By Heather Lusk
One year ago, Teal Craycraft shared her plan for 2015 with a friend.
“I’m not going to live in fear anymore,” she told Katie Morris. “I’m going to pursue what feels right and follow my heart.”
That clicked something in Morris’ brain.
“I said, ‘I’ve got this idea, and it’s been eating at me,’” she said.
Several years ago she conceptualized a website dedicated to women sharing their stories without judgment and fear.
“It was one of those ideas that I had, then never told anyone about it because I didn’t think it could possibly be as awesome as it was in my head,” Morris said.
Craycraft, a 1998 Zionsville Community High School graduate, was all in. After months of brainstorming, SpeakYourStory.org launched, inviting women to share their unfiltered experiences online in a forum without fear of comment.
“There literally is not a week that goes by that we’re not bawling,” Craycraft said. “They’re so powerful.”
The two attorneys knew nothing about website development and learned almost everything from scratch, working with an online publishing platform and learning to write code as needed.
“We made a lot of mistakes,” Craycraft said.
By mid-March with a dozen submissions, they couldn’t wait any longer.
“Our goal was when we got 25 or 30 stories we would start publishing on a weekly basis and that way we would have a cache of them,” said Morris, “but we couldn’t hold it in.”
Stories are published on a weekly basis, with the entire campaign starting at 11 a.m. Social media and emails are sent notifying followers. Morris and Craycraft shared their own stories to launch the site. Since then authors ranging in age from 16 to 87 have contributed, Craycraft said, but the website is geared for an adult audience.
“Our stories are about really sensitive topics, and there’s a lot of adult content and language,” she said.
The women met after both returned to Indiana about five years ago, and both were struggling to make adult friends.
“I grew up here in Zionsville, but I didn’t stay in touch with anyone,” Craycraft said.
“It’s been a lifesaving relationship even before Speak Your Story started,” said Morris, who grew up in New Castle. “It’s really hard to make friends as an adult.”
The theme of loneliness is one that resonates with Morris and is a thread that’s woven through some of the online stories.
“If we can do anything to eliminate that for other people, that’s like my truest calling,” she said.
Initially they published items as they were submitted, but soon discovered that themes were emerging.
“It’s helpful because then we can connect with organizations that are much bigger than us, like Planned Parenthood, domestic violence shelters and depressions therapists,” Craycraft said. “They are also helping us.”
Themes have ranged from mental health issues, domestic violence, illness and addiction.
“That’s another thing that we’re passionate about,” Morris said. “We cannot go back to this time where the things we’ve fought so hard for are returned to shame and silence.”
While the pair recognizes the need for a revenue to stream in order to keep the website operational, they are adamant that it remain ad-free.
“That’s part of the safety of the space,” Morris said.
By the end of the year they hope to sell T-shirts online and release an anthology of self-published stories. They’ve already begun taping a weekly theme-based podcast to investigate issues and ask past contributors what the storytelling experience was like. A successful month-long crowdfunding campaign raised $10,000 to pay for the podcast and publishing.
The podcast should air by the end of the year, followed by an Indy Fringe event in February.
“One of our big dreams is putting on our own event at Indy Fringe,” Morris said, “a night of storytelling that’s done professionally.”
Last summer Indy Fringe allowed Morris and Craycraft to share the story of their website prior to performances that focused on women’s stories. An executive director of Planned Parenthood saw them before one of the performances and sent their information to a partner organization, which led to the opportunity to be on a panel of speakers at the annual conference of Civil Liberties and Public Policy.
“We’re basically on this panel with people that…” Craycraft said.
“…we’ve idolized,” finished Morris.
The panel is scheduled for April, more than one year after their website launched.
“We’re going to reach an audience of people that we couldn’t have imagined six months ago,” Craycraft said.
“There are so many ways you can tell stories,” Morris said. “It can be your art, it can be told live, in a podcast, there’s so many things you can do with this.”
About Speak Your Story
# of stories published: more than 100
% of anonymous contributors: 25
Average readers each week: 1,000
# of Facebook likes: 837
% of men visiting the website*: 50 percent
Readers from: 3 countries, 47 states*
*Source: Google Analytics