Low Stakes, Lasting Impact in a Summer Writing Camp

by Leah Mermelstein

“Some people wonder if it is possible for parents and teachers to make writing enjoyable, as well as deeply engaging for kids. Not only is it is possible, but it’s one of the MOST important ways we can teach children how to improve the quality of their writing.”

My daughter loves to write. So much that when her 5th birthday rolled around, she wanted it to be a writing party. Ariana chooses to create books the same way she chooses blocks—with a sense of joy and curiosity. As a writing consultant who helps teachers teach writing, I was thrilled.

On the big day, I gathered her friends around me in a circle in our living room and flipped through different types of books—wordless books, books with pictures and words, story books, and even teaching books—watching the excitement grow on their faces. I then told them they could make ANY kind of book they wanted and sent them off with blank journals and colorful felt tip pens. Without hesitating, the kids found a comfortable space and were happily writing, all the while sharing their wildly creative ideas aloud and trading fancy pens.

One little girl remained behind. In a shaky voice, she told me that she didn’t know how to write words. I calmly told her she could make a book of drawings from her imagination. She perked up, her eyes brightening, and within minutes announced she was creating a chapter book all in pictures about two sisters living in a palace. By the end of the party, she worked up the courage to title her book: Two Loving Sisters. Amazing how when the stakes are low, children do more. And they truly had a blast.

Some people wonder if it is possible for parents and teachers to make writing enjoyable, as well as deeply engaging for kids. Not only is it is possible, but it’s one of the MOST important ways we can teach children how to improve the quality of their writing. Writing can happen anytime and anywhere when a writer lets their creativity flow. Sometimes Ariana plans her writing time, i.e. a writing party, but most of the time it’s spontaneous, such as when she grabbed some scrap paper to journal what she was observing on our trip to Charleston, South Carolina. Read more

Why Kids Need to Joy Write

By Colleen Doogan

As someone who has loved writing since I was a little kid, I used to imagine my own children—now ages 12, 11, and 9—walking around with decorated notebooks in hand, ready to scribble down story ideas. Or bumping into walls because their heads were buried in books. But, no such luck.

I’d wonder, “What am I doing wrong? Why don’t they love reading and writing like I do?” After all, I am a literacy teacher and writing advocate, so why don’t my kids love writing?

Thankfully, I have a writing mentor who has shed some light on my frustration. In his latest book, Joy Write, acclaimed author and educational consultant Ralph Fletcher explains that “… today kids aren’t developing a love of writing. They’re just not. We can do better. We have to do better.” I agree. But how is the big question. Read more

On the Importance Of Writers Groups

By Vivian Parkin DeRosa

During the summer between 8th grade and high school, I decided to leave my bedroom. Prior to this, I believed writers were supposed to be alone. I spent a great deal of my time by myself, carefully constructing novel plots and reading poems out loud. Only my walls heard them. I admired writers like Emily Dickinson who managed to spend most of their lives inside of their own homes, working away on their craft. Read more

It’s Coming Together!

By Jennifer Chauhan

Last night, I drove home up the Garden State Parkway in a euphoric daze singing along to, of all things, “Party in the USA,” by Miley Cyrus. I had just left Project Write Now’s studio, where we had held a rehearsal for our upcoming fundraising event, “Come Together: A Performance + Party,” to be held next Friday, October 13, at the Two River Theater.

With our adult and teen writers, a percussionist, and a guitar player, we forged ahead as best we could in our cozy studio, chairs on top of each other, musicians tucked between desks. One by one, our writers stood and read the pieces they’ve been writing and rewriting for the past few weeks––their personal stories of loss, love, perseverance, and discovery. We practiced our lines, paused, played around with musical interludes, and read again. We laughed at our missteps and encouraged one another to keep going, to move past missed lines and near falls.
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Dear College Essay Writer

Dear College Essay Writer,

You are about to go through a huge transformation. All that stress you’re feeling about writing the most important essay of your life? It’s going to be gone. One day, a few weeks from now, you will walk away from our studio light on your toes, confident you have just written the best essay you possibly could have written.

Here’s how it works. You come to the studio with no idea what to write about or you’ve already written a draft that answers an essay question. Or you’re somewhere in-between. A writing instructor will have a conversation with you about what the essay is supposed to show the reader. (It’s an opportunity to showcase your voice, how you think, what you care about, and/or your desired purpose in life.) The topic can be anything—butterflies, fantasy football, making homemade pasta on Sundays, singing stress away—because you will show who you are through the writing.

The writing instructor will find out about you, where you live and go to school, activities you’re involved in, what you do to relax, and what keeps you up at night. There is always a moment where, through discussion, the essay “appears.” You will suddenly know what the story is, because the essay is really a story that you can tell that no one else in this world can.

Then, we provide exactly what you need—that all of us need—to write: time and space. In our studio, you will be among people who are also focused and writing. Our writing instructors will be available if you get stuck, have a question, need to be redirected, or need to be pushed to find just the right word or phrase. Then you will discover, if you haven’t already, that writing a strong essay is a process. Trust the process. As you revise, you need time between drafts to think. And you need deadlines.
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Why Being a Writer Is Essential to Being a Teacher

By Colleen Doogan

I have always loved to write. As a kid I kept journals, chronicling the day-to-day ups and downs. In middle school, I was captured by Sweet Valley High romance novels and wrote my own sequels. In high school, I kept busy by writing sports articles for the school newspaper, and I had a column in our local newspaper called Colleen’s Corner in which I reported on weekly happenings in our area. I wrote 10-page letters to a pen pal in South Dakota and many more to my grandmother while I was away at college.

This love for writing continued well into my adult years―even helping me get together with my now-husband, as we answered getting-to-know-you questions over email for two months prior to meeting in person.

But until the summer of 2001, I thought my writing life was separate from my teaching life.
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Life Stories: Keep Delivering

Lisa M.’s mother and her siblings

By Lisa McLaughlin

My mom died last summer. Her sister, my Aunt Mary, died nine months before that. Eight months before that, her other sister, my Aunt Doris, died. In the span of a year and a half, I lost the three major forces in my life.

What I did not lose was their stories. I did not lose their stories because I have been writing them down. For years. It does not make the loss of these women any less painful, but going back to these stories is a way to connect with them even if they are no longer on earth.

Some of the best stories my mom and aunts told me were about their family of six kids growing up in South Orange, N.J., during the Depression.
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Just Another Day at PWN

By Casey RJ Dalrymple

The first assignment was to find love poems — short ones. Having just graduated with a degree in literature, hewing close in my studies to brief lyric poetry (not out of aesthetic concerns so much as out of time restrictions), I was delighted. Still, it was my first day, so I hesitated to show it to the room, cluttered with red envelopes for an event later that evening, the three women I just met in it trading words and papers at an intimidating rate. Read more

For Our Young Writers: Telling Their Stories Is Key

By Eileen Huang

The inimitable Toni Morrison once said, “If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.” I’ve carried this adage with me since I first started writing. I’ve written the things I want to read—the unsayable and ephemeral that can only be fully captured on paper.

I was not surprised to see students at Project Write Now do the same. Since I first began volunteering as an intern at PWN’s after-school writing studio, I’ve seen middle school students write pieces that are impressive in both their memorable language and complete originality. I’ve read stories from students about time travel, late-night existential crises, and crumbling dystopian worlds. Once, a boy wrote a poem about grief in a way many older writers cannot. “I remember you,” read one line, “the way you laughed with your mouth barely open.” These are fleeting moments, details you can miss in life with a single blink. Read more

The “I Love” Epic Poem

Photo Credit: Christine Enna

This poem is the culmination of The Red Envelope Project, a community project about spreading love and gratitude as far and wide as it can go. During the month of February, Project Write Now team members handed red envelopes all over Red Bank, N.J., with a piece of paper inside, prompting receivers to add their line of “I love ____” and pass it on. Envelopes poured in for weeks, some coming from as far away as Texas. PWN team members wove those lines into this epic poem, which was read by all who attended our event at Glen Goldbaum’s Lambs & Wolves on March 2.

I love kisses and hugs.
I love spending time with my friends, both near and far.
I love the smell of garlic and olive oil cooking.
I love sleeping in my bed.
I love promises of tomorrow.
I love my new puppy, Eli.
I love growing acorns into trees.
I love my mom and dad.
I love art and photography.
I love pink frosting on cupcakes.
I love watching TV with my husband.
I love to be hugged and kept warm.
I love seeing my students smile.
I love eating ice cream with my brother.
I love where I live.
I love my family, teaching, and going outside.
I love mac and cheese and surprises.
I love playing with my sweet and happy dog, Socks.
I love going on vacation with my whole family.
I love jumping into cool water on hot days.
I love grilled cheese sandwiches.
I love creating beauty in the world. Read more