Kentucky by Heart: Visit with young Inkspire Writing Camp attendees proves an exhilarating experience

By Steve Flairty
NKyTribune columnist

I was delighted to speak last week at the Inkspire Writing Camp, in downtown Lexington. Directed by dynamic Eastern Kentucky University English teacher Jacqueline Hamilton, I shared with 37 quite motivated campers, grades three through eleven. At age 70, I found it wasn’t easy to match my audience’s energy level, but I gave it my best shot.

The camp’s theme was “Finding Happiness in Writing.” With that in mind in prepping for the talk, it spurred me to think about my personal response to writing. It’s a craft I’ve tackled seriously for over twenty years, coming mostly after my retirement from a 28-year public school teaching career.

Steve with Inkspire campers (Photo from Inkspire Camps)

I pondered… what is it that brings such an abiding sense of satisfaction, or even exuberant happiness in doing the art of writing? I came up with several ideas from my own experiences, and since I am not mentioned with the likes of novelist John Grisham or historian Jon Meacham, financial prosperity hardly came to mind. Thanks to my teacher pension, I don’t have to rely on writing income for my livelihood.

First on the list of happiness factors is the idea of sharing stories of inspiration. I’ve always appreciated the actions of positive character habits swirling around me, starting as a very observant child. There were many examples then, such as the kindness of my Uncle Maurice dropping off vegetables from his garden onto our front porch, a local couple driving ten miles out of their way to take me to church, or my high school English giving me tough — but fair — writing feedback and encouraging my “flair” for writing.

None of those people HAD to do those sweet things, but I heard, I saw, and I absorbed the acts with appreciation. I haven’t quit, either. Today, I continue to watch for such sterling actions from others in my daily life, then I write about them. And for anyone who knows me well, tears sometimes well up and spill over in response, whether it be in real life activities, things I read, or films.

EKU English teacher and Inkspire Camp director Jacqueline Hamilton (Photo provided)

A softy? Maybe. But I’m in the inspiration business. I like to write about those who inspire and what they do to inspire. I like others to feel inspired as I am, too.

Today, I write to share those moments and the happiness I receive from them. One precocious elementary grade camper asked me what my genre is. I replied, “Kentucky inspirational.” Hopefully that’s evidenced in this weekly column. With that, there’s sometimes a sort of bonus feeling of gratification. That’s when readers connect my words and thoughts to their own lives (though they don’t always). There is a special happiness to such, and even more—a truly joyous feeling.

Besides the good vibes from people’s inspirational acts, the writing process itself brings me happiness, especially when I stay sharply focused and the writing comes out as compelling. There’s the winnowing of words and thoughts; there’s the addition of words and thoughts. It’s the process of keeping a coherent message within an easily readable text–and staying interesting enough to make the reader stay to the end of the piece.

Steve Flairty is a teacher, public speaker and an author of seven books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and six in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series, including a kids’ version. Steve’s “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #5,” was released in 2019. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, a weekly NKyTribune columnist and a former member of the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Contact him at or visit his Facebook page, “Kentucky in Common: Word Sketches in Tribute.” (Steve’s photo by Ernie Stamper)

It’s hard work, sometimes painful work. Seldom is my first draft a satisfactory one—even if it’s only a sentence, let alone a larger passage. In writing, turning raw words into a clear, convincing narrative takes time. The potential for personal gratification makes it more than worth it.

I suggested to the campers this maxim:” It’s not how you write; it’s how you REWRITE.” I informed them of my experience as a student at Campbell County High School with Mr. Emmalheinz, my English teacher. He had a well-earned reputation as somewhat intimidating, and one day when I received a heavily red-marked response from a composition assignment, I first became unnerved. It was a bit scary for me to look it over, but over 50 years later, I see that graded paper as a treasure of gold. Mr. Emmalheinz provided ample written feedback and gave me what appeared to be a generous “B.” At the end of his feedback, he stated, “You have a flair for writing.”

That teacher inspired me, I told the campers, by helping me understand what effective writing requires. It’s actually really about rewriting. It takes plenty of practice and plenty of do-overs—but is something to fully embrace. I attempted to foster the idea that rewriting is a sort of cool thing, maybe even fun. it might even make one happy.

The hour spent with the kids at writing camp was a good dose of what I enjoyed often in my teaching career — intensity and exhilaration. The kids seemed to experience it too, and I have a feeling that it had a lot to do with Director Jacqueline Hamilton (or as the kids call her, “Mizz J.J.,” along with her child-nurturing staff. Positive inspiration makes better writers, or should I say, “rewriters.”

Glad I was asked to come. I was inspired… again.

To learn more about the Inkspire Writing Camps program, visit

One thought on “Kentucky by Heart: Visit with young Inkspire Writing Camp attendees proves an exhilarating experience

  1. Well, one of your writings inspired me! The pig story from War of 1812 sent me researching the source of such a tale. After so doing, I did some of the rewriting you mention here to come up with a poem that tells that story. I call it “ THAT pig “

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