2015 Writing Camp Testimonials

Satisfied parents recommend the Writings Camps:

“This camp has equipped my son with an expansion of tools to increase his confidence and enjoyment in writing.”  —Michelle Reynolds, mom to a 2015 Thesis Camp student

“Great experience! Jen Hartenburg is a superb teacher with a very engaging method of instruction.”  —Dr. George Eapen, dad to a 2015 Creative Writing Camp student

“When my daughter came home from Creative Writing Camp, she brought me a book she’d never read and said, ‘Mom, look! The back of the book describes the setting and characters, but not the plot!’ She then began to read ravenously. I credit writing camp with this new eagerness to understand other writers!”  —Rachel Motte, 2015 mom

“My daughter really enjoyed the camp—studying with other students and being creative in a group setting. She had fun! She is starting to understand how to stylistically dress up a story she writes.”  —Susan Alai, mom to a 2015 Creative Writing student

“We are so grateful for the opportunity to have our students learn from an accomplished writing instructor such as yourself. Thank you for allowing them to attend. I would highly recommend the writing camp over and over again!”  —Mona Cook, mom to two 2015 Thesis Camp students

“My student was stretched,” writes another mom, “I think it was a great opportunity for him. Thank you for adding enjoyment to a process that doesn’t come naturally to him.”


Students agree that Writing Camp activities helped improve their writing:

“I liked the camp a lot. I now have many more tools to make my writing winsome. I especially enjoyed learning the different kinds of sentence openers.”  —Cole R.

Creative Writing students enjoyed “writing stories and key word outlines,” “writing warm-ups,” and “meeting new friends.”

“I like my classmates and it was fun!” writes Charis A.

“Thesis Camp was very beneficial,” writes a student, “especially the ‘dress-ups’ and group editing; I enjoyed Mrs. Hartenburg’s teaching.”

“The class was helpful overall, and it was very enjoyable.”  —Jadon H.

“The assignments were difficult but very helpful in improving my writing technique. Learning how to include citations was especially helpful.”  —Hannah K.

“It was a great experience and an excellent way to spend the summer,” writes another student; “I enjoyed learning how to write an introduction.”

“It was good practice writing and using ‘Dress Ups.’ I enjoyed the camp,” a satisfied student says.

“I enjoyed the Thesis Camp,” says another, “and the reminder of the importance of grammar.”

“I enjoyed ‘Writing Warm-Ups” and brainstorming with others. The small-group critiques were also helpful. It has been an encouraging experience to meet with others who are thinking about the same topics and discussing with them.”

“It was fun! I liked the games and learning how to write an anecdote. I liked how we students talked and looked at each other’s papers.”  —Camille B.

“The Thesis Camp was challenging, but I learned how to do the thesis statement. The grammar exercises and games were the most enjoyable and helpful parts.”  —Esther B.


Write What Is Beautiful: A Cure for Formulaic Writing Instruction

“Before giving a youth the rules of good style, let us tell him first never to write anything which does not seem to him really beautiful, whatever the result may be.”
               -Jacques Maritain, Education at the Crossroads, p.44


A group of acclaimed authors are raising concerns about how creative writing is taught in UK schools, The Guardian reports. The concerned writers claim that “primary school teachers are steering children towards ‘too elaborate, flowery and over-complex language.’” This is a valid concern, especially when the writing instruction ingrains bad habits in stylistically tone-deaf students.

The authors, who are drafting an open letter to the education secretary, wisely point out the twin dangers of teaching writing to a test and of teaching writing in a literary void. It does students no good when we evaluate them for a writing product when we should be focusing on their process. We do them no good when we praise them for creative production when they have merely been doing syntactical, like musical, scales. And we harm students most when we ask them to produce creative work yet fail to provide them with any masters to imitate. Truly beautiful and compelling writing comes from readers. And when stylistic exercises devolve into strict rules about what makes good writing, everyone loses.

While the letter writers accurately take issue with these disturbing trends in writing instruction, they need not throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water. There is a healthy tension between helping students expand their stylistic and syntactic range, on the one hand, and habituating formulaic and overly flowery writing, on the other. Vocabulary and sentence structure variation happen more naturally for some students than for others, but all can benefit from exercises that increase awareness of and proficiency with a growing toolbox of structural and stylistic options. Assignments that require practice in these areas are helpful when treated like the playing of scales in piano lessons: playing scales is not playing a musical masterpiece, but it may be a necessary step toward developing the proficiency needed to eventually play a musical masterpiece. In the same way, vocabulary, structural, and stylistic exercises should be treated as practice in developing fluency in a growing variety of writing forms and styles.

All writing instruction should be undertaken with the goal of developing the student’s ear to be able to both recognize and also imitate beautiful prose and verse passages within a wide range of style and genre. To accomplish this end, it helps to have a teacher who knows good writing when she sees it. Does the writing teacher read widely and well? Does she have good literary taste? Can she point her students to exemplary writing? Can she herself turn an elegant phrase? In short, does she have discernment and aptitude? A teacher with an ear for good writing will pass this ability on to her students through her example and enthusiasm. She will hold the balance between formulaic practice and fine-tuned elegance.

While some individuals may have an in-born affinity for writing, everyone has the capacity to recognize beauty. Good writing instruction stirs this capacity and awakens in the student a growing hunger for the good, the true, and the beautiful in the written word.

Play with Your Words!

Play with words



Words can be stuffy, as sticky as glue,
but words can be tutored to tickle you too,
to rumble and tumble and tingle and sing,
to buzz like a bumblebee, coil like a spring.

Juggle their letters and jumble their sounds,
swirl them in circles and stack them in mounds,
twist them and tease them and turn them about,
teach them to dance upside down, inside out.

Make mighty words whisper and tiny words roar,
in ways no one ever had thought of before;
cook an improbable alphabet stew,
and words will reveal little secrets to you.

~Jack Prelutsky, The Random House Book of Poetry for Children

Tutor words to tickle you this summer at one of our Writing Camps!




Chew, Sharpen, Carve

Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider. Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested [. . .] Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man.

Sir Francis Bacon, “Of Studies,” The Essays


Chewing on delectable books this summer? After filling up on wholesome, chewy reading, “conference”—or discussion—helps us think on our feet and sharpen our minds for action. Then writing requires our sharpened minds to thoughtfully reflect, to articulate ideas using careful wording and a logical structure, to carve an elegant argument or description.

Reading, speaking, writing—these three go together and build on one another. When writing, we draw on what we’ve read, on our conversations with others, as well as on our own experiences. To write well, we have to understand and think clearly. We also have to know how to use words and sentences effectively. This is what Sir Francis Bacon tells us when he says that writing makes us exact. Writing is the culmination of all our reading, thinking, and speaking. It is a test of our precision.

So gnaw on some tasty nuggets of literature this summer and then come join us for mind-sharpening discussion and fine-tuning of your writing skills at one of our Writing Camps.

“Writing Is a Refining Fire”

CSIRO [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

CSIRO [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Writing is in the rewriting [. . .] the necessary re-envisioning of the piece. In fact, when I write there usually emerges both a death and a resurrection. I begin a piece. I find it dies on the page. It isn’t what I had hoped. It falls short. It falls flat. It goes nowhere. Then I find a new beginning somewhere embedded in the piece and start writing into it again. [. . .] Writing is a continual reworking [. . .] a refining fire until all the elements come together in a unit.
—Diane Glancy, “After the Fire of Writing: On Revision,” A Syllable of Water: Twenty Writers of Faith Reflect on Their Craft


Like most things worth doing, crafting a work of beauty takes tenacity. This is true of any art form, the written word included. Perfect paragraphs do not simply drip from our pens without effort or revision.

Diane Glancy describes the value of peer critique in the writing process:

Making constructive critical comments on the work of peers develops self-editing that is a necessary tool, a tool to be developed alongside the craft of writing. For me, it is the vital part of writing. Years ago, I was in a group of beginning writers. We critiqued each other’s work. I learned the value of receiving critical comments. And providing critical comments for others helps me criticize my own work. The editorial faculty is required after the fire of writing.

Muscle up this summer with An Elegant Word as we hone the intellectual virtues of honesty, courage, humility, and tenacity in the Thesis Essay camp.

Do You Like Sentences?

A well- known writer got collared by a university student who asked, “Do you think I could be a writer?”

“Well,” the writer said, “I don’t know…. Do you like sentences?”

The writer could see the student’s amazement. Sentences? Do I like sentences? I am twenty years old and do I like sentences? If he had liked sentences, of course, he could begin, like a joyful painter I knew. I asked him how he came to be a painter. He said, “I liked the smell of the paint.”  —Annie Dillard, The Writing Life, Chapter 5

Whether you’re just beginning in your appreciation of sentences or already a sentence enthusiast, the summer is a wonderful time to sink yourself deeper in the aesthetic delight of words elegantly arranged. Both budding amateurs and established aficionados can enjoy the hunt, the thrill of chasing down just the right adjective, noun, or verb that will bring a phrase to life and make a sentence sing.

This summer, become a verbal acrobat bending plain, boring syntax into exhilarating contours. Enliven your vocabulary. Amplify simple clauses. Learn syntactic gymnastics.

Enroll in one of our Summer Writing Camps today!

Good Readers Make Good Writers

When, as enthusiastic university students, my girlfriends and I asked poet and Nobel Prize laureate, Seamus Heaney (may he rest in peace), what he would advise aspiring writers, his answer was simple: “Read!” His answer is universally affirmed by writers, educators, and researchers alike: Reading (and being read to) is the number one indicator of a successful future writer.

As a writing teacher, I often suggest reading books—paper back, hard back, digital books, audio books—and not just silently by oneself. Family read-alouds are enjoyable and valuable in so many ways. Folks often get more from a book when hearing it aloud, and no one is ever too old to enjoy hearing a good tale.

Another reason read-alouds and audio books are such a great idea is related to the fact that language is primarily spoken and heard and only secondarily written down. When we write, we are writing what sounds good “in our head.” If students will listen to great poetry, stories, speeches, and essays frequently and repeatedly (for example, why not listen while doing chores, exercising, riding in the car, resting in bed, etc.?), they will start to lock the sentence structures and rhythms in their memory. When it comes to literature, repeat listening is great. Once the patterns are in, they will naturally start to come out in the student’s speaking and writing. This cycle of listening and imitating is how we first learned to speak our native language, and it is how we learn to write with an elegant voice.

Narration—telling back orally what we’ve heard—can also help quite a bit with observation, comprehension, and memory. Likewise, orally discussing books and passages may be the most important and effective way to develop comprehension and thinking skills, two very important aspects of high-level writing.

A healthy diet of books includes a breadth of classic literature from different genres and time periods, with large helpings of poetry, the King James Bible, and great speeches. The King James Bible—regardless of one’s religious persuasion or opinions regarding biblical translations—is also classic literature and is foundational to our English language and cultural heritage.

Memorization and recitation of beloved poems and prose passages cements the verbal patterns even more firmly while providing the scholar with a long-lasting source of joy. Poetry—and poetic prose—is, after all, a sensual thing meant to be heard and enjoyed for the way it sounds, the way the words feel in the mouth, as well as for the images the words evoke in the mind. Before television and movies, before even books and the printing press, there were poems and stories recited around the hearth. These poems and stories still give us life.

“Nobody but a reader ever became a writer.”

-Richard Peck

HT: Sally Clarkson for the video link.
If this topic interests you, you might want to check out Andrew Pudewa’s article, “The Arts of Language,” on the Institute for Excellence in Writing website, which spells out more fully how listening and speaking are the foundation for reading and writing. (There is also a corresponding audio download here.)

2015 Creative Writing for Grades 4-6

When: July 20-24, Monday through Friday, 9:15-11:45 a.m.
Where: Houston Baptist University, Co-hosted by The Academy at HBU in the Smith College Suite, Bradshaw Center classrooms, 7502 Fondren Rd, Houston, TX, 77074
group of students talking and writing at school

Creative writing students will participate in activities aimed to inspire a love of words, sentences, and word-play. In addition to building an awareness of sentence structure and style, students will construct key word outlines, write stories, and exercise public speaking skills through oral story retelling. Students will articulate stories in their own words using pictures and a variety of fables, myths, and fairy tales as springboards. Throughout the week, students will learn how to incorporate style and literary devices into their writing.

To receive the full benefit of the writing camp, students will need sufficient time and a handful of supplies. In addition to two and a half hours of class time each day, plan to spend another hour completing assignments at home. Please secure the following supplies before the start of class:
  • Dictionary & Thesaurus—Consider apps such as the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and the English Thesaurus.
  • Pack of 6 different colored pencils: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, & purple
  • Pens
  • Pencils
  • Eraser
  • 3-ring binder with 5 or more dividers and lined notebook paper

Space is limited! Enroll now.

Camp tuition is $250/student. Enrollment will be confirmed and your spot reserved once payment is received.

ENROLLMENT UPDATE: This camp has met the minimum enrollment and is a go! Enroll now to reserve a seat before they fill up!

2015 Thesis Essays & Descriptive Writing for Grades 7-12

When: July 6-10, 2015, 9:15-12:15 p.m., Monday through Friday,
Where: Houston Baptist University, Co-hosted by The Academy at HBU in the Smith College Suite, Bradshaw Center classrooms, 7502 Fondren Rd, Houston, TX, 77074

Students at classes

Students will learn a five-step process for developing a thoughtful thesis statement that interacts with the great conversation of ideas. By attending to sources and engaging in group discussion, students will be able to find their own voice as they search for the truth through their reading and writing. Incorporating both report-style and descriptive writing, students will learn the structure and style of a compelling essay. An intensive overview of style elements will assist students in developing vivid vocabulary and sophisticated sentence variety. This class is ideal for students with some previous experience with writing multiple-paragraph compositions who are ready to advance to the thesis essay.

To receive the full benefit of the writing camp, students will need sufficient time and a handful of supplies. In addition to the three hours of class time, students should plan to spend another hour or two each day completing homework. Students should secure the following supplies before the start of class:

  • Dictionary & Thesaurus—Consider apps such as the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and the English Thesaurus.
  • Pack of 6 different colored pencils: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, & purple
  • Pens/Pencils
  • 3-ring binder with 5 or more dividers and lined notebook paper
  • Composition book

Students in the Thesis Essays camp will also need to be able to type, print, and email assignments using a sharable word processing program such as Microsoft Word.

Camp tuition is $250/student. Enrollment will be confirmed and your spot reserved once payment is received.

ENROLLMENT UPDATE: This camp is now full! You may add your name to the waiting list, and we’ll let you know if a spot opens up.