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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

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

The Red Envelope Project: Spreading Love & Gratitude

By Lisa Hartsgrove

Love has nothing to do with what you are expecting to get—only with what you are expecting to give—which is everything. ― Katherine Hepburn

The other night in class, I drew a big heart on the whiteboard and asked my teen students to name some of the things they love. As I began filling in the heart with their responses, my students grew more and more excited―they loved so many things! From “drawing” to “pets” to “walks on the beach at sunset,” it wasn’t long before I passed the marker into their hands. They formed a line at the board, every one of them having something to add. Their words multiplied until they outgrew the heart, and then they made more hearts to fill with answers.

These are the kinds of moments I love most at Project Write Now―witnessing the connections that happen when people come together to write. In my class, I have students from Fair Haven, Ocean Township, West Long Branch, Middletown, Rumson, Port Monmouth, Shrewsbury, and Morganville. What brings them together each week are the stories they share and the power of their words, which create friendships that have deepened beyond our classroom walls.

The Red Envelope Project was inspired by moments like this and our desire to bring even more people together through a community project that is all about spreading love and gratitude. 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. When the page was full, the self-addressed, stamped red envelope was to be sent back to the studio. Read more

The Universal Writing Prompt: I Remember

By Allison Tevald

In my third semester of graduate school, I became seriously stuck in my writing. I was avoiding the blank page, afraid that what I wrote would suck and need to be scrapped, or, worse, that I would crack open and spill out something painful. My professor at the time was understanding and told me everything that we at PWN tell our students of all ages: Everyone has a story to tell. Write to find your voice. Write to discover. Do not self-edit while drafting.

Then, I got an email from him:

Subject: I forgot!

This one is essential: I Remember, by Joe Brainard

Reading Brainard’s memoir, I discovered if he has something to say about linoleum floors and oreo cookies dunked in milk, then I too had something important to say. I marveled at how, in scattered sentence and short-paragraph form, he zoomed in on his own personal moments, and then pulled out to a wider lens of common experiences. The scope was astounding, and his grace and honesty beautiful. Read more

Love, Loss & Everything In-Between: My Interview Experience

By Bethaney Clarke

This past summer, we had the honor of working with a group of talented teens as part of our Teen Internship Program. Two dozen teens volunteered their time assisting in our summer camps or interviewing and documenting the stories of Red Bank seniors and other notable citizens for “The Interview Project.” I loved every minute I spent with these incredible teens―training them and learning about them as writers, watching them teach lessons or coach the younger students in our summer camps, and seeing them present their interviewees at our celebration and speak about their experiences. This is such a special program that we offer and I wanted to offer a teen’s perspective, so I asked Bethaney to write about how “The Interview Project” impacted her.
–Jennifer Chauhan, Executive Director

Imagine you’re 85-years-old and no one has ever asked you to sit down and talk about your life experiences. Think of all of the things you’re dying to say and the things in life you’ve never stopped to consider, to remember, or to cherish. Think about the opportunity to make a connection with someone. Laughing, reflecting, crying, and smiling. Imagine the flood of thoughts and memories and emotions. How you can’t stop yourself from spontaneously changing from subject to subject because you haven’t touched these places in your life in so long and they’re all just rushing out of you. Read more

Fight for your Write: Girl Power

By Lisa Hartsgrove

They didn’t know what to expect. Neither did I. What might come out of a “girls only” writing group? Their experiences were all bound to be very different from one another; what was too sensitive a topic? Is there such a thing? How would I handle it? How would they? Read more

Voices of the In-Between

Lisa continues the practice of creating art and decorating the walls of her home.

Lisa continues the practice of creating art and decorating the walls of her home.

By Lisa Hartsgrove

I remember being 13 like it was just yesterday. It was the hardest year of my life. Hormones at their highest. Starting a new school. Constantly judging my self-worth against others. My parents not listening to me, or at least feeling that way. Not quite an adult; not quite a kid. Like many 13-year-olds, I thought I was lost. I thought I was alone.
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