Brave Writer and Academic Writing

Recipe for a Brave Writer

What is the goal of Brave Writer?

My favorite kind of writing is academic writing. I love the strict nature of the structure, the importance of the positions being argued and the power of doing it well enough to persuade or change a reader. So if you are under the misimpression that academic writing is not the goal of Brave Writer, I want to correct that now. It is my goal for all my students. But it is not the primary goal.

Let’s look at the foundation of what writing really ought to be.

Writing is about writers, first. It is about identifying what you want to say and then finding the right vehicle for saying it. So the question is: how do we get there? And that’s where programs offer you a variety of philosophies to consider. Let’s look at Brave Writer and see how it helps your writers do just that.

Brave Writer is not primarily about teaching kids to be creative (as in writing silly stories or personal anecdotes or fiction). It is not a program that is designed for those who want to avoid doing the hard work of writing instruction. Rather, Brave Writer promotes a lifestyle (habit) and a practice (discipline) that leads to effective, original, thoughtful writing that sounds like the writer and reflects the original and unique contribution that writer wants to make to the topic.

Classical writing programs often begin with the imitation of great writers and a practice that focuses on getting it right – right format, right style, right grammar, right mechanics, right argument structure, right ideas, right discipline. The goal (to have an intelligent, competent writer by college) is the same one I have for my kids and my students. It’s just that we get there differently.

Brave Writer and Academic Writing

Brave Writer begins with the writer.

Brave Writer doesn’t start with imitation or with the topic of writing at all. It starts with a person – the writer. Let me show you how it’s done by comparing it to another process you know well: speaking.

Speak up!

When your kids were less than a year old, you talked with them all the time, even though they couldn’t talk back. Some time around a year to 18 mos, your little darling uttered her first word. In my family, our son Noah pointed and said “Nana” indicating that he wanted a banana. I immediately shrieked “Jon, get here quick. Noah is brilliant!” I then coaxed Noah to say “nana” again so that Jon would see how good his genes were. After handing Noah the banana he wanted, I ran to the baby book and wrote down the date and the word “nana.”

Here is what I did not do. I did not panic and think: “Oh no. He said nana not banana. I wonder if he’ll ever learn the right word.” I didn’t stop him and say, “Now you know, Noah, the word is banana and it is a noun. You must use it in a sentence like this. If you use it correctly, I will give you a banana.”

Rather, for the next five years, our lives were filled with speaking opportunities. We talked with him every day, we giggled over his mispronunciations and put them in the baby book, we helped him when he got stuck and couldn’t think of a word, we listened to his rambling stories and experiences waiting for him to find vocabulary or sort out the details.

At age five, when his fluency kicked in, we did not suddenly impose structures on his speech. He didn’t have to give public addresses, act in plays, enter debates or make presentations. He was free to enjoy talking, all while we slowly introduced him to varieties of ways talking could be used. Over the next twelve years, Noah learned the following speech formats: how to chat on the phone, how to meet and greet people, how to host a party, how to act (he has done both Shakespeare and contemporary plays), how to give an oral report, he learned to recite and perform poetry and speeches, he discovered and excelled at improvisational acting, he taught others how to use computers, and he made presentations.

He could not learn these “formats” while he was still learning to become fluent in speaking. These uses of speech came after he had been sufficiently saturated in spoken language in a loving and supportive environment for years. We introduced spoken formats over time, with increasing difficulty as they became relevant to his life and capabilities.

Write it out!

So let’s compare this now to writing. Did you, the first time your child misspelled a word, run to the baby book and jot down how cute it was to read “becuaz” instead of “because”? Did you delight in the fact that your daughter wrote an entire page of invented phonics to tell a story that you couldn’t read but that she could?

Probably not. There is something in us that says when it is written, it must be perfect. But let’s think about this for a moment. When does writing ever get to be about the joy of self-expression aimed at a reader? What if we focused on that written self-expression for about, say, four or five years? We could start at age 7 or 8, and let them narrate while we jot things down for them. We could watch them transition to writing some of it themselves (in all its glorious inaccuracy and fumbled attempts at punctuation) while they are 9-10… maybe even 11.

At the same time, we immerse them in language. We read, we copy, we dictate passages to transcribe. We watch Shakespeare and read Chaucer. We recite poetry and we tell jokes. We watch sitcoms and movies. We write down what they think of all these things. Or they write it. Or we do it together, modeling how to access that language that is growing inside. We show how to put in periods and commas, how to figure out spellings when not sure, how to use Spell and Grammar Check, how to revise our work so that it is better than it was on the first pass, how to upgrade word choices and images to convey meaning. We do all of these things, together, at the table as we make time for it.

Brave Writer nurtures the joy of self-expression aimed at a reader.

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By about age 13, then, your writer will likely be fluent at written self-expression. He or she will feel comfortable on the page – it will be a true reflection of that person’s voice and insights, ideas and thoughts, images, and metaphors. These will be growing naturally in your writer over all those years together writing, reading, and talking.

When you hit those high school years, then, it is time for formats and that’s when we move out of the more freewheeling style of writing and learn how to discipline it to satisfy the demands of an academic community. Let me tell you – kids who have been active online (writing) and who grow up in the Brave Writer style of language arts development make this transition seamlessly. They are my best writers, bar none. They may not always be the best mechanically (at first). But they have so much to say, so many words to draw on, so many ideas and insights… and they brim with confidence.

Kids who come to me who have been “well-taught” (grammar, mechanics, formats) often can put together good copy (as in following the structural directions), but there is little imagination. I don’t mean imagination as in fiction. I mean the ability to think and reason creatively, persuasively, with insight.

The other bug-a-boo is that a regimented program often dulls the child’s natural writing voice and interest in writing. As long as writing is external to the child’s inner life (is about fulfilling requirements for someone else), the writer suffers.

If you’re looking at classical education for you homeschool,
click to keep reading about Brave Writer and Classical Writing.

Top image by Liz West, Flickr (cc Modified to add text.)

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15 Responses to “Brave Writer and Academic Writing”

  1. Krista says:

    I am eagerly awaiting The Writer’s Jungle book to arrive in the mail. Posts like these make it all so clear! I loved your analogy to speaking. BTW, at one time, I had a great writer’s voice, then I became REALLY good at grammar and mechanics and somehow got out of the practice of writing from the heart. I look forward to learning alongside my children.

  2. Kristie says:

    Loved the article…very timely as I struggle with the whole classical idea, whilst myself following something much more loose.

    This is what keeps getting me stuck- my favourite authors are Wendell Berry, Tolkien, CS Lewis, Tolstoy etc. Most I believe (but have not researched all) were educated ‘classically’. Will the kind of instruction in writing I am giving my kids, (ala copywork and dictation and freewrites with lots and lots of good literature and poetry, saving the grammar for the junior high grades, and spelling instruction…what’s that!) actually prepare them to write with the style of the above authors (if they were so gifted!).

    I don’t know if that made much sense (I did NOT enjoy writing ‘class’ in school but preferred scientific reporting). Basically I am saying that I am 99% sold on the bravewriter lifestyle but wonder if Tolkien etc. developed this way vs. the classical method would he still have stunned us with his works.

    Thanks so much for all you do,

  3. Vicky Kaseorg says:

    All of academics are artificial structures imposed upon our world of experience in our attempts to understand and to some degree even control, or think we control, our environment. I think your philosophy of writing is an attempt to experience, and help the child to experience the joy of writing as a natural expression, outpouring of being human, created to create by a creative God. All human endeavor is more deliciously taught in this manner. I think our greatest responsibility as teachers and parents is not to destroy the inquisitive, scientific, mathematical, artistic, craving to learn and communicate our response to the world around us. I think what you are saying is all that experience and joy must come first, before an order can be imposed upon it.
    and i agree.

  4. Cindy says:

    What a great post!! I enjoyed reading about your Brave Writer lifestyle in contrast to the dry classical approach. It reinforced my choice of your methodology to teach/do writing for the last several years. The Brave Writer lifestyle has been doable even for me, a writing-challenged mom.:-)

  5. Julie,

    I have been reading your blogs and your emails but haven’t had the money to buy your book yet. (I will- with next years money). The last two blogs really reaffirmed my commitment to your ideas for teaching writing.

    I was using another curriculum and I did find myself reading my dc’s writing and thinking- wait, that’s not spelled right. I am going to try to take your words to heart because both of my kids have lots of ideas and enjoy writing but have never liked a lot of correction.

    Thanks for further explaining your ideas.

  6. Ann says:


    My son was in a Classical school for three years, K-2, so I wanted to give some feedback on writing and the classical method. Writing has been difficult for us this first year at home.

    There are some concepts that he was taught in his first few years that we are struggling against, even though I have had him with me all year. I thought I would post them here, because they go a long way to support some of the things that you said.

    In first grade, he was taught that in order to answer a written question, you had to restate the question as part of the answer. If this wasn’t done, the sentence was counted as an imcomplete sentance. Interestingly, I once observed four different six year olds tell the teacher that two words can make a sentance. She told them that it would not be an “excellent” sentence. In this grade, there was a strong emphasis on penmanship. The children had been taught a “ball and stick” method of writing in Kindgergarten, and then they were taught the D’Nealian method in first grade. Work that had “poor” penmanship had to be re-written, even when the content was “excellent.” They started the Shurley English program in January or February of this school year. He really liked learning the jingles and could pick out nouns and verbs in sentances.

    In the second grade, the children did not have any opportunities to free write. While they had journals, the teachers rarely had them write in them. My son’s came home with only two entries for the entire school year. They produced a large writing project at the end of the year, which consisted of a factual report and a creative writing assignment. The factual report was what I would characterize as prompted writing. It followed a traditional pattern of introduction; two, two point paragraphs, each with an introductory sentance and a closing sentance; and a concluding paragraph. The creative writing was much more individual, and I must say, the story did sound like one my son would tell me, so I am not sure if that was prompted or not. The teaching that answers to questions must restate the question continued. This was done across the curriculum: in reading comprehension questions, science and even in math word problems. The emphasis on penmanship continued, with another kink: the children were taught cursive handwriting beginning in January of this school year. I remember that after they had practiced and learned all of the letter formations, then they had to write in cursive for the spelling test. The big report was also written in cursive. Shurley English continued all year, and again, my son liked it and did well with it.

    This year, I am barely able to get my son to do any writing at all. He is balking at the idea of having to a lot of written work. He has been challanged and has told me that he doesn’t want to write in a two-point paragraph. He doesn’t believe me when I tell him that he doesn’t have too! I was really suprised at his reluctance to write, because the teacher assessed his writing with an “A” and what I saw was really good for a child his age. We continued with a third year of Shurley English this year, and we are close to the end of their third grade program (we did not do any of the writing exercises in this curriculum, as I thought the expectations were unreasonable). I think both of us are about to scream! We are really tired of grammar.

    I am now debating with myself as to what to do next year. We will not be doing Shurley English. I plan to use some DailyGrams for review, but have not decided how frequently we will do that. I am not currently planning to continue a spelling program with him, as he is on Level I of Spelling Power, quite a bit above grade level. What I really want to do is begin to discuss literature with him, and I think The Arrow will help a lot here. I am at a bit of a loss for composition, though. My choices are: try the BraveWriter lifestyle (I have read WJ and really like it, it reminded me of how I write and also reminded my husband, a published author, of how he writes); enroll him in a local writing class for homeschoolers that emphasizes expressing your thoughts in writing and is a little on the creative side; enroll him in a homeschooler’s writing class that follows a very patterned or formula driven model (which he seems to have done well with at his school); try one of the Brave Writer online classes; or, do nothing (really not an option).

    Classical education has definately impacted our home!

  7. Heather in Fiji says:

    I’m not adding any stimulating discussion, 🙂 but I’m so enjoying your installments on this topic that I have to respond with a resounding, “Absolutely!” I love many of the elements of classical education but do not want to turn out dull writers just to fulfill what someone else thinks makes up a classical education. I was already convinced about the WJ before but it’s nice to be reminded why I bought your book! Thanks!

  8. Casey says:

    “As long as writing is external to the child’s inner life (is about fulfilling requirements for someone else), the writer suffers.”

    I don’t think that you could be more right! My daughter, age 10, is finishing a year long writing class of a technical sort. She has plodded along, month after month. But, her writing is not “fun” she says. Her writing is not HERS! It is the format and layout of another person. I know she does not enjoy this. I know she does it only for her teacher and I. Sometimes, she struggles through it but, sometimes I have to tell the teacher that this one was just too painful to complete. (Luckily I can do this as we homeschool and I am the “official” teacher.)

    Yet, I know that she like to write. She sat down the other day and made up a story about two trees. They were sad because their parents had been cut down. Do I want to squash that creativity? No way! She might be the next Mark Twain, Shakespeare or even Stephen King (Oh Lord, I hope not that one, I may not be able to read her writing). On the same token, maybe she will be a lawyer, where writing will be a great asset. She may not even apply to law school if I were to squash her love of writing now. After all, aren’t we are all waiting for the day when we are actually able to “read” and understand what lawyers write? Maybe she’ll be that lawyer.

    So, having received confirmation through Julie, we will be slacking off the technical writing for now. She will have plenty of time to “re-learn” it later. For the sake of my children and their needing to love to learn, I know next year we will have a more relaxed year as we will be exclusively Bravewriters!

  9. Mary G. says:

    Thank you so much for your thoughts! I loved reading what you had to say. I am really happy to have found BW. It is taking me year after year to find our ‘rhythm’ with homeschooling and our version of a ‘classical approach’ that works with my 3 boys.
    Many Thanks!
    Mary G>
    ps. we are so fortunate to have a ‘Shakepeare for Kids” drama class in our community, taught by a young energetic man!! My boys are on their 2nd year.:0)

  10. Leonie says:

    Hi Julie.

    I know you said that Bravewriter deos not rely on copying writing – but I think, in its own way, that it does. Think of the copywork reminders that you send out.

    I have found that it is this copywork which often inspires writing, or better writing ( for want of another term).

    So, perhaps, we *can draw some parallels between the Bravewriter writing lifestyle and the Classical method – positive parallels, of course. 🙂


  11. Mariae says:

    Thanks for the great blog, it’s just what I needed today! Every once in awhile ,I panic, thinking I am not preparing my son for the SAT. Yet I have seen the fabulous changes the Bravewriter lifestyle has brought into our home,especially the laughter and strengthening of our relationships. My 12 year old loves to write now…..he use to abhor it. He is currently writing a story about three mischievous racoons, Rocky, Ringo, and Rascal. Everyone in the family can’t wait for him to write the little critters’ next adventures. My son wakes up in the morning eager to write. I never could have imagined this to be true before Bravewriter. Thank you!

  12. Marty, mom to 5 boys says:

    Bravo! My kids have been free writing (Brave Writer style) since 2001. This year I put them in acedemic writing classes in our co-op. They are doing great! By free writing once a week for years, they have learned how to get their ideas onto paper. And they feel good about their work!


  13. […] he link to that blog entry so you will all go there and read these wonderful testimonies! Brave Writer and Classical Writing (Part Two) Love you all! This entry was pos […]

  14. Julie Bogart says:

    Thank you all for your wonderful comments. Sorry I took so long to post them! I have now learned the trick of moderated comments and this won’t happen again.

    Leonie – YES! I agree about copywork.

    As far as the concern that Tolkein etc. were trained in the classical method… I am sure they were. The British are really good at producing good writers. That’s one reason I am such a fan of Charlotte Mason. She prizes classical literature, quality thinking, writing with vitatlity, all with an aim to do excellent work… yet she achieves these through principles that comport with the disposition of the child. This is why I love her.

    We need to remember that we homeschool. This is the biggest asset we have and the biggest difference between other methods. We have the opportunity to be mirrors to our children in meaningful ways throughout the day, guiding and nurturing that growth. I am convinced that that attentiveness combined with great literature produces quality writing.


  15. Ali says:


    Thank you so much for your words…It’s been awhile since I’ve been “here”, but I need to stop in more often for inspiration!

    As I age, learn, and have more life experiences I realize that what I want most for my children is LIFE, not artificial schooling experiences. I’ve come to the conclusion that I can give them a wonderful education within the context of relationship and love…Relationship to others and to themselves…and to always realize that love is first. This is what I glean from your words (maybe because I want to?). In “teaching” writing I need first to allow them to be true to themselves. And, as with all “subjects”, to ensure that love is first. If they first “love” a subject they will be more apt to want to “learn” a subject. Love should always come first!

    Thanks for the continued inspiration!-Ali