The BOXCAR Story

Victoria Payne Olivares is the founder and principal educator at BOXCAR Writing Labs. She’s changed a lot since her first day of kindergarten, but her love of education and joy of learning have stayed the same. She’s combined her enthusiasm with nearly two decades of teaching writing to students at the University of Portland to create private coaching programs for students of all ages. Victoria lives, works, and writes in Portland, Oregon with her three sons.

When the four siblings in Gertrude Chandler Warner’s The BoxCar Children make a refrigerator out of rocks and river, they do so to keep the milk cold. They’d already sorted through the dump for dishes and other lost treasures. They’d already discovered the abandoned boxcar in the woods and reimagined it as their home.

Yet the innovation of the refrigerator is what held my young imagination. While the story itself spoke to the part of me that liked to take notes on unplanned disasters, this one filed right under “should I ever find myself suddenly orphaned and fleeing my estranged grandfather,” the characters’ relentless creativity and steely problem-solving inspired me. The children were especially adept at resourcefulness, using whatever they possessed by way of knowledge and experience to turn whatever they could into something of beauty and utility.

It would be many years later, years of working with students of all ages, to remind me that the qualities the boxcar children have in spades–innovation, critical thinking, resourcefulness, optimism, grit–are essential characteristics of the writer.

I started BoxCar Writing Labs because I believe that everyone can develop these qualities through a greater understanding of the writing process and elements of good writing. As novice writers transform their writing abilities, they begin to transform themselves. This happy side effect is no accident. Good writing means that you have discovered ideas worth sharing and you know how to communicate them to an audience.

In short, good writing means you’ve found your voice.