A Little Reading in a Big Chair


by Grace Bonde, senior writing coach

The school schedule has become familiar again and fall is beginning to make itself known. The leaves are changing colors, the weather is growing cooler, and the days are growing shorter. It is the season of warm drinks, pumpkin spice, and nestling into big armchairs.

You’re a teen now, but think back to when you were little and your parents would pull you up into a big armchair to read you a book before bed. It may have been only five minutes, but that bedtime story was an essential part of your nightly routine. The tone of the reader calmed your five-year-old racing mind and relaxed your little body into sleep. The story was something to think about, other than all the games to be played and adventures to be had.

You’re older now, but Teen Read Week (October 9-15) reminds us that we can carry those habits with us today. By carving out a little time to read every night, you can go to sleep without worry of unfinished tasks or thoughts of what tomorrow will bring. When you’re done, you come back to your life with less anxiety and a fresh perspective.

Although it’s already Thursday and Teen Read Week is almost over, it’s never too late to start. The ideas and habits you start this week can carry on long into the future. So when life has you stressed, grab a book, find a big armchair to cozy up in, and take five minutes to read. If you’re like me, it’ll turn into thirty.

The Modern Renaissance

by Katie Ward, junior writing coach

As we delve into the new school year, our lives return to revolving around education. Whether that means adopting your IB Biology textbook as your new best friend or reading the Sparknotes on Of Mice and Men an hour before an in-class essay (hint: Curly’s wife is just a symbol), all depends on your educational philosophy. I bring up this refreshed interest in education because, as most of MHS’s juniors are well aware, the year for us has begun with the Italian and Northern Renaissance. As we read about Thomas More’s optimistic social idealism and Niccolo Machiavelli’s frankly off-putting pessimism, I began to recognize pieces of the past that seem to mirror the present. What does the overall philosophy of education look like at this moment in time?

Let’s look at a few key components of any Renaissance:
Humanism: Humanism is the belief that mankind can do anything it sets its mind to, and the idea that bettering itself by building intellectual diversity is the only way society can hope to progress. This idea was the moral equivalent of murder during the Medieval period, but was adopted by many intellectuals in the Renaissance. Does this sound familiar? Compared to our predecessors who prioritized humility more than progress, our ambitions of success as well as a better world set us apart from moral periods before us. This doesn’t reflect selfishness but rather the fear of settling. We don’t want a job we aren’t excited to do; we don’t want love that’s convenient; we don’t want a world we cannot repair.  


Da Vinci’s David exemplifies humanism–the idealistic heroism of his features, his posture, and the air he gives off glorify his mortality rather than his divinity.

Classicalism: Adoration of the past was a key motive of the arts in the Italian Renaissance, and it is today as well. Ask any student taking part in today’s intellectual revolution what time period they would resurrect if they could, and my guess is that the majority would at least mention the 1920s. Just as Renaissance artists found inspiration in the Antiquity period and thought nothing was worse than mimicking the art and beliefs of the Middle Ages, we now revere the artistic optimism of the ’20s and shudder at the material mediocrity of our parents’ generation (no offense). Plutarch longed for Cicero; we romanticize the Fitzgeralds.


Who would you rather be friends with?

Idealism vs. Cynicism: Yes, this could refer to the dreamy realism of Renaissance art, but it also defines the hope employed by philosophers like Sir Thomas More. More and more (pun intended) in today’s intellectual atmosphere, optimism for our future triumphs over the pessimistic view that we’re all already doomed. Made famous by the notorious Niccolo Machiavelli, the idea that humans are inherently evil was a main philosophy during the Renaissance that acted as a sort of counter culture to the hopeful optimism of the age. Is it better to be feared or to be loved? The social tactics of many students today seems to be the former. But doesn’t love always rise above hate? Is adoration not more important than power?

Such ideological conflict mirrors the Renaissance’s philosophical battles. And while, tragically, fear ultimately won in the generations to follow, the conflict was never truly resolved. And in this conflict we remain today. Art is the only remedy, so which side will you choose?

Here are some of the departed greats who chose the hope of the Renaissance outside their time:


Degas (and all the impressionists) used soft colors and blotted brushstrokes to portray calm, warm, comforting things like a ballerina.


Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky and the composers of the Romantic Era used pieces like Swan Lake to display the beauty of emotion, contrasting the pain endured during their age. 



Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera were revolutionaries for magical realism, taking the extraordinary and portraying it as ordinary to emphasize the subliminal characteristics humans inherently possess.


College essays: spiders, failures, accomplishments…and hope for the future.

The bane of every college applicant: the admissions essay.

by Maggie Shea, Writing Center coordinator

How would you approach an unusual writing prompt? Consider these:

      • Tell us about Spiders.
      • What is square one, and can you actually go back to it?
      • Consider something in your life you think goes unnoticed and write about why it’s important to you.

Interesting questions, but hard to know where to begin, right? Many high school seniors are tackling these very questions right now, thinking deeply about spiders, musing on square onewith a friend, or examining their lives to find that perfect unnoticed element. All three are actual prompts on 2016 college applications: the first is one of two choices for the University of Richmond, the second is an option from a list of five equally quirky prompts for University of Chicago, and the last is required for all applicants to University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Each year, U Chicago solicits essay prompts from current students and alumni. They choose five uncommon questionsto include on their application supplement. Some gems from the past include “So where is Waldo, really?” and “What’s so odd about odd numbers?”  One of my favorites is “So, how do you feel about Wednesdays?” The University says they hope to learn how students think–and how well they write.

At the Minnetonka High School Writing Center, we are honored to be part of the college essay process for many seniors. The prompts we see are often less eclectic than the trio listed above. Most questions ask Who are you?in one form or another. The Common Application, used by over 700 colleges, requires students to choose from five questions. Imagine what colleges learn about applicants from their responses to these two Common App prompts:

      • The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
      • Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

In college essay writing conferences, we listen to studentsideas and ask questions to help focus their responses. They work through multiple revisions, refining sentences until the story represents something essential about themselvesin 650 words, or sometimes 500.

Every fall, we are inspired by these young writers on the verge of their adult lives. They write stories about challenge and resilience; passion for nature, music, or art; ideas for making the world a better place; love of family and dedication to friends. They can be dead serious and downright hilarious. Parents, grandparents and teachers out there: you are the subject of many college essays! Students value the lessons youve taught them. And students: hearing your stories and working with you gives us much hope for the future.


Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Book Review

A store assistant holds copies of the book of the play of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child parts One and Two at a bookstore in London

Google Images

by Anna Heinen, junior writing coach

(some minor content will be revealed!)

This summer, Harry Potter’s birthday was marked with the publication of the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child play script. The play is written by the British playwright Jack Thorne and created with the help of JK Rowling. I celebrated the occasion by waiting around in the nearest book store with my sister until the next shipment of books came, then proceeded to read the entire play aloud in just two days.
The story begins 19 years after the battle of Hogwarts with Harry’s son, Albus, leaving for Hogwarts in his first year. Being Harry Potter’s son, he is typecasted to be Gryffindor through and through and a great quidditch player. Harry, however, struggles balancing his job as Head of Magical Law Enforcement and being the accepting father he should be, while Albus faces criticism for befriending Draco Malfoy’s son, Scorpius (despite the nasty rumors going around about Scorpius). Wishing to impress his father, Albus takes on the dangerous task of changing the past, and the play culminates in some truly magical time travel.
Personally, I thought it was a great story, but, as the actual play was written by Jack Thorne and not J.K. Rowling, it lacked the usual zing found in the original Harry Potter books. Because it is in play form, the inner emotions of the characters are not represented with a narrator, and portraying those emotions is left up to the actors. Just reading the play and not seeing the actors on stage makes the reader feel as if the characters are foreign; this is a similar experience to getting to know a character in a book then watching the movie and having your image be shattered.
Despite this slight disappointment, I loved stepping back into the magical world for two days. Not only did it set in stone my detest for Dolores Umbridge, but it also was amazing to see Hermione live out her role as MINISTER OF MAGIC! I think that this story was just what fans needed: an assessment of Harry’s role as a father along with an examination of his past, all through the eyes of his son.

Preventing Procrastination



by Libby Isaacson, senior writing coach

Hi!  My name is Libby, and I am a procrastinator. Admitting that you are a procrastinator is the first step to conquering it, right?  I’ll even admit this — I procrastinated writing this blog post, finishing up my first draft only moments before conferencing with one of our lovely editors.  The thing that I am the worst about procrastinating is, without a doubt, writing assignments.  If I get a paper assigned for a class, I’ll write it down in my planner immediately, but then push it out of my mind.  

Once I begin to write, it flows pretty quickly , but getting to that point of writing takes a while.  I always finish my papers and my assignments, but typically will stay up late the night before putting the finishing touches on something that should have been done days before. I end up ignoring the recommended method of splitting the work into chunks so that none of my oh-so-valuable sleep is sacrificed.  Sometimes, my procrastination is so bad that I end up looking up ways to not procrastinate while actually putting something off at that very moment.  However, I am not alone in my procrastination. Everyone does it at least once or twice. Therefore, I decided to share with with you the things I have learned through my many attempts to prevent procrastination:

  • Use a planner you like to look at – I love planners!  I am definitely one to forget about assignments, and writing them down helps me keep my to-do list in a central spot.
  • Write something, anything down – seeing words on a paper (even if they’re complete jibberish), at least for me, almost tricks my mind into thinking I’ve finished the hardest part of getting started, and kickstarts me into writing the rest of the assignment.
  • Physically cross things off a to-do list – seeing little checkmarks by a long list of items I have to finish helps motivate me to stick it through and cross everything off!
  • Keep your phone in a different room – I fall victim to this one alllllll the time; if my phone is anywhere near me I’m tempted to pick it up and quickly check a notification, without fail I will be sucked into the vortex that is social media.  Don’t even take that chance and just put the phone far away!

While all these tips have helped me in one way or another over the years, occasionally the best way to deal with procrastination is just to accept it.  By being aware of your tendency to push work to the last minute, it’s easier to work towards starting things earlier and being more efficient with your time!  And honestly, leaving something to the last minute forces me to be a little less of a perfectionist. But hopefully these tips help prevent you from starting those six-page papers at 11:30pm the night before they’re due – good luck!

A year of curiosity


We are excited for a year of curious reading and writing.

Greetings to all of our loyal blog followers, as well as newcomers!

We are thrilled to be ushering in a new year of Writing it Out, the Minnetonka Writing Center’s blog. To start off the year, we’d like to introduce ourselves, your blog co-editors: two of us are returning editors, Anna Barnard (senior) and Elise Johnson (senior), plus we’re welcoming a new editor, Anne Malloy (junior). We are extremely excited to see what insights our coaches will share with you this year.

Despite summer ending, you’ve at least got one thing to look forward to this school year: new blog posts every Thursday, of course. We’ll be hearing from experienced writing coaches as well as new sophomore writing coaches on the blog, and we’ll continue having guest writers every so often. Beyond the blog, the Writing Center has lots in store for this upcoming year. We’re off and running already with college essay workshops next week, and individual conference sign-ups are open! On top of this, we’re looking forward to events this year such as Writers’ Studio.

Our goal this year on Writing it Out is simple: to stimulate your curiosity. Through our writing, we want to change the way you look at and think about things, to provide humor and hope, and to help and encourage. We view Writing it Out as an incredibly open space for not only sharing our own thoughts but also for discussion: add comments if you have them, and email us with suggestions at tonkawritingcenter@gmail.com. (And, of course, follow us on Twitter @tonkawrites!)

As always, thank you for stopping by and reading. Until next week!

Sincerely, your editors,

Anna, Elise, and Anne

Onward and upward

Blog image (last post)

A big thank you and best wishes from this year’s writing coaches.

The 2016 school year is coming to a close: the freshmen have gotten through their first year in high school, the sophomores have survived the drudgery of APUSH, the juniors have finally emerged from the Onslaught of Junior Year, and the seniors will be walking across the stage of Grace Church tonight to be given the title of alums.

As much as we’d like to be sentimental, we know you all have created memories at MHS this year just like we have, and have experienced some of the same feelings: of seeing your friends in the hallways every morning, of walking to class, of greeting your favorite teachers, of getting food at the Cove, of pep fests and dances…we don’t need to reiterate it all for you, because you know how it felt. So we’ll keep this short and sweet.

We want to leave with a final thank you: thank you for making the Writing Center a home within MHS this year. Thank you for sharing your writing, for reading each other’s writing, for stimulating conversations and smiles. Writing it Out has been a place where we can share our thoughts and insights with MHS students in different ways, and we’re grateful that we have a place to share writing and a place where others can read it.

Keep writing, keep reading, keep imagining…

Best wishes, your editors, Sam, Elise, and Anna


A Grateful Goodbye

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MHS seniors waiting to sign-up for Senior Serve

by Alanna Anglum, senior writing coach

My final post on this blog is incidentally the perfect wrap up. I’m a senior coach whose time here at Minnetonka is coming to an end. I write this at 5:30am, as I sit on the “iconic” speckled floor of Minnetonka High School with hundreds of fellow classmates. Needless to say, I’m TIRED, and I clearly procrastinated–even my last task as a writing coach was semi-behind the 8 ball. It’s a legacy (I think). So what am I doing here? What would possibly compel hundreds of seniors to drag themselves out of bed, camp outside, huddle on the concrete floor of the school we often loath, and still be willing to face the whole day to come after? On paper, we are doing it to score the best volunteer project (which frankly on its own is an impressive feat). I can safely tell you though, I didn’t do this for the chance to volunteer. I didn’t do this because I was “afraid of missing out” on some shenanigans. 

We’re here because that’s what we do. 

We show up. There will always be drama. There will always be a test. There will be work or other less exciting obligations. There will always be plenty of reasons to get a good night’s sleep. 

I’m just now starting to appreciate the reasons to stay up late and get up early, sadly a little too late. Any Junior will tell you they too have figured this out, but that’s not true. They do it because they have to; we seniors are here because we want to. 

I know some would be reluctant to admit it, but there’s a lot of love in these hallways. I mean genuine love. Personally as I reflect, I own up to the fact that I’ve been somewhat of a lonely Minnetonka student. I love my classmates more than I can express at 5:30 am, but I get back a different kind of love. A lifelong best friend is not something I’ll leave Minnetonka with. There is no one that pulled me out of bed this morning and told me, “Alanna, you HAVE to come with us!” I showed up by myself. But more often than not, the things you do aren’t really about you, and there won’t be someone dragging you out of bed. Maybe this is where the volunteer aspect of our “Senior Serve” camp-out comes into play. Again, the things you do aren’t about you, but they’re about how they make you feel. 

As Minnetonka, I didn’t find a lifelong BFF but I found a community. I found a sense of urgency in showing up.

You can barely hope to scrape the surface of our deepest gratitude as outbound seniors. The greatest gift of all our clubs, classes, friends, and teachers have given us is this sense of power in our presence. We don’t recognize the fact that we have it yet, this gift of active passion, but the amazing thing is that we will be able to pass it on. Minnetonka, you’ve stirred something in all of us. For that, me and my future self thank you.

The seniors are turning from giddy to crabby as we speak. The initial novelty is wearing off. But as you walk down the halls in mere hours, the buzzing conversation will circle around the seniors that DID show up. They’ll forget the sticky floor, the ungodly 5 am hour, and the sight of exhausted faces. They’ll be talking about this and all other Minnetonka events with the perspective of accomplishment in showing up and participating. 

Thank you for showing us the value in ourselves. Even if we don’t completely understand it yet, you got me out of bed at 4:45 this morning. 

Handwriting or Typing?


by Anna Barnard and Elise Johnson, junior writing coaches and blog editors


With the technology revolution of the last few decades, computers and word processing have taken the world by storm. Notes can be jotted down and kept on our phones rather than in notebooks, and documents can be saved all in one place together. However, with this new use of typing, many have neglected the tried-and-true practice of handwriting. There are benefits and drawbacks to the use of both methods in today’s day and age; today we will debate and explore the two sides.

Anna’s argument: With handwriting, you can process and retain more in-depth information through motor memory, have more freedom with use of space, and use style variation.

Elise’s argument: New technology now allows you to write faster, more eloquently, and more confidently, and improve your overall creativity through the volume and ease of typing.

1st point:

Anna: When taking notes, handwriting is often proven to be more effective for retaining large amounts of information. When typing, note takers end up typing verbatim what they hear in a lecture while not processing any of the information. Handwriting allows your brain to process the information easily and to give more time for the information to sink in.

Elise: The problem with handwriting notes is that teachers often talk too fast for students to keep up. Although it helps you remember information better, there’s no point if you don’t listen to the whole lecture because you’re too busy writing. Typing allows you to get the info down quickly while still listening.

2nd point:

Elise: Typing allows you to see what you’re writing more clearly. Handwritten brainstorming and notes often become illegible and confusing. Clear, typed information is easier to move around and edit. You don’t have to erase or rewrite anything, you can just copy-and-paste. This allows you to write confidently, without fear that you’ll have to rewrite things that you wrote in pencil or ink.

Anna: Although typing result in a more clean and clear final product, handwriting provides for more freedom with use of space. It is much easier to draw diagrams and make side notes with handwriting, as you are not bound by formatting or margins.

3rd point:

Anna: Handwriting ultimately allows the writer more ease of creativity and variation: with handwriting, you can use multiple writing utensils and write without being limited by fonts, sizes, or symbols.

Elise: Although typing isn’t quite as organic, it allows the neat-freak in all of us to stay organized and see the overall picture. Even if all your ideas are flowing quickly, you don’t need to worry about messiness and confusion on the page. This gives way to more creativity, as you can just let all your ideas out, without second guessing yourself.

There are clearly advantages to using both handwriting and electronic word pressing, and often times a mix of the two can be most beneficial! Obviously, both writing systems work differently for different writers. What is your preferred method of composition, and why? Comment on this post and let us know!

Bridging the Gap

Gap Year

by Reid Johnson, class of 2015

Last year I graduated from MHS. At the start of August, a few weeks before most of my friends started packing their belongings for college, I began stuffing some clothes, books, and notebooks into a backpack—the backpack from which I’d live out of for the next twelve months. Nine months ago I began a gap year, deferring my admission to the U of M to give myself a little time to do whatever I saw fit… a little adventure in between two big blocks of education.

I looked at the big future-college collage outside of the media center last June. Out of the roughly 700 kids who graduated with me only eight were under the label ‘gap year.’ So deferring college is not the norm. But the coolest things in life never are the norm anyway. Writing as a former MHS student, I know how our status-quo culture expects kids to move as a herd rather blindly down the path out the doors of high school directly onto the campus of a college.

I did not consider a gap year as being a legitimate option for me until about the start of my junior year. But even then I had no idea how to go about it, my perception being that all kids who do this type of thing had previous connections, clear goals, and specific expectations before taking action. Because no one, well-marked route exists I thought it was rather inconceivable that I could do something so daring. A good way to start is asking for a sheet in the College and Career Center and googling volunteer/intern programs or sweet places to travel. In Europe, gap years are much, much more common than in Minnetonka. People are doing this, and they are having the experiences of lifetimes.

Each person is unique, and each person should deliberately make unique choices depending on their personal passions… so for sure gap years are not the best choice for everyone, but gap years can/should be considered as a real and reachable path.

The freedom is huge. Education is fantastic, but it demands more time than a ¾-time job. Without a school schedule I’ve rediscovered the lost art of free reading, worked on a little novel, researched what I’m interested in, all on my own time through my own motivation. I’m not special, but I think it is a special chance for a 19 year-old to have so much personal time to devote to developing the way I work. Passion is something worth finding and cultivating, and gap years give us the chance to find the time that system-based education doesn’t provide.

Right now I’m writing this blog snippet sitting in the jungle of southeastern Peru. There is a pet monkey making faces at me from across the hallway and currently it is a little hard to concentrate while flocks of macaws and a stunning sunset slip past outside my screen door. It is a crazy neat deal being in the ‘real world’ traveling alone, walking into a hotel to book a room for the night, buying a plane ticket, crossing a national border, bartering for lunch at a market in rural Colombia. For the first time I am in a situation where I can take full control of my choices and full responsibility for their consequences. It is sometimes scary, potentially dangerous, often lonely, completely unpredictable, and always an adventure.


A market in Huancayo, a mountain city of Peru

For six months I taught English in a small Christian school in a gang controlled community of Tegucigalpa, Honduras as a missionary. For the last few months I have traveled solo around South America. Before this year I did not know the alphabet nor the colors in Spanish, and now I am able to have pretty natural conversations and translate for missionary groups. I’m not special, and I am not a courageous person (the hardest part even now is working up my nerve to talk to a stranger). I am simply convinced that the quickest way to learn, and the realest way to live, is to jump in, sink or swim style.

I think taking a gap year was a spectacular decision. I’m not selling anything, I just get excited about finding opportunities like these and so I’m passing on my story to you. Get out there, make memories, and make an impact.