnecessary. Someone

Smoked, someone brought their

 

Five-year-old boy, not much

Variation. There were empty

Boats and photographers

And farm houses that looked

 

Futuristic. Population signs

Remained under 3 digits, and

The sand indeed sunk under

My shoes. I could see ten

 

Miles in all directions.

The baby ice plant carpeted

My understanding in deep

Red. The crab shells gave me

 

A sense of distance, because

They were, in all perspective,

Graves above ground. And the

Sea bubbles shaped the sand as if

 

Logic had finally materialized,

And the un-gas stationed

World was free from harm.

I was thinking, my mother driving

 

Us home, and I noticed the fields

Were not green. What I failed

To realize was this: though the

Fields were not green, they were

 

Still in conversation.

Please like & share:

I Read My Will by Maxine Flasher-Duzgunes

You read a will…

Ohio and California no longer have

To be distant relatives.

They could be friends

 

In an obituary…tousled with

The wrong patches on jeans;

Married cousins.

Water-in-the-brain.

 

Some dig up old photos,

Stick hearing aids in their eyes

To see the future.

However many yells will get someone

 

To close the garage door.

Too many of us have

Lumpy foreheads, tally charts on

Blood sugar

 

Or we hoped that our children

Would. Earthquakes in our

Fingertips, not on fault-lines…

I’ve never felt one in my life.

 

 

We read a will…

Those ankles could have

Been swollen another day.

She says, “They’re not okay, but

 

They’re okay.” I didn’t

Rhyme to please anyone,

I rhymed to point out the

Wrinkles in a hyphenated nam-

 

e. Some die three months

After you meet them, some can’t

Decide whether they look better in

Scales or fairy wings…

And you don’t decide for them when

You drive a rental car, and still carry

Two cans o’ Pringles

From the plane.

 

We’d hoped “330” would grow fond

Of certain cell phones, and every voicemail

Would go unfinished because it had been picked

Up. Fortunately, area codes don’t grow on people.

 

 

I read a will…

And I shake a stranger’s hand

On Thanksgiving. I listen

To my relentless soliloquies

 

As if scripted to do so. I admit

I do not speak Turkish or Romanian,

I was never told

My blood type.

 

I dance in my own introspections

Because when I was born, the

Scholars had already taken

Their words to the clouds.

 

I yellow when fireflies play

Hide n’ seek without me…

‘Cause I’m a foreigner, and I don’t

Dim like they do.

 

I read my will…and all my

Money rains in the Mediterranean Sea.

They’ll all be drowning,

While I wait on the shore.

Please like & share:

Mechanisms of Coping by Maxine Flasher-Duzgunes

My only defense was to write down every word they said. The cats in the street, the petitioners goading our window sills for signatures. The little girl on the telephone, her wide-limbed brother starting up the car. The two dog-walkers who said “hello” today, but not yesterday. The construction man who just looked at me with his ladder on the left side of his chest.

I made it to the top of the hill this afternoon, around 5 o’clock, conversing with the wind. And all the travelers, vacationers at the beach who always seemed to walk against him. I believe I made too much of an effort to remember what he told me. That fog gets in the way. That people carry on, haphazardly, suspending their footfalls so they’ll be late to dentist appointments and plain dismal settings. I wrote alongside the wind, instead of in front or behind, before or after. I did this so he would not be angered, and potentially blow me away.

Earlier in the day, my mp3 played dead, and my headphones hid themselves. I went out walking anyway, thinking about that nylon-contrived love in the old movies. The 40s, where everyone says, “I love you” before they embrace. They dream before they do anything. And then all the doing comes after the credits have rolled and the “black and white” is replaced by secondary colors. The screenplays were just witty propagandas, tied up into neat packages and box sets. Twain and Steinbeck were among the few who told the truth, only to have their books burned and banned. Schools, libraries forgot that honesty was on their shelves, and they burned that too.

I heard that one’s job is to “say what [they] see.” Yet almost all of it is too surreal to snare into one…too randomly filled with meaningless gestures and stares that last for longer than expected. Fragments of something (going out), I notice are there. And I collect these fragments like blackberries. And I strain them in my sink, so they might be cleaner and fresher than when they were on the bush.

I write down everything they end up saying, maybe doing as well. And, it is not a defense mechanism so much as a hobby or a pastime. A way out in a sense, from birthday cakes that don’t have to arrive every 365 days. Baby doll greetings in cafés, as if you could just steal a line from Barbie, and I’d be okay with that.

Listening to the wind, and following strangers may be one of the only methods of coping. As I’ve grown away from everyone: the little girls on telephones, even the mailman.

Please like & share:

Barista With A PhD by Maxine Flasher-Duzgunes

I was unsure whether the barista was conducting a science experiment, or making chai tea. The strainer appeared like some kind of double light bulb. Bubbles rose from the bottom teardrop, and heated the water in an identical container. The woman in the apron carefully stuck a thermometer into the spherical vase. It must have been boiling. She poured loose tealeaves into the water, and moderately fast, it turned an autumn brown. Instead of stirring with the two spoons, as she had done before, the barista grabbed an oak wood stick, and spun the liquid ever so gently.

She had unusually blonde hair. Her nose ring went quite well with it, however. It hung over the glass as she sniffed, once, then again for a second time. She didn’t mind the steamers and the coffee machines a couple feet away: mochas and Americanos playing caffeinated tricks. Leaning down, she pressed a button that separated the leaves from the dyed water. Other waiting customers seemed amazed at the innovation: they pointed and smiled as if everything were behind a case, captioned and formally explained. Once all the tea had drained to the bottom, the woman screwed off the empty glass. She clapped her palm against the clear curves, dumping the unused clumps of tea. She placed the glass next to all the others in a dish rack, and then shifted her head and neck. I noticed some black hair beneath the blonde. I guess you can change more than the color of a tea bag in a cup.

I had to leave immediately after, because my order had arrived, and I asked if they’d make it to-go. An employee had drawn waves in the foamy milk. I didn’t ask for anything artistic…but I take it some people don’t have to be asked. It was only a single cup, and there were no holders. So I managed with the sting of hot coffee around my thumb and middle finger. I sipped a bit off the surface, with my history of spilling in front of city folk. I grabbed a traveler’s lid from the corner and took off. The line at the café wasn’t so long after I scooted by a man in a green shirt on my way out. I made an estimate, that if I had come at least ten minutes later, I wouldn’t have been standing aimlessly, single file, in something I could have lived out much more easily (in another time).

This was near Fifth & Mission, San Francisco, where everyone seems to leave their hearts…and lose their keys. Where everyone’s cars break down because the hills are too strenuous for two sets of wheels. Where the fog means it’s summertime, and the sun means it’s December. Where Hitchcock took advantage of the weather, and a bridge-way of suicide attempts. Where I paid for coffee at the Blue Bottle, mistaking it for a chemistry lab sometime or the other.

When I leave myself this way (if I do, that is), I’ll grow accustomed to the occasional pauses in my voice, where I read this sentence over, and I grow accustomed to the occasional pauses in my voice: the sweet spots in my mid-tones, the cracks in my chest, the reminders of my days hitting high Cs, playing melancholic chords. Thanks to music, my lower back sagging on the porch steps, my ears: I can write undisturbed. And I can listen to myself…talking.

Please like & share:

Urban Introspections by Maxine Flasher-Duzgunes

There is no difference between compassion and rejection. I learn strategically, crossing the street with the rest of them, when the red hand goes up. I was on 17th and Mission, where the bagels smell like shades of memories—warm, uninterrupted—and the people smell, well, like people. We had to wait for a right turn because a one legged man wouldn’t smile and say, “Go ahead”. We had to cover our heads when we walked under a scaffolded building because we were afraid the nails might rain down. Then again, I guess it was just me that was afraid.

We were parked 3 blocks from the studio, and I was confused when the homeless man yelled “pity” at my shoes. My mother passed a drunken man, when she was alone. He was smiling, the euphoric kind, where the lips are too damn high just to say they’re “happy”. I wondered, if I was there: would I feel drunk too?…would 21 greet me at a green light and I’d feel too young to be a child?…would I be drunk if my shopping cart were my suitcase?…if Japanese tourists were my neighbors 25 hours of the day?

My mother said the Mission was never on the city’s restoration list. “Bernal Heights had been checked off,” she told me, “Noe Valley; that was another lucky one.” I nodded, pressing my lips together.

Drained noise, from the insides of the passenger window. The graffiti was ashen, even the murals in the schoolyards. The million dollar apartments, stained with the profanity of strangers (all over garage doors and fire escapes).

We drove down Divisidero. “No traffic,” I said. Despite the construction and the minute hand pointing to rush hour. “The locals keep to the indoors on Wednesdays,” I suggested. Maybe the bachelor didn’t shave his beard. Maybe the hooker didn’t shave her legs. Maybe for once in everyone’s lives, the fog was telling them where to go. I must have been unfamiliar with where it was they were going.

I am astonished at a Golden Gate that would be so much as red if its towers weren’t rusted with the stop and go of foreclosure signs, empty storefronts, and singles protesting social injustice. He stopped us, a white man who brought up starving children and racism all in the same sentence. We were out to lunch, and we said we would come back. “Keep up the good work,” my mom whistled back from an adjoining block. We didn’t come back.

I had a twenty in my pocket—it wouldn’t take much to toss it in a guitar case or a plastic bucket. It wouldn’t take much, I said to myself, to read a cardboard sign that had “God Bless” scribbled in Sharpie. Give a hollow man my takeout. Anything.

But I didn’t. I walked those 3 blocks to the studio. I took class like I was back in Marin County, and I had clothes, and I had an identity that had more or less manifested itself into a journal for 4 or so years. So yes, I am capable of patting an untalented child on the back. I am capable of biting my brother’s arm if he’s watching too much TV. I learned strategically, however, that I cannot ride the MUNI without washing my hands 7 times over after I get off. I cannot stare at a pedestrian without saying that I’ve had a life-changing experience. I cannot observe that green-glass sea without imagining the bodies breathing un-hopefully at the bottom. I cannot live here. I can only look here.

Please like & share:

Ms. Calner’s Lucky Underwear by Kate Luebkman

High school; the place where dreams simultaneously take off, and go to die. The place where teen angst is more common than herpes; where herpes is more common than self confidence; where self confidence is more common than good fashion sense; where good fashion sense is more common than inspiring teachers; but, where none of the above is more common than terrible drivers.

High school is where I met my best and worst versions of myself. Well, the worst version of myself trying desperately hard to be the best version of myself. High school is also where I met Ms Calner. All while trying to pull off a tube top.

Ms Calner was the teacher every girl wanted to be and every boy (and selective girls) wanted to bang. She had a pre-pop-Imma-do-what-I-want-support-all-girls-Taylor-Swift hair, Mila Kunis cat eyes, a figure Rihanna would be like “Oh na na, what’s YOUR name?” and that Beyonce angel glow.

She was also smart as hell.

My favorite story of Ms Calner was in the spring of my junior year. We were all trying to keep our cool while amidst substantial pressure surrounding our futures; and still saving energy to get crunk on Fridays. It was rough.

Ms Calner had decided to take the challenge of teaching us all about the different government parties in the US while also keeping us awake. Talk about some American Ninja Warrior s***. This bad-ass teacher was having none of our excuses, and all of our attention.

“I want you all to be able to turn eighteen and walk into that voting booth with the confidence of a six year old losing their first tooth. You’re going to change the world people, we need you.”

Two things happened in the next fifteen seconds that broke our momentary concentration. A quiet boy in the back named Alex whispered loud enough for everyone to hear, “no I need YOU Ms Calner,” to cheers of “yeah you do’s” and whistles. Following his outburst, an unnamed person ripped a huge, jupiter sized fart.

Then the incident began. The one known to future students at Rosemary High as “Fartgate 2014.” It was magical.

A kid named Hugo responded to Jupiter Farter with a mousy little fart. Then Stephanie, known for the one time she brought a $50 wine bottle to a dirty house party and drank the whole thing like a classy mother, blasted Hugo out with a giant one. Robert, who was rumored to have eaten a burrito for lunch that day then redefined “Smoke on the Water,” and we all called encore. Karlie took one for the girls and was joined by her twin Karina right after. Twin synchrony is a real thing.

Fart after fart, the class was going wild. Then all of a sudden, a fart that Barney Stinson would deem “Legendary” occurred. It was loud, demanding, awesome, and it came from the very front of the room.

We gasped. We admired. We surrendered.

Ms Calner smirked as she gazed at our open mouths,

“Well, I did wear my lucky underwear today.”

Ms Calner turned around in those beautiful jeans that displayed her perfect booty, and we applauded. “Now can you please all quieten your buttholes and pretend to care about democracy.”

That was the day I know I wanted to be a teacher. That was the day we would talk about for years and our highlight of high school. That was the day Ms Calner earned the #BOSS t-shirt Karlie printed her at the end of the year. That was the day we all payed attention to democracy. That, was high school. And that, was the day Ms Calner wore her lucky underwear.

Please like & share:

I Don’t Know If by Maxine Flasher-Duzgunes

I don’t know if I care that I’m not in their photos, their squad slideshows, their monthly binges at In n’ Out. I’ve never been much for bikinis and car keys at my side. I feel that I’m not a part of something when everyone’s arms are cold by the time they hug me. I’m on another bench, or in another pool, waiting to think of something clever to say. I’m not spontaneous, I don’t laugh at my own face, I’m not someone who walks into a crowd and gets mugged. I might have a light smudge of lipstick on my cheek, or a wrinkle in my shirt, but I won’t be made up. I won’t put on red lipstick or fake lashes. I won’t make fat rolls with my chin. I won’t parade down red carpets as if I had the legs for it. I’m not per say, notorious for my neighborhood.

My name might be mentioned once or twice when I arrive, and I kill the boring streak. Or when I leave, and one more name can be checked off and go stale. I try too hard…I regret it. I’m quiet…I regret that too. I don’t understand why every little piece of information is one-sided, why it’s small…and meaningless. I knew this day would go a certain way. I told myself: there might be a give or take in the end result, but eventually it would take to Maple Street, maybe Sir Francis Drake. It would make me say, “damn” as I took a shower, then again as I went to bed. It would make me satisfied that I predicted the percentage of lonely in my nighttime prayers.

I don’t know if I care that I’m not one of them: the one with the towel and the baseball hat, the one with the funny shirts. Am I too cynical? Are they afraid of me? Is it my hair?

I don’t know, I really don’t know. I’ve tried the lying thing: I guess all them high schoolers are better than me. Everyone is used to lying through their teeth, and puffing smoke, and asking people out like it was just another item on their grocery list.

I’m not used to that: I haven’t done anything. I don’t drive, I listen to drug-ed teachers, I listen to my parents, I don’t drive. I’m not ten anymore, so my art can’t look crappy, and I’m not allowed to wear a damn bow in my hair. I can’t hold my daddy’s hand. I can’t talk about my brother without imagining he was dead and everyone saw me for the first time. You know, the pity kind, where everyone pats your back. Maybe just looks over their shoulder, presses their lips together. Not a pout, but a gentle smile with the lower lip…a pity smile.

It’s because I listen to the right people that I haven’t done anything. I don’t dye my hair, because of the chemicals. I don’t drink Slurpees, because of the chemicals. I don’t talk to kids my age…because of the chemicals.

It’s because I listen to the right people that I’m not in anyone’s pictures, I shove off my mother when she stalks me with her disposable camera, or when my dad comes to school to bring my lunch. The fact is: I’m not interesting anymore.

 

Please like & share: