Ink It Up! Q&A

We make writing fun! Join us this summer for a creative, enriching writing experience that allows children to explore their imaginations while building confidence and literacy skills.

We spoke with Lisa Hartsgrove, who is teaching our Ink It Up! summer workshop (July 15 – 19, 1 to 4 p.m.; ages 11-14) to find out more about what she loves about writing and drawing together.

Read more and register here.

PWN: What do you love about filling up journal pages with ink?

LISA: There’s something deeply satisfying about filling a page and triple-so about filling a notebook. It feels gratifying, like a job-well-done. Have you ever gone grocery shopping and crossed off each item as you found it? It’s kind of like that, but bigger and more meaningful. You’re not just putting things in a cart to feed your body, but you’re putting words and art on a page to feed your brain, your imagination, your creativity. It’s grocery shopping but for soul food.

PWN: What’s your go-to doodle?

LISA: Although I love cats, the images I draw most often are not feline-related. I tend to doodle more floral designs—daisies, roses, lilies. I like drawing them because there’s so much freedom in the way they appear. For instance, daisies have a very different shape than roses. And tulips are often bright pinks and purples while hydrangeas are often pastel. There are so many variations of flowers, so it’s easy to put your own spin on what a flower could look like. I also love images that can be used to fill in gaps (I rarely leave room for white space) such as spiderwebs, eyes, bubbles. And lots of barren trees.

PWN: What moment in the classroom gets you excited as an instructor?

LISA: The AH-HA moment! When I notice a shift in a student. When I see the spark go off. For instance, I once had a student who on Day 1 of camp claimed she “was not a writer or an artist.” She took the camp at the (strong) suggestion of her parents and didn’t feel as though she belonged. But by Day 3, she was writing and sharing her work with the group. Somewhere in that three-day span, she developed a confidence in something she didn’t know she had. And I believe that had a lot to do with the group—she saw other students writing and drawing and sharing their work without judgment. She felt safe and welcome, which led to her ability to create and experiment without fear. Her first share (about her struggle to find her identity) was the spark I was looking for—that AH-HA moment. When she could see that we were all learning and experimenting together, she was able to push past her own expectations. I love when I see that bell go off in my student’s head that tells them, “I AM a writer.”

PWN: Why do you write and draw together?

LISA: It has always been my understanding that art feeds art. Especially in writing. As writers, we repeat “show don’t tell”—and what is a drawing but a visual representation of a story? I’ve been art journaling most of my life—long before I knew it was called “art journaling.” I still have pages and pages from my high school years where I would both draw and write together. (Sometimes I even bring in old notebooks to show my students.) The first stories I ever wrote were told through drawings, and still, later in life, drawings have helped me express what words can’t always nail down. So I encourage my students to explore their creativity much the same way. We spend time writing, yes, but we also spend time drawing, painting, cutting up magazines, and listening to and learning from one another. It’s incredible to see my students light up when they realize they’re allowed to draw instead of write, or to spend time coloring in the corners of their pages, or to use different mediums like chalk or pastel. Imagine how much you can express when you break down the barriers that box in your art.

Read more and register here.

Lisa Hartsgrove is the Program Coordinator & Writing Instructor for Project Write Now.

You’re the Expert! Q&A

We make writing fun! Join us this summer for a creative, enriching writing experience that allows children to explore their imaginations while building confidence and literacy skills.

We spoke with Colleen Doogan, who is teaching our You’re the Expert summer camp (July 15 – 19, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.; ages 7-10) to find out more about why this is a great camp for young writers.

Read more and register here.

PWN: What’s the story behind this camp? Why did you want to offer “You’re the Expert?”

COLLEEN: I’ve seen too many students become unenthusiastic or unsure of what to write when asked to write stories or personal narratives. Not everyone wants to write their story or capture memories on paper, But a lot of kids want to teach others about something they are an “expert” on. It makes kids feel in charge. Smart. Like they know something others don’t. I had a boy in my class this past winter who was reluctant to write a story. I suggested he make a heart map to help him find ideas. On his heart map were the words “airplanes” and “helicopters.” When I asked him what story he had about an airplane or a helicopter, he started telling me a million facts (of which I had no idea) about both airplanes and helicopters. I immediately thought, “Why am I forcing this little guy to write a story when he clearly knows a lot about his interest and could write an expert book on it?” Boom. He started making his chapters and he was off and running! Then I thought about how an experience like this could help other young writers who are obsessed with or experts on all kinds of topics: dinosaurs, baseball, fashion, cats. So we created this camp.

PWN: What topic are you an expert on?

COLLEEN: I am expert on carpooling tweens and teenagers to all different corners of Monmouth County! I must say, though, that I have been given rules by my kids on how to do this job to perfection. I find that having cool music on is key, and turning it up very loud so no one can hear one another singing is a must. I try to be polite and not talk too much because my kids tell me, “No one cares, mom!” I am also an expert in organization and multitasking. I can picture a chapter in this book being called, “How a datebook, agenda, or calendar can save your life.”

PWN: What moment in the classroom gets you excited as an instructor?

COLLEEN: I love when kids are engaged. I love when they work together and help one another. I love when we all work together as a team and kids don’t see me as someone who has all the answers, but rather they see me as someone who wants to co-author the class with my students.

PWN: Why do you write?

COLLEEN: I write to reflect. I write to plan. I write to capture memories and record things that have happened. I write mostly about my kids, but wish I could write more about the loss of my parents and how much I miss them. I will. Someday. But for now, I will keep writing about this crazy life I am part of so I can look back and say, “Wow! You made it!”

Read more and register here.

Colleen Doogan is the Education Director & Writing Instructor for Project Write Now.

Q & A with Gravity Goldberg

We are honored to have author and educator Gravity Goldberg present at our third annual “Writing on the River: A Spring Retreat for Teachers,” to be held Sunday, March 31, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Oyster Point Hotel in Red Bank. She will speak on the theme of how we can be our authentic selves in and out of the classroom. Gravity is an international educational consultant and author of five books on teaching. She has almost 20 years of teaching experience, including positions as a science teacher, reading specialist, third grade teacher, special educator, literacy coach, staff developer, assistant professor, educational consultant, and yoga teacher. Gravity holds a B.A. and M.Ed. from Boston College and a doctorate in education from Teachers College, Columbia University. She is the founding director of Gravity Goldberg, LLC, a team that provides side-by-side coaching for teachers.

Our education director, Colleen Doogan, recently interviewed Gravity Goldberg so we could learn a little more about her before she speaks at our retreat.

Colleen: What do you enjoy most about your job?
Gravity: Because I’m hired to support teachers with reading and writing instruction, I lead workshops, model lessons, plan curriculum, and offer feedback. What I love most is creating a learning space for teachers to see their students in a different way. I get to bring a new perspective into the classroom, which allows us to let students be our guides. I feel the most successful when teachers trust themselves to make decisions based on what their particular students need next.

Colleen: What is your writing process?
Gravity: It depends on the project. Usually an idea gets stuck in my mind and I end up thinking about it, talking about it, and researching it for a while. I’m a big planner. I list and outline. When I begin to draft, I need long chunks of time (like 12 hours). I usually draft a whole chapter in a day and need that sustained time. Since having my son that’s been a challenge, so my process is evolving. I’ve been writing shorter chapters that fit into just a few hours. I’m also a big reviser. I’m OK with throwing out whole sections, rewriting it, and moving things around a lot. I never feel finished so a deadline is how I know I’m done.

Colleen: Who was most instrumental in helping you publish your latest book?
Gravity: My editor, Ariel, approached me with the idea, served as a thinking partner, and believed I could actually get it done within a short time frame before my baby was due. Leo was also instrumental because he gave me a clear deadline.

Colleen: Can you describe a moment in teaching that you will never forget?
Gravity: One year when I was teaching third grade, Harry Potter was new and popular and I used it as a theme for giving students their writing notebooks. I had all the notebooks in a large box, and I pretended that it was like the sorting hat. I held each notebook, put it to my ear, and pretended it was telling me who it was meant for. I called the student’s name and the class cheered. I said to the class, “Your notebooks have been waiting for you. Go write.” I still remember the level of student engagement and the excitement they felt to begin writing.

Colleen: What does a day look like when you are not working?
Gravity: As a new mom, my days are filled with playing, reading books, going for walks, and changing diapers. I find moments to listen to audiobooks and podcasts. After 7 p.m., when Leo goes to sleep, I spend time with my husband and try to catch up with emails and work.

Colleen: What is a favorite book from your childhood?
Gravity: The Nutcracker, by E.T.A. Hoffmann, because my dad used to read it to me every year at Christmas. It had gorgeous illustrations and a magical story.

Colleen: What is a quote you tend to live by?
Gravity: Be here now.

Colleen: What would be one word that you would use to describe yourself?
Gravity: Purpose-driven.

Colleen Doogan is the education director and a writing instructor at Project Write Now. Gravity Goldberg is an international educational consultant and author of five books on teaching.

How to Submit: The Journey of Contest Submission

by Elizabeth Jannuzzi

Find the Contest Opportunity

I cruise through my CRWROPPS (Creative Writers Opportunities) emails that come in. I see one that catches my eye. I’m intrigued because the contest is for flash nonfiction and I had fun writing a one-minute memoir for a previous contest from Brevity. And then I’m wow’ed by the $500 prize. I don’t really think I could win, but … it would be fun to write and fun to try. Read more

Q&A with Ray Brunt, PWN’s Newest Instructor

by Ray Brunt & Elizabeth Januzzi

Project Write Now is excited to announce a new addition to our pool of instructors. Ray Brunt has been around Project Write Now for a while now, participating in events such as our Visiting Writers Series and Voices & Verse. Ray received his MFA in Fiction from Sierra Nevada College in 2017. This fall, he is teaching Emerging Writers on Thursdays from 7 to 9 p.m. Our Writers Institute community manager, Elizabeth Januzzi, sat down with Ray to get to know him better.

Liz: Hi Ray! How was your summer?

Ray: Great! I caught up on some reading I’ve wanted to do. I guess that’s the benefit of so much rain, right? I also took a class at The Writers Studio in New York. I think it’s good to see what various writers programs are up to. I look forward to sharing ideas I’ve picked up with students in the EW class.

Liz: Would you share with us some of what you’ve read this summer?

Ray: Sure. I’ve gone back to catch up on some memoirs I’ve wanted to read or revisit such as Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Patti Smith’s Just Kids, and also her more recent, M Train. I always try to read from short story collections, as well. I just re-read J.D. Salinger’s Nine Short Stories, and also read an amazing collection by Miranda July, No One Belongs Here More Than You.

Liz: You are teaching a class this fall at Project Write Now and you are also on our board. Why Project Write Now?

Ray: I’ve been interested in what Project Write Now has been up to for some time. After attending many different events and discussing the organization with the founders, I felt this was a group that was committed to doing great things for the community. My love of writing and my previous board and business experience just seemed to be a perfect fit.

Liz: What can your students expect from your teaching style?

Ray: First and foremost, I want this class to be fun. If you’re not enjoying class, if you’re not looking forward to coming, then something is wrong. I want to make it interesting for everyone at all levels and provide encouragement and ways for everyone to advance what it is they are trying to do. There will be some writing exercises, reading assignments, workshopping, as well as brief lectures and discussions about what makes for great storytelling.

Liz: You are working on a series of linked short stories. How is your project coming?

Ray: It’s a work in progress. I’ve got about a dozen stories teed up, but I still have more editing to do and decisions to make. I’m hoping to get one or more of the stories published in the next year or so.

Liz: Tell us something about yourself that your students would be surprised to learn.

Ray: I won an award in high school for the best short story by a high school student in New Jersey and was too embarrassed to go to the awards ceremony.

Liz: Oh no! We are glad you’ve gotten over your shyness to help lead fellow writers on their writing journeys. See you around the Studio!

Find out more about Ray’s class, Emerging Writers.

Ray Brunt is a writing instructor and board member for Project Write Now. Elizabeth Januzzi is the Writers Institute community manager for Project Write Now.

Teacher Feature: Mimi Cross


As summer camps are in session, we’re highlighting our last (but certainly not least!) fabulous instructor. The tenth and final is Mimi Cross, who teaches Songwriting Studio.

1. What music artist most inspires you and your writing?

This questions is nearly impossible for me to answer. When I’m working on a novel, I make at least one playlist that might have as many as 80 songs on it. If I had to narrow it down to a handful of artists, I would say Pete Yorn, The xx, U2, Carter Burwell, Nico Muhly, Lo-Fang, The Killers/Brandon Flowers, James Blake … ok maybe this is impossible!

I listened to this playlist while writing my most recent manuscript. From there you can also find other playlists I’ve posted.

2. What was your favorite book as a child?

As a child my favorite book was The Velveteen Rabbit. I was fascinated by the many-layered idea that love makes things “real,” and I can still imagine the feel of the bunny’s plush fur.

3. What are you most looking forward to about this year’s summer camp?

I’m really excited about this summer’s Songwriting Studio! I’m most looking forward to meeting the participants. The teens who sign up for this camp will be setting the tone. I’ll set the pace, introduce skills, etc., but my main job will be to support the participants in expressing themselves through music and lyrics both individually and as a group. They’ll lead the way. I’ll try to keep up! I really can’t wait.

Be sure to check out our camp list and register at

Mimi Cross is a Writing Instructor for Project Write Now.

Teacher Feature: Jason Kady

As summer camps are in session, we’ve decided to highlight one of our fabulous instructors each week, giving you a glimpse into who they are and why they LOVE teaching writing. The ninth is Jason Kady, who teaches Sports Writing and just won Teacher of the Year at Von E. Mauger Middle School in Middlesex, NJ.

1. What is your favorite sport to play and to watch?

I love to watch and play both basketball and baseball. At an early age, my father introduced me to baseball and shared his love for the sport. As I grew and gained a passion for it, I developed into a very good player. There is nothing like strategizing through a baseball game, the crack of the bat, or the pleasure of a called “Strike 3.” I also discovered basketball at an early age, largely teaching myself how to play, and eventually developed into a very good player. I honed my skills at the playgrounds throughout Central Jersey and several of New York’s boroughs as well as on my high school basketball team. The thrill of a dunk, winning jump shot, or defensive break down all draw me to the sport. I continue to play to this day, although not quite as competitively! My passion runs deep for both sports, and I couldn’t imagine life without either one!

2. If money/time/etc. was no object, where would you most want to travel?

I would love to travel to Europe, where I have never been. In particular, London, Paris, and Rome. The rich history weaved throughout Europe is something that attracts me to each city, and the continent as a whole. I am also a huge fan of Southern California and Chicago (where I have family), so I love to travel there whenever I can.

3. What is the best part of teaching at Project Write Now?

The best part of teaching at Project Write Now is the allowance of creativity and discovery. The constraints of curriculum are lifted, and students are able to go wherever their creativity takes them. Writing can be very much like sports, where quick thinking and creativity often result in spectacular things!

Be sure to check out our camp list and register at

Jason Kady is a Writing Instructor for Project Write Now.

Teacher Feature: Jim McConville

As summer camps are in session, we’ve decided to highlight one of our fabulous instructors each week, giving you a glimpse into who they are and why they LOVE teaching writing. The eighth is Jim McConville, who teaches Fantastic Voyage.

1. What led you to teach at PWN?

I came to PWN after attending a few teacher workshops and writing conferences at your location in Red Bank. (I’m an English teacher in Shrewsbury.) I spoke with Colleen and Jen and said that I would love to get more involved and teach a class at PWN if there was ever an opening, and a few months later they came to me with this awesome idea.

2. What is it about fantastic, alternate worlds that makes them so fun to write and read about?

Something about a different sense of possibilities, maybe. There is something so freeing about suspending belief and just going in the direction that an author or your imagination leads you. From the moment I read The Hobbit in middle school, I knew that I had always wanted to live in The Shire, where everything is green and seemingly uncomplicated. Day-to-day can be quite dull and bleak and limited at times. It’s lovely to venture somewhere else.

3. What book world would you want to live in?

In the previous question, I said that I would love to live in The Shire, so I’ll pick a different one for this question. This isn’t as much of a fantasy world, but I have always loved the way that John Steinbeck describes the Salinas Valley in California. The setting becomes a character in all of his novels that I have read, and I just love the sense of community that he describes. There’s something incredibly romantic about that type of land–rivers and valleys and green as far as the eye can see. Whether it’s the Shire or the Salinas Valley or somewhere else, it would have to be somewhere not overly developed with plenty of space to walk and think and soak in all the beautiful earth.

Be sure to check out our camp list and register at

Jim McConville is a Writing Instructor for Project Write Now.

Teacher Feature: Jennifer Shields

As summer camps have begun, we’ve decided to highlight one of our fabulous instructors each week, giving you a glimpse into who they are and why they LOVE teaching writing. The seventh is Jennifer Shields, who co-teaches Girls Write Now.

1. What is your favorite underappreciated novel? How can writing help benefit your well being?

Your question reminded me of a book that speaks to girls and their quest for identity during the thorny adolescent years, written by the wild and willowy haired Margaret Atwood, called Cat’s Eye. Some of you may be familiar with her novel The Handmaid’s Tale, which has become a television series. Atwood is masterful in her characterization of young adolescent girls struggling with friendship hierarchy–who is in, who is out. The girls are at times ruthless to the point of leaving one girl for dead, almost freezing to death in the bottom of an ice-laden ravine. The novel weaves past and present narratives of the protagonist, Elaine Risley, exploring the lasting impact tumultuous friendships can have on the formation of the adult self.

2. Why is it important to teach girls to find their voices through writing?

It is important because it enables them to reflect in a deeper and more grounded way. Verbal expression is not always accessible to a young person in the moment; it takes years of practice. But with writing, we can teach them to revisit situations that may have been painful or challenging or joyous and write about them through different lenses–taking on the perspective of the other, writing about a situation and changing the outcome, looking back 10 years from now. But the importance, the true growth from the writing, is in the sharing. Speaking one’s true voice is an exercise young girls can carry with them throughout life.

3. How can writing benefit your well being?

Writing can be the great equalizer, especially when the written word is shared and discussed in a safe, supportive environment–away from instagram, away from snapchat, away from the pings and concomitant trigger of anxious rush. Girls Write Now is like a sleepover party for the real self. The real self gets to hang out, stay up late, and share stories of fear and wonder, hopes and dreams, darkness and light, uncensored and maybe even told for the first time. But that story is so like yours, and yours, and yours … and mine.

Be sure to check out our camp list and register at

Jennifer Shields is a Writing Instructor & Counselor for Project Write Now.

Teacher Feature: Sami Strauss

As summer camps are in session, we’ve decided to highlight one of our fabulous instructors each week, giving you a glimpse into who they are and why they LOVE teaching writing. The sixth is Sami Strauss, who teaches Animal Tales.

1. What do you most love about writing?

What I love about writing is that it consistently leaves me in awe. I’m in awe of my students at what they accomplish, no matter the age, no matter the student. I am honestly in awe of myself when I actually finish a writing task that felt so enormous I thought I would never complete it. Mostly, I am in awe of my favorite authors of novels because their work is so incredible to me it feels almost magical that it can be done!

2. What’s different about teaching at Project Write Now?

Teaching at Project Write Now is always surprising. I am put in a room with a mix of students who come from different schools, different towns, or even different grades within the same school. Everyone starts off feeling a little shy or uncomfortable, but by the end of the camp they are fast friends, congratulating each other on triumphs, empathizing with struggles, and sharing so much of who they are. That is the beauty of Project Write Now and writing–it can bring anyone together!

3. What is your favorite animal, and why?

My favorite animal is a penguin, and there is an interesting story why. When I was in 1st grade, I “chose” a giraffe as my favorite animal because everyone had one, and I needed to get on board. My family and I went to the Bronx Zoo one weekend, and since giraffes were apparently my jam, I needed to get a figurine from the gift shop. Much to my dismay, the gift shop was sold out of giraffes. They did, however, have a cute little penguin. Not wanting to go home empty handed, I decided on the penguin as my souvenir. In my seven-year-old mind, this meant that penguins had to be my new favorite animal, and they were from that day forward. (I now have a collection of over 50 penguins!)

Be sure to check out our camp list and register at

Sami Strauss is a Writing Instructor for Project Write Now.