Today’s the Day

Today is the day.

It’s circled on my calendar. It’s marked on my phone. Today is the day I selected nearly two months ago to say I was done talking about being a writer and start writing again.

Today is the day I step out of my “for-sure” life and start pursuing my “Are-you-sure?” life.

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In reality, I took those first steps several weeks ago, but today is the culmination of the decision I made that night.

I’ve had a handful of moments I’ve asked myself, “What in the world am I thinking?” But every time I do, it’s followed by an almost eerie sense of calm assurance that now is the time to fully claim what I’ve only dreamed of doing before.

There’s a time for dreams and there’s a time for action. Today is a day for action.

I’ve done the homework. I’ve studied the craft. And while I still have plenty to learn, that’ll always be the case.

What I won’t always have is “Today.” And the last question I want to be asking myself is, “What if I had…”

So today is the first official day of my new adventures in writing. You’ll be seeing more in the days ahead.

—Jen

Graphic Garbage In, Graphic Garbage Out

white-male-2064823_1920I’d planned to post a completely different piece today, but I received a series of texts yesterday that so disturbed me, I decided I needed to write something completely new.

My sister has the genuine joy of working for her local library. She preps books before they appear on the shelf for the first time, she mends them when they inevitably come back with some sort of damage, and she helps with re-shelving. Needless to say, she sees a lot of books every day.

Lately she’s been noticing more books geared for younger readers arriving with disturbing messages hidden within the pages. One book, heralded as a book for teen girls’ empowerment, reads more like a story grooming young high schoolers for relations with older men.

Yesterday she received a graphic novel targeted to boys from the ages of six to eleven. Right in the centerfold was a drawing of several young girls in risqué poses wearing nothing but skimpy panties. Worse, the image itself had nothing to do with the overall story. It was just there with bold letters proclaiming that topless girls are “very sexy.”

Appalled that something like that would ever be printed, she sent me a picture of the book cover and the centerfold. I thought I was going to be sick all over my desk the moment I saw them.

Even though these are cartoonish drawings, it’s clear that the girls depicted are young—one is even wearing a big pink bow in her hair.

We live in an era when we as women are fighting to end the objectification of our bodies by leering men. We post videos about what it’s like walking down the street every day. We’re refusing to accept phrases like “boys will be boys” and we’re fed up with women being criminalized and stigmatized while men get a slap on the wrist—if that.

But that’s not the only reason I’m sickened by this graphic exploitation.

I’m sickened because our little boys are just as vulnerable as our little girls. Drawings and pictures that objectify women and girls rewire their still-forming minds in ways that could ultimately send them down very dark and dangerous paths in life.

The lecherous old men of today are the innocent young victims of yesterday.

Issues of censorship or freedom of expression aside, as Children’s and YA writers or illustrators, we have the privilege and awesome responsibility of aiding in the mental and emotional growth of our readers. We get to open their eyes to wonder and possibility, encourage them to ask tough questions and seek out better ways to handle difficult problems. We also play a vital role in the adults they will grow up to be.

I’m not advocating that we shelter young minds from human anatomy and sexuality. We should be having early, healthy discussions with our children. Regularly and often.

What we shouldn’t be doing is telling the young men in our lives that girls posing naked for the pleasure of random strangers is not only okay but it’s something that should be celebrated with wide eyes and drooling grins.

If we want to protect our daughters, we must also protect our sons.

P.S. After my sister had a conversation with the children’s librarian expressing her concern, the library opted to remove the offending title from their catalog. To the staff there, I’d like to say, “Thank you!”

 

Make your emotions work for you (not against you)!

Best Friends Having Fun On A Bike

How has your writing gone this week? Is your current project still exciting, or is it causing you intense anguish? Is the work moving forward, or have found yourself stumped and at standstill?

How are you doing this week? Are you proudly declaring yourself a writer or do you secretly fear being outed as a “fraud” because you just can’t get the right words down on paper (or any words out at all)?

Me, I’ve gone through all of the above. And that’s just the last 48 hours!

As writers (and members of the human race), it’s common to feel an entire range of emotions regarding our writing and ourselves—sometimes all at once. The good news is, the emotional roller coaster doesn’t have to be a curse. In fact, it can be exactly what our WIP needs.

Our lives are unique and complex, but the emotions we experience are universal. That’s what makes the characters we love so much so relatable.

Feeling the arm-hair-raising thrill of anticipation? There’s a chapter in your book where one or more of your characters feels the same way. Take that excitement and work it into a scene.

Are you being pulled down into the darkness by the invisible weight of fear? Time to tap into that boiling stomach acid and pour it out onto the page.

Uncertainty. Happiness. Heartache. Boredom. Take whatever describes your current state of mind and put it to use. Don’t think about how the words sound, don’t worry about form or grammar. Just get it out and set those words aside in a special file for later. Now you won’t have to rack your brain trying to convey feelings that may be contrary to your own later on.

We were intentionally designed to be emotional beings, so let your characters (and your readers) “feel all the feels.”

The best stories, after all, are the ones in which whatever is at stake for the characters impacts our real lives as well.

By the way, I honestly do wonder…how are you doing this week? If you need encouragement (or someone to cheer alongside you), let me know in the comments below.

When writing loses its charm

In his introduction to Revising and Self-EditingJames Scott Bell shares a story of attempting to learn golf. He bought books, he listened to tapes, and nearly chucked his clubs into the dumpster. Then he met a well-respected teacher who showed him what he’d been missing all along. In putting all of his focus into technique, Jim wrote, he overlooked the feel for the game.

The same is true for me.

In focusing on doing everything “right” I’ve forgotten the feel of writing. I’ve lost sight of the joy of creating and, too often, miss what I set out to do: Write. Perhaps you’ve experienced something similar.

So, what’s a writer to do when she’s ready to chuck the laptop out the window?

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1. Trust your instincts.

You’ve done the exercises, read the books, and sat through the seminars. You have the tools and the capability. It’s time to put them to use. If the internal critic is harassing you, write those words out. I captured the voice of my antagonist for my current WIP using this method.

2. Be intentional.

There’s a time for learning and a time for writing. Our writing time needs to be about being creative and enjoying that process (and all the challenges that go along with it). If a question arises in how to handle a certain issue, make a note and move on. Use your learning time to brush up on the subject.

3. Take a break.

Sometimes you just need a break. That’s okay! Use this time to try something you haven’t gotten around to doing yet. Take a drive. Dig in the dirt. Play! Experiences are what feed our creativity. Once your creative spirit is well-fed, you’ll have plenty of things to write about.

4. Re-read the book that first inspired you to be a writer.

I have several of these! By revisiting the stories, I can recapture some of those original memories and feelings. They might not be exactly the same, but they’re usually enough to kick-start the enthusiasm and desire to get back to my own work in progress.

Your turn: What re-inspires you when you feel like calling it quits? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section!

The Writing Challenge

Last month I made a commitment to write 500 words a day for 31 days straight. And for the most part I stuck to it. However, I stepped away from writing during a weeklong trip to Germany to see my brother. In all reality, I could have easily made my daily word count while on vacation. I had the time. I had the ability. I could have taken a lot more pictures, too.

But I didn’t.

I opted for a full vacation instead. I used my own two eyes to take in the sights. I allowed my fingers to brush against the leaves in the Botanical Gardens, my feet to feel the unevenness of the cobble stoned streets. I allowed my ears to take in a language that is made to sound harsh by Hollywood, but in actuality is actually quite soft and beautiful.

When we weren’t exploring, I allowed myself to read for enjoyment’s sake. I picked up a book I hadn’t read since my teenage years and reconnected with characters I’ve loved since early childhood.

Sibling Games

I jumped in on games with my brother’s barrack-mates and learned a new line dance.

Storming the Castle

I climbed a mountain and then explored a castle while wearing Hagrid-sized house shoes.

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I ate. I drank (responsibly). And (a few unexpected bumps aside) was merry.

Writing is an important part of my life, but I also recognized during that week that it isn’t the only important thing in my life.

I have a quote by Henry David Thoreau above my desk that says:

“How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.”

I don’t keep it there as an excuse to procrastinate, but as a reminder that I tend to lean more to the obsessive at times. Growing up, I would open a book and refuse to close it until it was finished…no matter how thick the book. When I first began my journey as a writer, it’s all I did. I ignored friends, I ignored family, and I ignored life.

When the rejections started coming in, I was devastated. I felt as if I’d wasted my time, my efforts, and I began to believe I would never be a real writer.

The day I discovered the quote by Thoreau it was like a locked door in my brain finally opened to reveal not a room, but a blinding summer light and the world beyond.

As writer’s we’re told to write what we know. If all I know is the rules of writing and what other writers have penned before, what good does it do me (or anyone who stumbles over my writing)?

But, if I take the time to engage in the world, to learn and experience new things, that in turn will translate into my craft.

So I didn’t make my 31-day goal. I’ve still got 31 days ahead of me to try again. I’ve also got some incredible goofy memories with three of my siblings that will somehow nurture the characters of my future work.

And look. It’s April 1st and I’ve already passed my goal for the month so far!

 

Five ways you can help end human trafficking in your community

Stop_Trafficking_Badge-Yellow-3Perhaps you’ve heard the word “trafficking” in passing but never gave it much thought. Perhaps photos of a red “X” on the back of your friends’ hands have filled your social networking feed this week and you’re wondering what it means. Perhaps a news story caused you to do a little research and now you feel overwhelmed by the ugly reality that slavery still exists in our country.

You want to do something. But perhaps you think the problem is too big. You hate knowing what’s happening in the world, but you just don’t know what sort of difference you can make. Or even where to start.

Trust me; you’re far from alone in this feeling.

Standing up against human trafficking doesn’t have to mean grand gestures. It’s in the little things we do together that add up to make the biggest difference and make the greatest change.

Mother Teresa once said, “We cannot do great things on this Earth, only small things with great love.”

In other words, you don’t need a lot of money. You don’t need to dedicate all of your free time. And you don’t have to tackle the entire issue of human trafficking on your own. Instead, you can make a world of difference by doing something small in your own community.

First, learn what trafficking is and what it isn’t. Whether it’s forced manual labor or sex trafficking, there are incredible non-profits and governmental agencies around the globe that have joined forces to educate the public about human trafficking.

I have the privilege of working for one such organization. Shared Hope International exists to intervene on behalf of victims of sex trafficking. One of the ways in which we do so is through public education and policy reform. You can learn more at www.sharedhope.org

Second, become a volunteer or mentor at your local homeless shelter, soup kitchen, or pregnancy resource center. It might only be for an hour a week, but that hour could change the life of a victim of trafficking without you even knowing it. Regardless of who you meet there, you’ll likely discover that your life is one that’s changed for the better.

Third, donate to local shelters, ministries, and organizations that serve victims of human trafficking. There’s always a “big” financial need for medical care, shelter, and operational expenses, sure. But there’s also the “smaller” need of new clothing, shoes, and toiletries. Don’t underestimate what owning a warm coat or a new pair of shoes in the middle of winter can mean to someone living without them. Especially if they come with no strings attached. Reach out to groups in your hometown to find out what their most urgent needs are, then plan your giving accordingly.

Fourth, be vigilant. If you see activity that you suspect may be connected to human trafficking of any form, contact your local authorities, or an agency such as the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, or the National Human Trafficking Resource Center. You can also alert your pastor, teachers, or school administrators.

Fifth, be smart and stay safe. Unless you have been properly trained, don’t engage in any activities that may endanger you or the victim. Your good intentions could make a bad situation worse. I repeat what I said above: always report suspicious activity to the proper authorities. Let them take it from there.

When it comes to ending human trafficking, there is no such thing as “Go big or go home.”

This is a fight that can only be won one battle at a time with the help of many active hands and compassionate hearts. Armchair awareness is well and good, but it’s just the start.

What will you do now that you know?

Putting the anxious heart to rest

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Photo Credit: FreeImages.com/BillyAlexander

This is how we know we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in His presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 1 John 3:19 NIV

“The heart” is my conscience. It’s the part of me that remembers all of my shortcomings. Like Satan, it likes to accuse me of not living up to God’s standards and it can drive me deep into the pit.

But, neither my conscience nor the devil has the final say. God does. He knows all, unlike Satan. He sees all, unlike my heart. And He forgives all for those who are in Him.

I do not need to feel shame when I can’t make large monetary donations to noble causes. I do not need to feel I’m a lesser Christian if I’m not working in a foreign field.

Am I showing God’s love to the people around me? Do I consider the well being of others when I choose my words and actions? If the answer is yes, then my heart can be put to rest. If it’s no, then that’s something I can change.

The truth is, God does not expect his children to be all things to all people at all times.

God doesn’t condemn me for not being able to perfectly align myself with His holy standard. He isn’t disappointed in me when I stumble, even if the stumble is great.

God loves me. There are not strings. There are no conditions. God loves me!

My circumstances are just that. Circumstances. The heart will try to tell me unbearable hardships occur because God is angry with me. The truth is, they’re just another opportunity for Him to show His great love.