How One Nonprofit Uses Social Media To Build Writers & Encourage Storytelling

A few months ago, I found myself longing to be in a writing workshop class like the ones I'd taken in college. I missed sitting in a room with other writers, talking about craft and each other's work.

I did some quick research online to see what was available through my local community college, but nothing worked with my schedule. I forgot about my quest for a while, and then one day on Instagram I saw I had a new follower: a local non-profit called Project Write Now. They were located in my area and they had exactly the kind of classes I'd been seeking.

Since Instagram brought us together, I thought it would be interesting to talk to Project Write Now about how social media plays a role in how they communicate with their community and how they get their message out.

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What is Project Write Now?

Project Write Now is a nonprofit organization dedicated to building a writing community and helping people of all ages become better writers. We provide free writing workshops for qualifying organizations and schools, as well as fee-based classes to children, teens, and adults in our Red Bank studio. Last February, we launched an after-school writing program called "The Studio," open by application to 12- to 14-year-old local students. We also hold literary events, including our "An Artist's Perspective" seminar series, which runs monthly and features local artists speaking about their craft. Our goal is to bring people together to write and share their stories.

How was Project Write Now founded?

Jennifer Chauhan started a private writing studio in her career change, following her love of writing and teaching. But she wanted to reach more people, people who might not seek writing support or identify as a writer. In August of 2014, she teamed up with Allison Tevald and together they created the nonprofit organization, offering studio classes as well as an outreach program for local schools and mission-based organizations.

How has social media impacted how you spread your mission?

Some people have told us that they discovered our organization through Instagram or Facebook. One of our favorite history buffs, Sarah Vowell, has been "liking" our posts on FB and we're a bit starstruck by that! Each social media channel also has a slightly different audience. Many parents find out about summer writing camps and studio classes through Facebook, but we can't reach our young students that way. When we have a schedule change for The Studio, we let the participants know via Instagram, and ask them to spread the word.

How has Instagram, in particular?

Instagram has helped us connect with local organizations as well as attract some worldwide attention through hashtags like #amwriting. It's great to be able to show the community how we are helping our youth. Sharing a picture of a child reading their [singular] work to a group is one of our favorites. It's a special moment of risk-taking in a safe environment, where people are really listening and hearing what the student has to say about their experience or opinion.

What was #GivingPoetryTuesday?

#GivingPoetryTuesday was an exciting and fun idea that started out at the Red Bank train station with an actor reading a poem to very cranky commuters in the cold, rain, and dark. We took photos and videos of all the performances throughout the day around Red Bank: a firefighter in full gear at library storytime; the mayor at a restaurant; the schools reading poetry over morning announcements; and more. We raised awareness about our organization in Giving Tuesday by "giving poetry" in surprise locations. We popped into some local businesses. Some of our students translated their English-written poems for Spanish-speaking proprietors.

What are your plans for the future?

We are always envisioning the future growth of the organization, and we've grown tremendously in the past year and a half. The after-school students are learning about publishing their work and will be launching an online literary magazine at the end of the fall. In the near future, we'd like our adult students to begin reading their work in public.

How do you plan to use social media, going forward?

We're going to continue to use social media to let people know about our programming and events. #givingpoetrytuesday readings will be chronicled on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. We're also toying with the idea of hosting a podcast interviewing "tweens" and what their lives are like in terms of writing, human connection, and technology.

If someone wants to support or get involved with Project Write Now, how can they go about doing this?

During the summer, we have an internship program for teens. We’re also always looking for more young and adult students to sign up for classes in the studio. Our instructors love everyone's stories and helping them discover the possibilities in their writing projects. We're always seeking funding to support our outreach work and the after-school program.

To learn more about Project Write Now, donate, or find out more about opportunities, you can visit projectwritenow.org or email info@projectwritenow.org.

 

10 Must-Read Books for Creatives

If you walk into a library or bookstore, you’ll find hundreds of books on creativity, art, and producing work. Creativity is not something that can be quantified or explained away by science (though some writers may try). There aren’t right or wrong ways to go about making work. The rituals and routines that work for some don’t work at all for others. For this reason, it’s worthwhile to mix and match advice from various sources. Here are ten books on creativity that are worth the read, regardless of your skill level or preferred medium.

  1. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

    by Elizabeth Gilbert

If you need a pep talk about your right to create, Elizabeth Gilbert has got your back in Big Magic. Anyone who wants to live a more creative life will get something out of this book, regardless of the medium of your choosing. If you're new to the whole "artist" thing, or if you're totally uncomfortable calling yourself a creative person, Gilbert will show you that your work is permitted to take up space in the world. This quote from the book says it best: 'the work wants to be made and it wants to be made through you.'

I’ll admit I was a little skeptical of this because I’ve never read Eat Pray Love or anything else by Gilbert. But from the first page, she had me sold. She gets real in this book—she doesn’t paint a picture of being an artist as one where things are easy and fun all of the time. Making work can be drudgery. It’s a path for the  brave. If you’ve never made anything before and don’t know where to start, this book is a good one to read. It’s like a supportive friend who will grab your hand and say, “Yes, you should totally pick up a pencil and get started, you absolutely should just go for it.”

2) The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It For Life

by Twyla Tharp

Some people believe that creativity is something you’re born with, and that talent in art is innate. Tharp argues that creativity is something anyone can access if they want to and if they put in the time. Tharp is a dance choreographer, and her book covers all kinds of creativity.

One great line from the introduction is that “Creativity is not just for artists.” She goes on to say that creativity is important for business people, engineers, and parents. It’s something everyone should incorporate into his or her life, and it is possible for anyone to do so. Her book goes on to teach the reader how to build their skills, through anecdotes and practical exercises.

3) What It Is

by Lynda Barry

This book is a big, beautiful comic treasure. Flipping through its pages is inspirational enough, but the subject matter is all about Barry’s journey to becoming an artist and how you can do it, too. The leader of a writing group I’m in gave us all a photocopied page from this book. It’s a comic that starts by asking, “If a genie offered to free you from a dull, canned life, what would you say?” The character in the comic asks if this will make her rich, famous, or “really cute,” and the genie says no and asks if a “feeling of aliveness” would be reason enough to make creative work.

The character asks for time to think about it and in the frame where thirty years have gone by, finally decides “yes”, only to be, by then, dead. It’s done with humor and in Barry’s signature illustration style, but it’s serious stuff. If you wait too long to be “ready enough” to begin your work, you might find that you don’t have any time left to do it. This book is an excellent one to read when you need a push. It will remind you that it’s okay to be messy and imperfect and to do things your way—but that you need to do them.

4) Damn Good Advice (for people with talent!)

by George Lois

This book will make you feel a bit like someone is standing over you, barking commands at you while you work. If that's the kind of nudge you need (as opposed to gentle, welcoming words of encouragement), this is the book for you.  It’s worth looking at for the design alone. There are snarky chapter titles in big, bold letters. The pages are riddled with sometimes-bizarre images from Lois’s work in the advertising field and from historical events. You'll find a lot of things here that you haven't seen in other books on creativity, which is precisely why you should check it out.

5) Show Your Work! 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity

by Austin Kleon

This book focuses on what to do once you already know how to harness your creativity and you’re actively producing work. (It’s the follow up to Kleon’s first book, Steal Like an Artist.) This is a helpful instruction manual for putting yourself out there, particularly on the Internet. Kleon lays down some rules about how to tell the difference between sharing and spamming.

He advocates “selling out” by asking for money for your work and finding ways to fund it through other ideas like teaching and speaking engagements. Read this if you’re ready to take your work and creative career to the next step but aren’t sure how.

6) Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

by Anne Lamott

 

Lamott is a brilliant writer and so it’s no surprise that her book on craft is also brilliant. The lessons she shares are useful to any creative, not just writers. She talks about taking on large tasks by thinking of them in terms of smaller pieces and doing one thing at a time until you’re through. She stresses that it’s okay to share your stories and to write about other people because you own your experiences. This book is a beautiful blend of memoir and practical advice. It’s a classic book on writing, yes, but I once lent it to someone in a grueling academic program as a reminder that sometimes you have to do things bird by bird.

7) The Photographer’s Playbook: 307 Assignments and Ideas

Edited by Jason Fulford and Gregory Halpern

If you catch yourself taking your work too seriously or if you become bored of making the same kinds of images, “The Photographer’s Playbook” is a wonderful tool to get you thinking in a fresh way.

The title and the fun composition notebook-style design of the book reveal what matters here: play. Experiment, engage with the world differently, forget the limits you’ve placed on yourself over time. This book reminded me of the homework my high school photography teacher used to assign. They made me want to remember how it felt to be a kid fascinated by a camera.

The lessons in this book come from a wide range of accomplished photographers, and sometimes their advice conflicts with someone else’s in the book. This reminded me that it’s okay to take what it useful to you and forget the rest—everyone’s creative process is different, and that’s part of the reason reading about creative processes is so interesting.

8) Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age

by Cory Doctorow

Copyright Law might not thrill you, but you'd have a hard time saying you find it boring after reading Doctorow's book. The book outlines how copyright law has, historically, helped and harmed producers of creative works, and describes the changes brought about by the Internet. You'll learn how copyright affects you and your work and why you need to have at least a cursory familiarity with it as an artist in the 21st century. The book delves into issues involving censorship, human rights, piracy, and getting paid. The writing is clear and approachable—this is no dry legal tome.

9) Catching The Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity

by David Lynch

David Lynch is the brain behind some wonderfully weird cult classics like Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks. In addition to his work in television and cinema, he's a writer and musician. In Catching The Big Fish, he shares a bit about what his thought process is like. There's an emphasis on meditation, which may or may not be your thing, but it's still interesting to read about how it helps Lynch create his work. The book is told in short vignettes that range from stories about his famous works to technical advice for new filmmakers. He touches on suffering, depression, and drugs, all of which he says have negative impacts on creativity. He doesn’t advocate for glamorizing the “tortured artist.” This is a quick and sometimes befuddling read, but if you’re at all intrigued by Lynch’s work, it’s a good one.

10) My Ideal Bookshelf

edited by Thessaly La Force and illustrated by Jane Mount

The first thing I do the first time I visit someone's home is explore the titles they have on their bookshelf. (And if they don't have one, I make a break for the exit immediately. Just kidding.) My Ideal Bookshelf is a collection of short essays from interesting people about the books that have had lasting impacts on their life, work, and personalities. Many of the people featured in the book are writers, but musicians, actors, athletes, and designers are included, too. It's inspiring to take a peek at what some of your creative idols are reading. It's a way to gain insight into what their thinking is like. This book is an excellent place to find more things to add to your to-read list.

Likes Don't Equal Worth

The past few months I’ve been working on building up my personal brand, particularly on social media. One of the main focuses has been my Instagram account, because this platform is the perfect medium for me to tell stories through photos.  

By nature I am a storyteller and, in a lot of ways, I use my Instagram as a micro-journal to let people know what I am thinking or feeling on any given day. My personal brand building has been going really well. In fact, my Instagram following has been growing at an astronomical rate.

People relate to things that are real. They don’t always want to see a picture of a cat or a flat lay.  They want something dynamic, like really engaging posts (picture + caption) and that’s part of the reason for the growth. At the end of the day it is about providing value back to your audience in some small way.

Now, this all sounds good, but along the way I noticed something. Something very wrong was happening under the surface. Every now and then, there were moments where I would catch myself tying my personal worth to how many likes I got on Instagram or how many views I get on Snapchat.

Let me quickly give you an example. A few weeks ago, I was at a photoshoot and at the end, right before everyone left, we all exchanged Instagram handles so we could stay in touch. As we began going around, I met and followed someone who had over 10k followers and something weird happened, I felt a little less than.

The feeling stuck around for a lot longer than normal, because everyone I began following had a bigger following than I did, by sizable margins.

I just kept thinking, “Why is my account not bigger or not better?” For a brief moment, instead of focusing on the new friendships I was making, I was focused on myself and my lack of following.  I wasn’t in the “top followers” club and I felt left out of this imaginary group.  

Now, I'm not saying that it isn’t normal to have these kinds of thoughts, but it is bad to let them grow on you.  Furthermore, it is destructive to allow yourself to believe them.

Now, in retrospect, I am thinking to myself, “Why would my Instagram following portray the kind of person I am?” It can’t right. I mean someone with tens of thousands of followers isn’t necessarily a better person than someone with 300 followers, but it’s easy to fall into that mindset.

The answer, it doesn’t. Only if we choose to let it. Subconsciously we all fall into the trap of getting so tied to the numbers: the the likes, the follows, the pins, the retweets, etc. They make us feel powerful and, when compared to someone else, better than.

But, NEWSFLASH, none of those metrics define who we are as people. Social media is a place for interaction between people, often around a diverse range of topics. We must never forget that the “social” aspect comes before the media.

It’s important to focus more on providing value in our posts (besides the coffee shots or selfie collages) and engaging with others.

What’s amazing in all of this is that, you get to decide where you derive your worth. In a day and age where self worth has become a hot topic, it is extremely important to make sure that you don’t hinge it on your next like.

I’ve been so fortunate to meet many amazing people and brands through my Instagram account. At the end of last year, I found a local photography meetup group, through an Instagrammer in NC. I just happened to be browsing and stumbled onto her account.

I reached out saying that I was a beginner to photography and wanted some help getting better.  From that one interaction I have meet some of my best friends, who challenge me to continue getting better in how I see the world. In addition, my photography level has improved to a level that would not have been possible without their help.


 

Opening Up The Conversation On Mental Health

"When there's unity, nothing is impossible. "

Welcome to May, we're so glad you are here with us to enjoy another beautiful month of making the world a better place. As you may know, May is Mental Health Awareness Month. We wanted to use this opportunity to join in on the conversation and learn more together as a storytelling community.

That's how we landed on a vulnerability photo project. Vulnerability is something very close to my heart.

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Living with a mental illness like Generalized Anxiety Disorder which is what I have, is like living with two heads. Your mind is constantly busy thinking of every single detail and when I mean EVERY SINGLE DETAIL, I'm not kidding. The simplest of tasks can cause so much anxiety and fear; even writing your thoughts down can be overwhelming because there is so much going on.

At times I can really feel so alone and defeated. It's not easy to understand because anxiety isn't tangible for people to see. When someone looks at you like you're weird because you're having an anxiety attack, well, it's really disheartening.

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There is so much stigma circulating around mental illness, partially because it's not something you can really see and touch. But 1 out of 5 people have a mental illness, which means a friend or a family that you know is probably struggling from a mental illness. And unfortunately that person is probably keeping it a secret because they're afraid of the consequences of what will happen if they publicize their illness.

If you're new to mental health, you're probably wondering how you can help your person and let them know they're not alone. The best place to start would be to first educate yourself. My favorite site is Nami.org. Here's a handy infographic Nami created on mental health facts, talking more about consequences, impact and treatment.

Secondly, we can all exercise our empathy. Empathy is probably one of the hardest things for any of us to do. We live in such a fast paced world that it's easy for us to get caught up in only focusing on our own well being or staying afloat ourselves. But in order to really help your person with a mental illness, you need to let down your own walls and listen. It's a learning process for the both of you but when you listen and feel with your heart, your person will feel that too.

Last but not least, we'd love to dedicate the month to using photography to open up the conversation on mental health. It all starts with vulnerability. You can participate by simply capturing moments of vulnerability and tagging them with #gramforacause. Also feel free tag your person in the photo to let them know you care and understand and will help end the stigma so that they can live in the world free from judgement!  I can't wait to see your posts, and from a person who does suffer from a mental illness, thank you. Thank you for helping us feel like we're apart of the world and that we matter!

WWIM13: Eat Green With Me Picnic Recap

  Photo by  Whitney Tressel

This past weekend, the Gramforacause team partnered up with our friends from The Creative Pantry to host our first ever potluck picnic for WWIM (World Wide Instameet Weekend) meet.

World Wide Instameet Weekend is an annual, weekend-long affair that Instagram hosts where tens of thousands  WWIM13 happened to fall on Earth Day weekend this year, so the team decided to dedicate the day to celebrating the beauty and wonder of nature. You can bet we were excited to hop on this as a way to start a conversation on conservation and learn a thing or two ourselves!


On Saturday, April 23, a few of us woke up early to explore the Union Square Greenmarket and pick up some good eats for the picnic. With hundreds of varieties from more than 100 local farmers, the task to pick only a few items proved challenging! While some of us were in Union Square, others went to local markets in Jersey City as well as Whole Foods to search for fresh organic munchies for the event.

We were really lucky that the rainy weather cleared up to a sunny day. Among the first to arrive at Sheep’s Meadow in Central Park, we quickly claimed the perfect spot and laid out a few blankets. Our brand ambassador Ashley even brought a lovely picnic basket! We all swapped stories of community building and collaborative project ideas while nibbling on foods ranging from an assortment of cheese, smoked meats, fruit, artisan breads, to pies and cookies.

We’ve found that food never fails to bring people together and this proved true for this picnic as well! Alexa Fernando, half of awesome The Creative Pantry team, joined us from Canada, some new faces joined us from New York City and some others joined us from Jersey City!

Check out some of our photos from our Eat Green With Me picnic:

  Photo by  Whitney Tressel
  Photo by  G  loria Wu

Photo by Gloria Wu

  Photo by  Whitney Tressel
  Photo by  Whitney Tressel

To keep up-to-date with Gramforacause's latest events and meet ups, be sure to follow us on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook at @gramforacause!

 

 

Celebrate #WWIM13 With Us At Our #EatGreenWithUs Picnic

We were very excited when we first saw Instagram announce #WWIM13. The latest WWIM happens to fall on Earth Day, so in addition to dedicating the weekend to celebrating the beauty and wonder of nature, Instagram is also encouraging the community to explore other ways to give back!

This is an opportunity to show the world and ourselves, how collectively as a social media community, we have the power to make an impact - whether it's planting a tree, cleaning a park or educating others on more sustainable practices. This weekend, we'll be partnering with our friends over at The Creative Pantry to host Eat Green With Me. We'll be picnicking in Central Park, potluck style.

The Power of InstaMeets: How Your Nonprofit Can Benefit From Holding One

Any given weekend in New York City, you can likely find an InstaMeet happening. As the Instagram platform and the digital space becomes more saturated, this might just be the way your nonprofit can stand out and build deeper relationships in the communities you're trying to impact. Kerri Sullivan of Jersey Collective, a community of New Jersey photographers "showing why NJ is awesome", shares with us just why InstaMeets are so powerful and how to run one.

Thank you, 2015 would not have been possible without you

Thank you, 2015 would not have been possible without you

2015 was an incredible ride for us. This time last year, we started off as just a vision of bringing people together to do more with Instagram. We knew that nonprofits lacked marketing resources - more specifically photographers to tell their story and that our friends in the Instagram community were eager to give of their time and talents to advocate for causes and push their creative boundaries.

This was a pretty big goal that we could go about approaching several different ways, so we started off by going back to the roots of just spending time with the very community we wanted to serve. We spent a good several months just hanging out with nonprofits and photographers in NYC and beyond - having conversations about their biggest pain points, biggest wins and dreams. We’ve had enough coffee meetings to keep us caffeinated for years, we traveled to the west coast for an instameet, we’ve been moved to tears by a volunteer event and have most definitely only hit the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding just how much goes into running a nonprofit.

Let’s take a look back at some of the highlights from this past year:

Instagram isn't a black hole

Instagram can often feel like a black hole when you’re trying to track performance. You’re constrained to posting from the phone (usability on the computer is limited) and links are only clickable in the bio. How do you measure value when it comes to raising awareness and engagement? It’s especially challenging for nonprofits looking to fundraise with a smart budget. But it's possible to track engagement beyond likes - you can use a number of tools to measure your Instagram performance with hard data.

Here are some of our favorite ways to track Instagram analytics:

6 Ways To Take Your Photos To The Next Level

Building a brand voice on Instagram is a fun experiment. It's a test of colors, angles, subjects and copy. Switching up your shooting style can not only help you better understand what your followers resonate most with, but also keeps people engaged and excited for more.

In this 101 guide, we'll give you a crash course with 6 types of composition and examples from our Gramforacause community and friends. Give these shooting styles a try to instantly elevate your photography today.

 

 

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