A Brave Writer’s Life in Brief

Thoughts from my jungle to yours

Stick up for yourself inside

Julie Rearview Mirror Rainy Day

15 years ago, I started an online discussion board for (mostly) homeschool mom friends called The Trapdoor Society. The concept was this: Because our days were filled with small children and home-keeping demands, we needed an escape—a trapdoor through which we could pursue our own self-education: art, literature, film, politics, religion, poetry, and more. We’d be friendly and supportive when we disagreed and we’d help each other expand our worlds together…

In other words, Internet Utopia.

In other words, good luck with that.

We did become incredible friends (there are still about 40 of us in touch today). But those friendships also survived some truly painful clashes of personality, belief systems, emotional meltdowns, and even a version of trolling (though that word didn’t exist back then).

I remember spending hours crafting response posts in my head when I felt maligned or judged or misunderstood. Years later, this xkcd cartoon captured my feelings of compulsion to respond online perfectly: “Someone is wrong on the Internet.”

Underneath that surface reason, though, was an invisible-to-me-at-the-time one. Fear. I didn’t want to be wrong. I didn’t want to be misunderstood. I didn’t want to have made an irrevocable choice.

When criticism came my way, I wanted to fight back—to not take it. I fought back on the outside.

If I could get everyone out there to agree that I was okay, then I would finally allow myself to feel okay in here.

The benefit of aging is the increasing awareness that it is nigh to impossible to get all the people out there to all agree that you are perfectly wonderful as you are. (I know, I’ve tried.)

No one likes you enough to do that for you. They’re all too busy trying to get you to tell them that they are okay, as they are.

One of the reasons it’s tough to hear our kids tell us that some of our choices were painful to them is that we especially want their approval—after all, we are “sacrificing” careers, manicures, a good tennis game, grad school, hobbies, and beautifully decorated homes to ensure they have the best possible childhoods. How they can’t know that, can’t see that, can’t forgive us for our foibles is incomprehensible.

The only way out is inner confidence—to firm up your shaky insides with your resilient belief that you are conscientious, intentional, and sincere. These three qualities won’t prevent mistakes or over-reach. They won’t guarantee romanticized notions of success. But they can be the firm base from which you continue to grow, revise, and expand your life’s vision.

If you resist the temptation to defend

If you resist the temptation to defend yourself to others, but instead, take any criticism or disagreement as a chance to revisit your personal creed and practice, you will slowly but surely see that you are, in fact, that worthwhile person you wish others could see. You’ll know it from the inside—that your choices, and your vision are perfectly valid for you.

Meanwhile, rather than eviscerate your persecutors with better arguments or lengthy diatribes, go soft on the outside. The old proverb, “A gentle word turns away wrath” may not always work in intimate relationships, but it does provide a neat exit online.

It is often the perfect response to children—respond in the opposite spirit. They come with anger and force, you respond with internal strength and gentle words: “I hear you. That sounds awful. I want better for you.”

Strong on the inside, soft on the outside.

Respond in the opposite spirit.

Stick up for yourself to yourself.

Trust—you don’t know the outcome of this grand risky experiment. The only way forward is one day at a time, with your conscientiousness, sincerity, and intentionality to guide you.

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Friday Freewrite: Most romantic gift ever??

Vacuum Cleaner

Imagine you work for an ad agency and your assignment is to write a commercial convincing people that a vacuum cleaner is the most romantic gift ever. Go!

New to freewriting? Check out our online guide.

Image by Taz (cc cropped, hearts/text added)

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Leave a love note

Ways love note_Blog

The following is from a FREE Daily Writing Tip

Leave a love note!

Today’s task is to leave a love note for someone. Everyone in the family can participate. Help the ones who can’t transcribe their own thoughts (who don’t read or may not write, yet) to get in on the act.

They can add little picto-graphs or stickers, if they like.

Leave the love notes in surprising locations and use unusual tools.

For instance:

  1. Write a note on the bathroom mirror with lipstick.
  2. Use Post-it notes and leave little notes all over the house for someone (or all over the inside of their car or all over their office or bedroom).
  3. Write a love note on the brown paper bag used to take a lunch to work or to a park day.
  4. Send a text!
  5. Post a status update on Facebook tagging the person you want to love up.
  6. Tuck love notes inside the book the person is reading, a few pages ahead of where they are.
  7. Write love notes on the edges of today’s newspaper for the newspaper reader.
  8. Put a love note (use a Post-it note) on the favorite beverage of your loved one that is lurking in the refrigerator.
  9. Underwear drawers are a GREAT place for love notes.
  10. Stick a love note on the left and right shoes of a favorite pair (maybe make a pun about left and right).
  11. Use shaving cream to squirt a note on the shower wall before your loved one showers.
  12. Stomp a note (maybe just a word) into the snow in the front yard. View from an upstairs window.
  13. Create a love note out of seashells and spell it on the kitchen table for a center piece.
  14. Write a love note on your palm. Close your hand into a fist. Approach the loved one. Tell them to tap three times for a surprise. When they do, open your hand and show your palm.
  15. Create a love coupon (in any form) and tuck it into your loved one’s purse or wallet.

Or think of your own!

Image © Susanne Neal | Dreamstime.com

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Movie Wednesday: James and the Giant Peach


Our family recently started the Brave Writer lifestyle, and we’re all enjoying our new routine. My daughter, 10, is using The Arrow for James and the Giant Peach. My son, 7, was interested in the book, too, so we did it as a read-aloud.

Today, as a conclusion to the study, we watched the movie version on Netflix. We had a good discussion afterward, centering on how different the movie was from the book. The movie started off pretty accurately, but as soon as Aunt Spiker and Aunt Sponge didn’t get squished, they noticed a lot of differences.

My daughter enjoyed the book more, as the personalities of the bugs were more developed, there was a lot more detail, and it made more sense. My son liked the movie version – he liked seeing what we read about and didn’t seem to mind that it didn’t match up.

This was a good exercise for them to watch the movie version of a book they’d just read (or listened to). We talked about how movies can’t include everything in a book and why they might want to change some things.

They can’t wait to tell Daddy about it!

With joy, Andrea

Image (cc)

Need help commenting meaningfully on plot, characterization, make-up and costumes, acting, setting and even film editing? Check out our eleven page guide, Brave Writer Goes to the Movies. Also, tell us about a film you and your kids watched together (along with a pic if you have one) and if we share it on the blog you’ll receive a free copy!

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Tuesday Teatime: Snipped a rose from our garden

Tuesday Teatime Beth

This is my six-year-old and my four-year-old at our very first “tea and poetry” last fall.

We snipped a rose from our garden for the centerpiece, and our tablecloth is made of baby blankets with the printed side turned down. My son and I read from Now We are Six, and my daughter picked something from A Child’s Garden of Verses.

We’ve kept this up every Friday afternoon, and they love, love, love it! (We have since acquired a “real” tablecloth, by the way!)


Image (cc)

Want to start your own Poetry Teatime? Here’s how.

Would you like your family featured on Tuesday Teatime? Email us your teatime photos with a few lines about your experience (put “Teatime” in the subject line). If we share on our blog then you’ll receive a free Arrow or Boomerang title of your choice (once per family). Note: all submissions fall under Creative Commons licensing.

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Writing with Teens: Don’t miss these 5 blog posts

Time Capsule_Writing with Teens

2015 marks the 10th anniversary for the Brave Writer blog, and to celebrate we’re revisiting helpful posts from the past.

These five address writing with teens:

Writing Starts Off the Page: Saturation and Incubation

You don’t want to ask for writing before your kids are good and ready to spill over onto the page. All of those writing books that give your kids topics are a waste of time (unless you happen to be one of the lucky ones with a child who loves to write and just needs a gentle nudge and away she goes!). Topics don’t generate writing. Having something to say does…

Writing with Teens: How to Begin

Without an essay guide, you might feel you can’t even begin to teach your students to write them. Hogwash. Let’s look at some ways that you can start essay training right now…

Essays: Not Just a Gateway to College

The word essay means “to try.” It comes from the Latin root. (In French, the word “essayer” is the verb “to try, to attempt.”) I think it helps to remember that an essay is an attempt, it’s your “best shot” at looking at the materials and giving a reaction (sometimes a strong opinion, sometimes an exploration of the issues, sometimes how that material relates to your life and background, your experiences and beliefs)…

Brave Writer’s Guide to Writing for Exams

I remind students to make a plan, follow the plan and stick to the plan because initially it is tempting to run off after some mental flurry of activity and think that is the same as good writing. It usually isn’t. Clarity and organization trump flights of fancy in timed assessment essay writing…

Why Academic Writing Doesn’t Come Naturally

Essay writing is like learning a brand new sport while playing the game. There are steps to take that make the process less daunting and that will prepare your kids to be successful with less stress. The actual format itself is not difficult to teach or understand. Learning how to bend the essay to the writer’s purpose, to make the essay form work for the writer instead of against him is something all together different…


Also, check out Brave Writer’s Help for High School. It’s a self-directed writing program for teens that both teaches rhetorical thinking in writing, as well as the academic essay formats for high school and college.

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Are you training your family to NOT help you?

Don't turn down help

Do you wish you didn’t have to ask your family for help?

  • with the dishes
  • taking out the over-flowing garbage
  • changing the toilet paper tube (why this is difficult, I still don’t understand)
  • clearing a table
  • putting away the dozens of pairs of mis-matched shoes strewn through the halls
  • moving a wet load of laundry to the dryer and a new load into the washer
  • shoveling snow
  • unloading groceries
  • replenishing the food and water bowls for the dog and cats

And so on…

Let me flip this around on you. What do you do when someone offers to help?

Think about it for a moment. Imagine this setting. You’re in the kitchen unloading the dishwasher and preparing to load it. In a surprising instance of charity and awareness, your teenager who is watching TV says, “Do you need help Mom?”

What do you say?

Do you tell the teen that yes, you need help, and that he can turn off his favorite program to take over for you at the sink? Do you do then walk away leaving him to it while you go get a bubble bath or hop back onto the computer?

Or do you think to yourself, “That’s so nice that he asked, I’m going to reward him by saying he doesn’t have to help me and he can go on watching his program”? Some unconscious version of this one—you turn down help because you feel generous when you do.

Another instance: You’re folding laundry and the five year old wants to help. The five year old will offer five year old skills to the job. Do you accept that? Or do you send the child away to play so you can get it done correctly and quickly?

Another time: You’re making dinner and it’s the favorite meal of your 11 year old daughter. She offers to peel or chop and you send her to set the table. She doesn’t particularly want to set the table—she wanted to help by peeling and chopping. You know she will slow you down if she peels and chops so you ask her to do what feels helpful to you: setting the table. She does a poor job with the table and you feel resentful that she isn’t being helpful… perhaps.

If any of these resonate—take a moment to consider this idea.

When you turn down help (whether you do so out of a desire to be generous, or because you are better at it, or because the offer doesn’t match what you thought you needed), you train your family to NOT HELP you.

In other words—if you want helpers in your family, accept the help they offer with enthusiasm, support them in being helpful by teaching them the skill that they want to offer, and if they are capable of doing the task without you, walk away and let them do the whole job so that they see they were helpful (not merely supervised and scolded). Let them see that you are relaxing and enjoying the help they are giving you.

It’s not easy.

It’s a reflex to simply take over, move quickly, do what needs to be done, and leave everyone in the status quo space of not helping.

Then what happens? Resentment builds. We start believing that no one cares about us, when in fact, we may have trained our roommates to let us do everything for them!

How do you get back to offers of help if you’ve already extinguished them? You ask for help! You say things like, “Who wants to help me make dinner? I’ve got sharp knives and electric tools for anyone who wants to hang out in the kitchen with me. I’ll set the table while you frappe and slice.”

You ask for help like this:

“I’m exhausted. Anyone willing to do the dishes for me tonight? I will be eternally grateful. I just need one hour to unwind in a tub? Anyone? Anyone?”

If no one offers, you do them and keep going and ask again another night. Over time, your vulnerability in needing help will reappear on the radar. Someone (one of your kids) will recognize that he or she can actually make you happy by helping (not make you worried or annoyed). And that child will offer, freely, out of the blue.

People want to be helpful. Sometimes we train them to lose that desire.

We can turn it around.


Always accept the help being offered (don’t change the offer to something else).

Help your helpers be helpful—give them lessons, show them how, appreciate their efforts.

Get out of the way—competent helpers should be left to help, not hovered over. You should benefit from the help by not being there, doing something else you enjoy.

Thank them. Not effusively, but genuinely. “Thank you for cleaning up. That was helpful.”

Go forth and be helped!

Image by Paul Ashley (cc cropped, text added)

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Happy Birthday, Laura Ingalls Wilder!

Laura Ingalls Wilder blog

Beloved author Laura Ingalls Wilder was born February 7, 1867, and to celebrate we’re offering the Arrow based on her book, Little House in the Big Woods:

Half price through Monday at Midnight! ($3.95) OFFER HAS EXPIRED

Laura Ingalls Wilder was encouraged by her daughter, Rose (an author in her own right), to chronicle the pioneer stories of Laura’s childhood which were filled with both hardship and love. Editors rejected her first manuscript. It was reworked and expanded into its present form and published as Little House in the Big Woods.

An excerpt from the book:

Little-House-in-the-Big-WoodsWhen the fiddle had stopped singing Laura called out softly, “What are days of auld lang syne, Pa?”

“They are the days of a long time ago, Laura,” Pa said. “Go to sleep, now.”

But Laura lay awake a little while, listening to Pa’s fiddle softly playing and to the lonely sound of the wind in the Big Woods. She looked at Pa sitting on the bench by the hearth, the firelight gleaming on his brown hair and beard and glistening on the honey-brown fiddle. She looked at Ma, gently rocking and knitting.

She thought to herself, “This is now.”

She was glad that the cosy house, and Pa and Ma and the firelight and the music, were now. They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now. It can never be a long time ago.”

―Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House in the Big Woods

So, take advantage of this special Arrow offer!

P.S. This issue comes from the early years of Brave Writer’s Arrows so it isn’t as robust as more current titles (that’s why the lower price). It’s an oldie but still a goodie!

Also, if you’d like to buy a copy of the novel, it’s available through Amazon: Little House in the Big Woods (affiliate link).

The Arrow is a monthly digital product that features copywork and dictation passages from a specific read aloud novel. It’s geared toward children ages 8-11 and is an indispensable tool for parents who want to teach language arts in a natural, literature-bathed context.

Little House on the Prairie Museum image by David Hepworth (cc cropped, darkened, text added)

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Friday Freewrite: Hide and Seek

Hide and seek

Explore the same event from two different points of view! Describe a hide and seek game from the perspective of the one who hides then from the one who seeks.

New to freewriting? Check out our online guide.

Image by Dplanet (cc cropped)

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Stealth Attack Learning

Stealth Attack

Rather than teach, lead. Rather than talk, act. Rather than following the curriculum or opening the book, express what it is you wish to be known.

The secret of a vibrant homeschool is not in a book. It’s you. You are the secret weapon. You don’t have to be a good teacher. In fact, it helps if you are not.

It’s better if you are an enthusiast—someone for whom the feast of ideas is so compelling, you sneak time to follow up on the material you read to the kids to get the adult perspective. You are the best home educator when you can’t wait to make dinner because that’s when you park the kids in front of PBS to watch Arthur while you listen to Jane Austen on Audible.

There’s no magic here apart from the contagious energy that oozes from your engaged, fascinated mind! This is why home education actually works! It’s why you don’t need teacher training. Yes, you might learn something about how to impart the mechanics of writing or the formulas of math. Of course! But you don’t need to know how to give lectures or prepare worksheets or organize data into incremental chunks to be mastered through quizzes and grades.

You get to lead example quoteYou get to lead by passionate example.

We wonder why our kids don’t jump on the train with us? Usually it’s because we take that raw energy for the material we are about to learn with them and turn it into something schoolish. We say things like, “Let me check the lesson plan book” or “Go get me the teacher’s manual” or “I wonder what X curriculum has us doing today.”

When we delegate the work of homeschool to a company, we dilute the natural curiosity and energy with someone else’s prescriptive expectations.

But what would happen, say, if you read the manual before bedtime? What if you committed 10-15 minutes a day to simply looking at the material you hoped to cover the next day? If in doing so, you could authentically lead with that material the next day without referring to a program or a schedule or a system, what might happen?

Here’s what I mean.

It’s one thing to open a Brave Writer writing program in front of your kids and to say, “We’re going to do Project Six which is called Body Art. Come here. I need you to lie on the floor.”

It’s another entirely to get up from the breakfast table and say to one of your kids: “I’m going to lie on top of this long sheet of butcher paper. Would you mind tracing around my body with this big Sharpie? Thanks.”

Once the child has done it, you get the scissors and begin cutting your body out. Your kids are going to wonder what you are doing at some point. In the meantime, you keep going. You clip words from Pottery Barn Catalogs and you glue them to your body-butcher paper.

As you work, you ask for help: “Hand me the glue stick, would you?” and “Do you think the word ‘sparkly’ describes me?”

Before you know it, someone is going to want to have their body drawn and clipped and words stuck to their elbows and forehead too.

This is leading and immersing and playing and learning all rolled into one. Stealth attack style—the same way you taught your kids to kick a soccer ball or play peek-a-boo or decorate a Christmas tree. There was no moment where you said to your 8 year old: “Now let’s see—the planner for childhood says you need to learn how to hold a kite string and it will take six steps.”

Kill the atmosphere

The quickest way to kill the atmosphere of learning is to suggest that it’s time to learn!

What do you do with those pesky skills that require some incremental work? You do the best you can to support a rich atmosphere—you add treats, you rub shoulders, you sit next to your struggling second grader, you give encouragement, you try the process yourself in front of your child, you use calculators, you use Spell Check, you add brownies and candles and nature hikes before or after.

LIFE is appealing to everyone. Everyone. Life is learning. Invest in what feels alive and good and curiosity making.

If what you want to learn is not on the agenda of your child, YOU go learn it in your off minutes. Read an extra chapter. Check out the adult version of the event from the library or online (book, DVD, podcast). Your appetite need not be held back by an 11 year old’s boredom with the abolition movement. You are free to read all about the Underground Railroad now—without your child coming along.

Trust me: if you become passionate about the topic, you will naturally talk about it in your children’s presence and at some point, they will find it interesting or they will have absorbed it simply by sharing oxygen and square footage with you. Perhaps as teens. Perhaps as college students home on break.

If you become quoteIf you’re looking for a way to start a new trajectory, stealth lessons are the way to go. Set the table with the materials or stack up the books, all after the kids are in bed. Get up and begin, without a word, without explanation or mission or objective or preamble. No one wants to be told “We’re going to have fun today.” The moment they hear the words, they want to prove you wrong! So simply begin.

If the lesson today is all about homonym confusion in the editing process, resist the temptation to talk about the problem your child is having with homonyms. A surefire way to kill any interest in learning about homonyms.

Instead, what if you tried this? Before breakfast, fill a white board with homonyms (as obscure and surprising a set as you can find) and then play a game—ask everyone to make the meaning clear of each word on scratch paper with either drawings, synonyms, sentences, or definitions. Can they Google? Of course! That’s how adults learn everything!

Get back to enthusiasm, creativity. Remind yourself of that tedious classroom where you watched the tick tick tick of the clock desperately waiting for the sentence-in-your-seat to end. That will help you remember to keep it real at home—open, direct, clear, interesting—HOME.

You can do this!

Image woman and book by Amy (cc cropped, text added)

Shared on Hip Homeschool Moms

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