Confetti! Bubbly drinks (I’ll take sparkling cider, thank you)!
January marks the 20th anniversary of my little-idea-that-could—when you value a child’s writing voice and collaborate with their abundance of good ideas and quirky linguistic wonderfulness, you see writing growth and pleasure in writing as surely as your sweethearts learned to speak fluent English with you as their chief partner.
Let’s honor the new year with a Top 20 countdown (not in chronological order) of my favorite Brave Writer moments. I’ll share a podcast of the story of Brave Writer soon.
Top 20 Countdown
20. The day I received my first check for $25.00 from a homeschool mother, I took a photograph of it. I thought: “She believes I can help her! I have to help her now.” The little online writing class was conducted by email and sold out—25 families, 40+ kids! Thus was born our online class program that has now served tens of thousands of families.
19. I self-published The Writer’s Jungle in March of 2000. My husband at the time taught himself Pagemaker, just to do our layout (no push-button publishing back then). Cindy Clark (who is my right and left hand team member) and her best friend Paula Horton came to my house to help assemble those books in my dining room for my first convention appearance in June 2000. We sold 45 books and I knew right then that we had something to offer.
18. I discovered that Susan Wise Bauer had listed Brave Writer as a top writing resource for her community in 2002 on her website and nearly fell out of my chair. Just a few years later, Susan and I became friends and colleagues and her support of my work has been filled with integrity and kindness.
17. I read my first “real review” of The Writer’s Jungle on the blog of a favorite children’s author: Melissa Wiley. She wrote that she wished she had written it herself and I thought, “A real author likes my book!” Our ensuing friendship has been deep and one of the most rewarding in my professional life.
16. Classes sell out! For the first several years of our online class program, I didn’t have enough seats for all the interest. I remember selling out our entire set of classes in under 5 minutes for several years. You used to have to be on a waiting list from a previous semester to get a chance to enroll in the next one! Today we offer 80+ writing class sessions per semester and have over 40 types of class offerings.
15. We issued a call for teachers in 2013. How surprised was I to see one of our earliest students among the applicants? Samantha Burtner had already proven her writing skills in class, was included in our program Help for High School as a model of good writing, and now she had returned as an adult to teach for us. Today, she’s one of our most popular high school coaches.
14. The Arrow. What a gem! This product was innovation at its finest. I realized that I didn’t like curriculum that was year-long, in thick textbooks. What would happen if we gave monthly curriculum support focused on a single book at a time, like a magazine subscription? Apparently you agreed because it has been our best-selling product for all 18 years of its existence. And now, monthly subscriptions are commonplace in homeschooling.
13. Conferences. It was a joy and privilege to be the keynote speaker at a Muslim homeschool conference, a secular conference, a Christian conference, and an LDS Conference all in the same year. Brave Writer has managed to transcend the usual sectarian divides and offers quality writing instruction to all types of worldviews.
12. I loved starting my podcast with my son Noah. We’ve now had over 1 million downloads of the podcast and have completed 5 seasons of material.
11. Two of my family members teach for Brave Writer: my daughter Johannah and my mother, Karen O’Connor. It is incredible to me that they are able to share in the work Ido and give such rich, varied feedback to our customers. Caitrin, my other daughter, has accompanied me to conferences, including New Zealand which was pure fun! I hope you meet her some day. She’s a hoot!
10. The day Cindy Clark said “yes” to my full time employment offer is a highlight of 2013. I was nervous—Would we have enough work to fill forty hours? Um, yes… and then some.
9. Periscope in 2016 launched Brave Writer into an entirely new stratosphere—so much fun to interact with you every day about stuff that matters. The replays on YouTube have led to over 9000 subscribers and hundreds of thousands of views.
8. The thrill of speaking at Wild + Free events is in my top twenty experiences. My trip to Frisco Texas and taking the stage dancing to “High Hopes” is one of those lifetime memories—what joy in that shared experience with many of you!
7. Our first staff retreat was monumental in 2016. It’s the weekend I realized that I was running a company and what a privilege to do it with this group of talented team members.
6. I was stunned to be awarded Xavier’s highest honor for its MA recipients—The Madges Award for Outstanding Contribution to Society for Brave Writer in 2017.
5. The day my book deal came through for THE BRAVE LEARNER is a day I won’t soon forget. My kids sometimes joke that I built a business so I could write a book. The truth is: there isn’t one without the other. I am grateful for the chance to live out that dream with this team.
4. I still remember how the name Brave Writer came to me. I was speaking at my first convention, saying “We want free writers; we want brave writers!” and I suddenly knew that the company should be called Brave Writer. That was June 2000.
3. I met Dr. Peter Elbow—in person—my mentor in all things writing. He affirmed my work, he invited me to his event and home, and has become a friend. Think: meeting Bono or Bon Jovi, and you’ll know just how mind-blown I am that I count him among the people I can rely on in my life today.
2. I love our Homeschool Alliance—the membership community where our members take life-transforming steps as parents, educators, and awesome adults. It’s the best place on the Internet, in my mind, and I hope it outlives me by 100 years. I’m especially proud of it.
1. The best memory of my 20 years comes from our day-long Cincinnati Brave Learner Conference in July 2019. It felt like a true celebration of everything I believe in, our entire gorgeous community, and a valuing of home learning unlike any I have experienced before. We are the ones we have been waiting for—you are the brave learners!