Project seeks to empower young writers

Reagan Kaelle, Miramonte High School

Cold, drained from the day, and ready to decompress, senior Tom Inouye treks from his last class toward the Miramonte High School Wellness Center. Instead of heading home, he turns into the center, immediately excited by the sounds of chatter coming from the back room. As he rounds the corner, Inouye sees 10 other students sitting at a table with notebooks and pencils. Thoughts swim around in his head, as he prepares for his favorite part of the day: writing.

“Creative writing is one of the most powerful, effective tools for personal growth and self-empowerment. The more you write creatively, the more you connect to your wisdom and find your voice. Creative writing also develops your capacity for creative problem-solving in all areas of your life,” founder and director of The Intuitive Writing Project Elizabeth Perlman said.

Perlman launched the writing project in 2013 in the Bay Area. The program, centered on writing-based empowerment for girls and gender-expansive youth, is widely attended and supported by Acalanes, Campolindo, and Miramonte students. 

“I started The Intuitive Writing Project because it was what I wanted and needed when I was in high school. I believe teenagers have incredible insights and ideas that need to be listened to and supported, and that’s why we exist: to give teens a safe space to speak their truth and have it heard, to express whatever they need to express and know that it matters,” Perlman said.

Perlman and Melissa Quiter, who serves as the Director of Programs and a Senior Teacher, started an expansion of the project at Miramonte, which began in the second semester. Quiter is a former Mirador advisor and World History teacher at Miramonte. The class is available to all students of any age and gender orientation. 

“The Intuitive Writing Project was a unique program in that it allows young girls to write more experimental pieces. While school writing can be diverse, the program believes that everyone is a good writer. It was fun to write a horror story, a fanfiction, or even a diary entry in a safe environment with other young writers,” Miramonte junior Megan Chui said.

The after-school class meets every Wednesday at 3:15 for an hour and 15 minutes. The program started on February 16 and was slated to end right before Spring Break. Each class is priced at $40, but need-based scholarships are available through ONE Orinda. The class is limited to eight students.

 “As I’ve heard from many of our current Miramonte writers, this kind of writing helps to counterbalance the intense academic stress of high school. It also offers a fun space to just relax, be creative and be yourself,” Perlman said.

Many writing project students start the program in middle school but can’t find the time to continue in high school because of their busier schedules. 

“Our only challenge is finding kids who have the time to write since everyone is so stressed out with homework and sports. Writing is such a great way to de-stress, but we often don’t give ourselves the time for self-care — even when we need it most,” Perlman said. 

Yet, many students are getting involved and encourage others to do so because it offers a fun, relaxing learning opportunity.

“Creative writing is important because it allows people to express themselves in whatever way they want to,” Inouye said. “In high school, we have been told that formal essays and reports are the most important style of writing. While they definitely are important, we have completely neglected creative writing. Through creative writing, I’ve learned more about myself, met really cool people, and improved my skills as a writer.” 

From a practical standpoint, students aren’t frequently exposed to creative writing throughout their time at Miramonte. Freshman and senior English curriculum frameworks include narrative writing as a requirement; however, the main focus of grade-based English classes is centered on reading books and writing analytical essays about literary topics. Advanced Placement (AP) Language and Composition is primarily focused on non-fiction and rhetoric analysis while AP English Literature and Composition focuses on American and British literature. 

“While I love English classes, there is such a focus on making everyone write the same way about the same things. [The writing project] would be an excellent addition to our English department and has the perfect ability to foster creativity, not conformity,” Inouye said.

Though traditional English classes don’t typically offer exposure to creative writing, some newer classes offer more freedom in terms of writing style. 

“In Deconstructing Race we have journals that we write in during the first 10-15 minutes in class. The prompt changes day-to-day and we get to do a little reflection on ourselves or our day in it. In the Intuitive Writing Project we are encouraged to write non-fiction and in the same reflective way as in Deconstructing Race,” senior Zoe Moga said. 

Pen scratching against his paper, Inouye scribbles a line that doesn’t sound right. Searching for the words, he makes a few more last-minute corrections. Wrapping up, Inouye writes the last line of his story, satisfied with his response to the daily prompt. Excited to share and hear his classmates’ work, he looks up and indicates to Mellisa that he is ready to share his work with the class.