Using What Kids Love to Inspire Writing

by Colleen Doogan

I remember when my kids were little they had things they were obsessed with, mesmerized with, and simply in love with. They went through stages of these passions and obsessions and no matter how long or short they were, I remember every single one of them. Why? Because they taught me about new topics every day. “Mom, did you know that there are 60 different LEGO colors? Slime is a liquid? The fastest train goes 267 mph?”

Kids become experts on topics that excite them very quickly. They get hooked and then they live and breathe that topic for a long time. When they talk to someone about it, they are really teaching them about it. As writing teachers, we can tap into this enthusiasm and knowledge and nudge kids to write about these topics in fun, creative ways that others can learn from.

I recently was working with a student who filled in a heart map with many close-to-his-heart ideas, such as his mom and dad, the beach, boogie boarding, his cousins, the movies, soccer, and helicopters and airplanes. After complimenting him on his heart map and for being able to think of ideas for stories, he said, “These are not ideas for stories. I don’t like to write stories.” The writing teacher in me immediately wanted to respond with, “but we are working on stories and thinking about the most important moment to explode in our stories,” but I didn’t. I looked at his heart-map again (stalling a bit, maybe) and asked the writer to pick something off the map and tell me what he knows about it. He immediately perked up as he began talking about the propellers and engines of helicopters as if he had just published a best-selling book. He clearly enjoys science and aerodynamics and all that goes along with how helicopters (and airplanes, I later found out) fly. It was then that I suggested he write what he just told me, and we talked about putting a book together about planes. From that moment on, this writer became excited and focused on writing a book. He even created a table of contents: parts of a plane, different types of planes, world’s fastest plane, plane supplies, and fun facts. He had knowledge of something he was passionate about that he wanted to share with others. Read more

Reflections on Visiting Writer Katie Arnold

Last week, Katie Arnold, author of the memoir Running Home, joined us for lunch at the studio to talk about her work. She answered questions about her experiences as an author and athlete and shared insight into the process of writing a memoir. After the Reading & Lunch, PWN’s resident blog writer and writing instructor Jennifer Gaites sat down with Allison Tevald, co-founder, program director, and writing instructor, to reflect on Katie’s talk and her memoir. Check out their follow-up discussion:

Jen: I was surprised to learn that Running Home is a book about grief, not just running—that the running was her process through the grief.

Allison: We’ve heard about processing grief through breath. It seems running is sort of a methodical (and accelerated?) way of expelling breath, while training the mind to quiet. Running and writing have both been proven to benefit mental health. I’m impressed with her devotion to both.

Jen: She definitely draws the parallel between running and writing. It takes tremendous discipline to practice both regularly and to push through discomfort. I’m interested in any story that explores that journey.

Allison: But the practice of running and writing are not exciting or dramatic. They don’t make for good stories unless bad things happen!

Jen: Well, she has two things working for her in that respect: she literally runs through hazardous and dramatic terrain, but she’s also exploring the landscape of grief … exterior and interior drama!

Allison: Katie said she keeps notebooks, as she calls them (not diaries, journals, etc.) without giving them the burden that the writing in them will become something. Just lets herself be present to life and records those moments.

Jen: She perused all of these notebooks and wrote about her grief until the story revealed itself to her. I think that all the work she does, the collecting of scenes and small explorations of daily events, is hugely important to her process.

Allison: One major takeaway for me was Katie’s telling of the story of her thinking memory vs. her feeling memory. How she accesses memories from her body in a way her brain can’t.

Jen: I’ve actually been a little obsessed with that since the talk. I loved thinking about where memory exists and her suggestion that it exists in our bodies—in our muscles and limbs, our senses.

Allison: I appreciated the different angle of accessing memories, and not relying on the old “sensory detail” method we preach. It was a refreshingly simple take.

Jen: She listens to her body in a very practiced and deliberate way. That’s where I think her running enhances her writing. I just kept asking myself, how we can encourage that for our students?

Allison: We’ve watched countless students have transportal experiences doing the “I Remember” writing exercise. Once, an adult outreach student was taken aback because she could suddenly smell her piano teacher, someone she hadn’t thought about in decades. Her writing about a piano lesson brought it all back, a memory she didn’t even known she had.

Jen: That is fascinating. The physical manifestation of memory is so powerful.

Allison: I usually assign my students a meditative act or non-writing activity that they think will fuel their writing, like running, walking, drawing, etc. But I’d like to find a way to stress or inspire this idea of permission or even duty to write, revise, and finish our stories.

Jen: So much comes back to giving ourselves permission. She was, in a way, very spiritual about the whole thing, no?

Allison: I kept thinking of the title of Joyce Carol Oates’s craft book: The Faith of a Writer. She definitely seemed to hold faith in the writing practice and the story that needs to be told emerging.

Jen: Which seems to square well with her running practice. She puts a lot of trust in herself that her body will get her where she wants to go. Same for her writing. She didn’t sit down to write every day with the expectation of putting together a story with a clear outcome; she set out to write what was on her mind or something she observed. That was enough. Her faith in that process and its importance was simple but also inspiring.

Allison: A common question of writers is, “What is your process?” What did you think of Katie’s answer about that?

Jen: I liked the emphasis she put on the daily habit of writing, specifically in longhand, which is another physical experience.

Allison: From tucking an index card into her sports bra before a run, to using voice to text in memos, to her seemingly strict daily schedule …

Jen: She talked about the specifics of her writing habits, but ultimately there was also a real feeling of “trusting the process” and allowing the story to move through her.

Allison: Yes! She even said that the title just “came to her” while on a run. It wasn’t yet a title, but just two words that she “wrote toward” for a while.

Jen: Has that ever happened to you?

Allison: Absolutely. I jot them down in a section of my notebook called “Snippets.”

Jen: The closest I’ve come to those fleeting inspirations is during the mundane and repetitive act of folding laundry [laughs]. But, I think any meditative activity, it doesn’t have to be running, can trigger those moments of clarity.

Allison: The key is capturing them. Well … then writing a whole book around them.

Jennifer Gaites is Project Write Now’s resident blog writer and writing instructor and Allison Tevald is co-founder, program director, and writing instructor.

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.

Behind the Summer Camp Scenes

By Sophia W. G. & Lisa Hartsgrove

As the Project Write Now team came together to discuss our next blog post, we thought—what better way to showcase our summer camps than to hear from one of our students? So Lisa Hartsgrove, PWN Program Coordinator & Writing Instructor, sat down with Sophia W. G., 15, to find out why she took not one but THREE camps last year.

Lisa: How did you first hear about Project Write Now?

Sophia: I heard about PWN through an adult creative writing class that you (Lisa Hartsgrove) were running as part of your master’s program. I was instantly drawn to your contagious charisma and same shared passion of writing. One day, you mentioned PWN, and I enrolled immediately.

Lisa: Aww … what camps did you participate in last year?

Sophia: Last year I participated in The Interview Project, Ink It Up!, and Girls Write Now. In each camp, I discovered new things about myself. The Interview Project was a magnificent experience, especially since I have aspirations to become a journalist someday. I was taught valuable lessons on topics that are essential to know when interviewing people. Ink It Up! was also an enjoyable and unique camp. It was not entirely writing based—it was also artistic! I’ll be the first to admit I am no Van Gogh, but in this camp I discovered how my writing can be turned into a masterpiece just by using the right color gel pen. Girls Write Now was my personal favorite, though, because of the friendships ignited, the thought-provoking prompts we indulged in, and the deep conversations we had as a group. All in all, in every class or camp I register for at Project Write Now, I am always astounded at the blooming talent that comes out of teens my age. I am beyond grateful to take part in such an open, supportive, passionate, and educational environment.

Lisa: Wow, what a great answer! Thank you! Is there any one thing you remember the most from your camp experience?

Sophia: The beautiful diversity among people and their writing. Read more

Teacher Feature: Joy Newcomb


As summer camps approach, 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 second is Joy Newcomb, who teaches Superhero Mash-Up.

1. Why do you teach?

I think it was what I was born to do. By the time I was eight years old, I knew I wanted to be the one in the front of the classroom. I have always loved working with kids, and I believe I have a talent for motivating them and helping them find their inspiration. There is no greater joy in my life than seeing the pride a student feels in their accomplishments.

2. What drew you to choose superhero stories as the subject for your writing camp?

I chose superhero stories for two reasons. First, superheroes and their villainous counterparts have existed as long as stories have, and even before writing. Second, I think people, kids in particular, are naturally drawn to these types of stories. The only limits to superhero tales are within the writer’s imagination, and I love that this camp gives students the opportunity to stretch those limits!

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

I am a huge fan of Harry Potter, so without a doubt I would live in J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world of Harry Potter. I can think of no more fantastic existence than to be a professor at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and spend my leisurely weekends watching quidditch matches and poking around in the shops of Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley.


Be sure to check out our camp list and register at

Joy Newcomb is a Writing Instructor for Project Write Now.

Embracing Rejection

by Eileen Toomey

At eight months’ pregnant, the trip from my apartment to the mailboxes in the lobby felt long. Every day, I trudged down the foil-wallpapered hallway in flip flops because my feet were swollen, opened the wrought-iron door, and took the elevator down three floors. I was 27. My husband and I had just moved to New Jersey from Baltimore where I had finished my BA in English. I thought of this time as my “last ditch effort” to become a published author before the baby came. I had a short story and some poems that my favorite professor said were ready to send out. Without stressing too much, I wrote my bio: Eileen Toomey has no previous publications, sent out my stamped, self-addressed envelopes, and then continually checked the mailbox, waiting for a reply.

My first rejection came from Story Magazine, which, in its second life (revived by Lois Rosenthal, a famous publisher), was very highly regarded. I received a form letter without a personal salutation: “We appreciate the opportunity to consider your work. We regret having to return it, blah, blah …” But underneath, in that beautiful handwriting of my parents’ generation, was: “Dear Eileen Toomey: Thanks for sending ‘Twisted and Glittery.’ I’m sorry to have to return it to you. Sincerely, LR.” It was nice that someone wrote me a note, but a rejection is a rejection. I felt the pang, the gut reaction that I still have when I get a nonacceptance, but I moved on.

Having just joined a writing group, I brought the note to our next meeting. “My first rejection,” I announced, not knowing who LR was. Someone in the group gasped, “LR! That’s Lois Rosenthal, the publisher! That’s great!”

“It’s still a rejection.”

“No,” she answered, “You’ll see …” Read more

TEACHER FEATURE: Lisa Hartsgrove

As summer camps approach, 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 first is Lisa Hartsgrove, who runs the Teen Internship Programs and also teaches Ink It Up, Girls Write Now, Poetry Undercover, and Short Shorts.

1. What does writing mean to you?

Some people run. Some people dance. Some people paint, sing, swim. Writing to me is like that. Writing is my running, my dancing. It’s my practice and my passion. Writing, for me, is an act of discovery, an adventure, how I have come to know myself and the world around me, and how I continue to do so.

2. What’s one of your favorite memories from summer camps at PWN?

Oh, what a hard question! I have so many great memories! One that jumps to my mind right away is the collaborative aspect of Ink It Up. From working together each year to create a sketchbook that gets housed in The Brooklyn Art Library to painting and decorating our own studio bookshelf, I love seeing how art and writing can bring my students together to forge meaningful friendships and create awesome new ways to showcase their many talents.

3. As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?

Anyone who knows me knows that my answer is always going to be some kind of cat. For this question, I’m going to say my animal is a lion, because she is fierce when she needs to be, but also soft. Because she is wild, but also part of a pack. And that is how I feel as a writer.

Be sure to check out our camp list and register at

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

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