Internationally acclaimed teacher of writers and author Julie Bogart is the mind behind Brave Writer, a fantastic resource for parents and students of writing. She has authored over 200 curricula teaching writing to various age groups, helping thousands gain a better understanding of the written word, and their own voice. Her podcast is also a fantastic support for homeschool families. The same warmth and insight found in her teaching style is evident as she chats with families about their challenges and helps them find ways through the rough. We were able to score an interview and are so pleased to be able to share with our readers her work and wisdom.
TLW: Thank you so much for agreeing to visit with me about your work and approach to writing! I saw this quote recently, and felt the truth of it regarding my own writing. Even as someone who loves to write, it sometimes takes a lot of guts to put myself out there; sometimes the sacrifices required to see your work through is tough, so this really hit home:
“There are so many ways to be brave in this world. Sometimes bravery involves laying down your life for something bigger than yourself, or for someone else. Sometimes it involves giving up everything you have ever known, or everyone you have ever loved, for the sake of something greater.― Veronica Roth, Allegiant
But sometimes it doesn’t.
Sometimes it is nothing more than gritting your teeth through pain, and the work of every day, the slow walk toward a better life.
That is the sort of bravery I must have now.”
Does this relate to your writing students?
JB: Courage in writing, in my view, has to do with showing up as yourself—your ideas, imagination, personal experience, opinions, thoughts. It takes courage to risk exposure of a self. We sometimes forget that it takes just as much courage to write a 4th grade report about dolphins as a poem—to make sure you have the right information in the best sequence, that you’ve shared it in a way you hope is compelling to read. So yes—that there are many ways to be brave resonates. What I notice is that not everyone recognizes the act of courage in writing. That’s my mission: to highlight that fact and help parents appreciate it.
TLW: Tell me more about why you chose the name “Brave Writer” for your programs and materials.
JB: Both words matter.
“Brave”—because each of us has to be
willing to be seen when we write. One of the reasons for the rampant experience
of writer’s block is that everyone knows putting your thoughts into written
form preserves them for scrutiny, judgment. When we talk, our words are
ephemeral, easily revised and forgotten. Writing solidifies and preserves
them—we must face our own shoddy thinking or incomplete understanding. The
willingness to greet the blank page with openness and optimism often needs to
be cultivated. Putting our words where they will be read is a brave act.
“Writer”—because we teach human beings (writers) not a subject (writing). The emphasis in our name is on the people taking the writing risks. Anyone who can externalize language is a writer—whether that person transcribes their own thoughts or gets someone else (secretary, parent, voice-to-text software) to do it. Writing doesn’t exist apart from the writer; writing lives inside the writer. Our task in Brave Writer is to help the writer discover their words within and then to coax those words forward with gentleness and optimism. Once we have the words on the page or screen, we can do lots of things with them—all of which can be shared in a friendly, warm way, which leads to power in writing.
TLW: That is so beautiful and powerful. How did you start your career in writing, and ultimately arrive at teaching writing?
JB: My mother (Karen O’Connor) is a professional author of over 70 books and countless magazine articles. I grew up writing as a natural birthright. As a young adult, I built a freelance writing career that included ghostwriting, magazine editing, and book editing. A homeschooling friend of mine shared her struggles teaching her children to write and asked for my help. When I looked at the materials she was using, I was floored. They were so out of step with everything I knew about the writing life. She then suggested I host a class for her and other home educators. We began with 15 parents and it grew over 7 weeks to 40 people. I discovered that what I taught felt brand new to most adults. That led me to realize that a book teaching parents how to be writing coaches and allies to their kids would be valuable.
TLW: You do have a very unique approach compared to most writing instructors for children. I love that you’ve set as a first priority helping writers find their voice. What advice do you have to writers still struggling in this area?
JB: More freedom, more space to write “badly.” One of the first ways I help kids who feel reluctant to write is to encourage them to focus only on their thoughts (not spelling, handwriting, or punctuation). Give complete attention to the ticker tape of ideas and words flowing through your mind and write down every single word—even words like, “I’m stuck” and “This is stupid; why do I have to write?” As the hand is trained to transcribe the mind, the blocks dissipate.
For especially stuck writers, I go one step further. I tell the young writer than no one (not even your parents) is allowed to read what you write. Set a timer for 3-5 minutes and write the whole time, anything you want to say, anything going through your mind, and share it with no one. Your writing is for your eyes only. Get used to seeing yourself show up on the page without the anxiety that someone will judge you for what you put there. Some kids need months of weekly writing just like this. To help create this space, I tell parents that they, too, must write for 3-5 minutes at the same time. Let’s all take the same writing risks—a democracy of writing.
TLW: We talk often about the bravery required for an aspiring writer to become a published author. What about the bravery required for teaching?
I homeschooled my five kids who are now all grown adults. I went through many of the struggles other homeschooling families face. I had one child with ADHD, another with dysgraphia, a daughter who didn’t read until she was almost 10. My family tested the ideas I share and lived with the challenges of education at home—and I learned so much. Our Brave Writer team has worked with over 100,000 families. Over the last 20 years, the one constant in all that work is this: a parent’s loving, warm relationship with the child is the key foundation for a healthy homeschool AND writing life. It takes courage as a parent to be relentlessly optimistic, to use your friendliest voice when identifying the missing capitalization yet again, to affirm the writing risk rather than to criticize the poorly developed content. It takes faith to believe that your children can arrive on the shores of adulthood ready to tackle their futures, even if their spelling skills are still “woefully behind” at age 13.
I wrote a new book called THE BRAVE LEARNER: Finding Everyday Magic in Homeschooling, Learning, and Life that expands on this premise—the notion that parents create a context for the magic of learning to take place. Fortunately, these are skills that can be learned by the parents—if they are brave enough to trust themselves, their children, and the process. The book is available through online retailers and local bookstores. Check out the website for more information: https://thebravelearner.com
Thank you so much for taking the time to visit with us, Julie! I’ve learned so much from your work and am so thrilled to share it with our readers.