Evergreen trees at Bennington Lake, Washington

Product Review: Writing Courses from the Institute for Excellence in Writing

• • • • • • • ► After writing my book, I’ve been surprised to look back at my schooling and see that I wasn’t explicitly preparing to write a book. In fact, writing wasn’t one of my favorite subjects. But, boy, am I glad it was important to my mom that I learn to write!

I remember doing a unit study on snails. I had chosen the subject myself, and I was very excited to read books about snails, sketch snails, design an essay outline, and finally, write the essay. I even had due dates for various steps of the unit study. This project made me feel very grown-up, and I remember it vividly.

During this timeframe, I remember feeling confused about how to put words down on paper. I didn’t know how to organize my words, how to decide the flow of ideas, or how to add variety to my sentences. This made writing frustrating.

In middle school, my mom started using materials from the Institute for Excellence in Writing. The course I remember was led by Andrew Pudewa. The taped lectures were held in a live classroom setting with students following along off-camera. Mr. Pudewa had a large wipe-off board to demonstrate his concepts.

I dreaded watching these videos. Why? I dreaded having to write. Though I’m smiling at this now, I was not smiling then. Mr. Pudewa would explain about persuasive essays, the very short sentence, sentence openers, and other writing techniques, and with clipboard and lined paper in hand, I scrawled away at his assignments.

After much practice, I began to see some light. The writing structure and various techniques slowly felt more natural, and I began to find freedom in this structure. Andrew Pudewa’s tips helped me write my essays for the SAT, the ACT, and CLEP’s English Composition with Essay (now replaced by College Composition), as well as other informative and persuasive essays during high school and college.

Ironically, the writing DVDs I wished would disappear have given me some of the most lasting skills from school. I still use Mr. Pudewa’s techniques, as they give me a framework to begin writing with. Do I need to explain a concept? Start with a 5 paragraph essay. For a longer work, simply expand the same essay format to write a 5 paragraph essay for each of three subtopics relating to the concept. Pudewa’s framework has the capacity to be stretched and tailored to fit many writing applications.

He also gives helpful advice for writing the persuasive essay. I know I asked myself, “Why would I need to know how to write a persuasive essay? I’m not on the debate team. When will I need to persuade someone with my writing?” In fact, this is something used all the time. Of course I needed to know how to write a persuasive essay for the SAT and the ACT.  However, we also use persuasive writing to share our opinions, comparing our thoughts to those of others and substantiating those thoughts. We even use persuasive language just to convince someone to read what we have written. For me to learn how versatile the persuasive essay is might be the best reward of using Teaching Writing: Structure and Style and the Advanced Communication Series.

If you are a homeschool parent looking to give your children writing tips that can carry them from school papers to college classes to life beyond formal education, I highly recommend courses from the Institute for Excellence in Writing.

As an experiment, I wrote another review right after finishing the one above. This time I used the techniques I remembered from the writing courses.

• • • • • • • ► It was another afternoon on a school day. We were preparing for our writing session, and I was dreading it. Why did I need to learn these very specific writing methods? I knew how to write a paragraph. And if my assignment was longer than that, I just put several paragraphs together. But something inside of me didn’t agree. I didn’t like the uncertainty I felt when writing. I wanted to know how to make a flowing article, how to grab my reader’s attention, and how to feel confident when I began writing.

Difficulties in writing

As a youngster, I found writing frustrating. I seemed to never quite know how to write. Should I just put down some words until the word count was reached? How did I not make all my sentences sound the same? Where was the fun in writing? I remember my mom firing up the Student Workshop DVD included in the Teaching Writing: Structure and Style course for writing time. My mom, sister, and I, clipboards and lined paper in hand, would sit and follow along with Andrew Pudewa as he demonstrated his writing techniques. I was overwhelmed by some of the ideas he presented. Did I really have to remember to write an outline, vary my sentence openers, and include a very short sentence?

Practice makes writing comfortable, faster

Despite my reservations, I began to get the hang of these techniques. Through repetition, I could see I was building speed and confidence in my writing. It was easier to write! I began honing my persuasive essays for the SAT, ACT and CLEP tests. I no longer felt lost when I was given an assignment: I had a backbone structure that could be adapted to my needs. Did I need to give my opinion? Time for a five-paragraph persuasive essay. Was it time for me to explain something? I would pull out the five-paragraph explanatory essay. If I needed to write in greater detail, I would just create a five-paragraph sandwich, with three subtopics each receiving their own five-paragraph essay to support the main topic.

Lifelong benefits

I finally understood why I had needed to learn writing structure. From this framework, I could explain a topic clearly to my reader and access several trusty techniques to draw on when my writing well ran dry. I had been awakened to the fact that persuasive writing happens all the time! I needed persuasive writing to persuade my reader to take time to read my collection of words. I needed to learn how to organize my research in a comprehensible explanatory essay. In short, Teaching Writing: Structure and Style and the Advanced Communication Series taught me that writing is versatile. It is a tool that can be wielded to great results.

Worth the effort and time

I’ve been using these techniques to write this review. I have forgotten some of the rules I learned, but the framework remains. I am able to use writing to express a point of view, to share a review, and to better demonstrate why I feel the way I do. These techniques go far beyond school tests—they help at work and online. With these results, I can highly recommend the Institute for Excellence in Writing to homeschool parents and others who wish to bring a sense of command to the area of writing, either for themselves or their children.

• • • • • • • ► For more information, see the Institute for Excellence in Writing’s website: http://iew.com.

This is an unsponsored review to share one of my favorite resources.

Just Do Something with succulent plant

Book Review: Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung

I was browsing books on Amazon when I saw Just Do Something in the “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” list. I clicked on it, read about it, and put the title on my reading list. A few months later after the to-read pile in my nightstand had shrunk, I ordered Just Do Something and began reading.

The nearly pocket-size (5 x 7 x 5/16″) and length (143 pages) of the book made it easy to hold and easy to start. A person could read the book in one or two sessions. (Christmas happened in the middle of my read-through, so it was around six sessions for me!)

Through Kevin DeYoung’s succinct language, I was able to instantly grasp the focus and intention of the book: help young people seize the day to serve God without the fear and indecision that immobilize many of us.

DeYoung reminds readers that God has instructed us to ask for wisdom to make the large and small decisions of life. He writes, “Wisdom is the difference between knowing a world-class biologist who can write your papers for you and studying under a world-class biologist so that you can write the kind of papers he would write. Too many of us want God to be the world-class scholar who will write our papers and live our lives for us, when God wants us to sit at His feet and read His Word so that we can live a life in the image of His Son.” (page 91-92)

The best part of reading this book was the dissipation of some of the anxiety and self-condemnation I feel. Decision-making invites me to be anxious—what if I make the wrong choice? What if I decide too quickly? Or, too slowly? What if I should have asked for more advice?

Self-condemnation creeps in when I make a decision, experience a perfect fail, and then feel I should have known enough to make a different decision. Of course, this is pride. It’s equivalent to saying, “I, with my mortal, finite mind, can be prefect if I try hard enough.” As a Christian, I reject this with the belief that only God is perfect and unerring. I make mistakes. This should not lead me to condemn myself, but instead to draw ever closer to God and to praise him for his awesome power to work in my life beyond what I am able.

DeYoung also encourages readers to take responsibility for our decisions. He shares the story of when he had to make the decision to leave his Iowa church and move to Michigan to take a senior pastor position. He could have told the people who were angry that he was leaving that “If it were up to me, I would stay here…but as I’ve prayed, it’s been very clear to me that this is what the Lord wants.” He explains that while this kind of speech would have defused some of the people’s anger, it would not have been clear that DeYoung had the decision and the responsibility for leaving. “It would have been wrong for me to use God’s will as a way to remove my personal responsibility in the decision.”

As emphasized in Boundaries, there is freedom in knowing what each of us is responsible for and what we have control over. God gives us a brain. We are to ask for wisdom and then use it to live boldly.

The essence of Just Do Something is to look at the big picture: stop nitpicking on the non-moral, non-ethical decisions; focus on the big goals: love, moral purity, faith, and things directly commanded in Scripture.

I recommend this book for an infusion of motivation for living the Christian life and as a reminder to walk in the freedom that comes from having God as number one in our lives.