To the Warrior Women of Wellspring

Had the privilege of sharing this poem at the Wellspring Living Gala this past Saturday. Wellspring Living is an organization here in Atlanta that provides a home and recovery place for girls and women who are coming out of sex trafficking. When I first heard about the issue of sex trafficking I assumed it was happening overseas, but through Wellspring I found out that underage girls are being trafficked overseas and here in the states, with Atlanta being one of the biggest trafficking centers in the US. I never could have imagined that sex trafficking is happening right here in counties and on streets I visit all the time. 

I have been volunteering at Wellspring for four years or so doing a poetry writing session with the girls there who are between 12 and 17 years old. Two graduates of Wellspring were honored with a Butterfly Award at the Gala and I shared this poem to honor them and the many women who are survivors of sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. I wrote many of these lines while in session with the girls as we wrote about shoes, faith, starting over, and what we would be like if we could be superheroes. :) The young women I write with are brilliant and they continue to inspire me. They are my sheroes. 

Warrior Women of Wellspring
To the brave warrior women of Wellspring
Life has left you with stripes
But they are not scars
They are war paint
A reminder that you are more than a survivor
You are living inspiration
Breaking out of a cocoon
Stretching wings to embrace the sky and fly

You are brave
Carrying courage with you always
Wearing resilience around your shoulders
Taking every step with tenacity

Let your determination 
To not let your future be defined by your past remind you
That you don’t have to fit into a mold anyone builds for you
That you don’t have to walk this journey alone
You are loved, you are worthy
That in the arms of God we all have a place to belong
Use your voice
Speak your truth
Love yourself
Be yourself
Be an original
Be unique
Continue to grow, hope, succeed
Believe until your dreams come true
Be who God created you to be

To the brave warrior women of wellspring
I look up to you
Thank you for teaching me what strength looks like
For showing me how to stretch my own wings and learn to fly  


How to Write a Poem

When I was a little girl I watched my grandmothers cook. They never used a recipe book. To me, it seemed like magic. A poof of flour, a whisk, the whir of a beater and an amazing cake appeared. When I got older and realized I only knew how to cook spaghetti and meat loaf, I called on my Grandma Bert to teach me this magic. She tried to write things down but it was hard for her to remember exact measurements of things. She could mainly tell me based on feel, touch or smell. So I went into the kitchen with her and followed her instructions as she watched over my shoulder, taste-testing along the way.

I didn’t understand how she could cook this way without leveled cups of flour, without exact fourths of a teaspoon. Now as a poet I understand this. The page is my kitchen and how the words appear there is a bit of magic I sometimes have a hard time explaining. A poof of rhyme, a whisk of rhythm and a poem seems to just appear. I also realize this isn’t helpful for the person who wants to learn how to discern and recreate this magic. So like my grandma, I will try to take myself to the very beginning in hope that anyone who would like to can write a poem and make their own magic too.

All cooks, the same as all writers, are different. Here’s my approach to writing a poem.

1.    Decide on form.
Are you writing a haiku? Sonnet? Sestina? Limerick? Free verse? Rap verse? Spoken word poem? Each of these forms, no matter how rigid or freewheeling have rules. In the creation of art, you break a rule better when you first learn how to follow it.

2.    Choose a subject.
Pick a word randomly out of a dictionary. Ask your Facebook or twitter friends to send you words or topics. Start with a question you’ve always wanted to know the answer to.

3.    Clear your mind.If you are a person who needs quiet to write, silence as much of the distractions around you as you can. If you need a bit of noise, try a coffee place, library, bookstore, or whatever world you can create for yourself with your headphones on.

4.    Use your senses.
When you think of your subject matter, what images, aromas, sounds, textures come to your mind? Describe them, keeping in mind the form you’ve chosen. Write as if your poem is an experience you are trying to describe to someone who has never been there.  

5.    Write. Revise. Rewrite.
Do this until your idea is as complete as your brain can accomplish that day. Some days this may happen in one day. For me sometimes this process takes weeks or months. Sometimes I start an idea and set it aside, coming back to it months or years later.

6.    Read.
Once you have written something you feel slightly proud of but mostly nervous about it, read it aloud to someone else. That someone could be an open mic audience or it could be a family member or friend, just needs to be someone that has different ears from your own.

Hopefully, after completing these steps you will experience a little bit of magic.

How do you write poems?


Finishing a Book is Writing Boot Camp

Prior to writing Breaking Old Rhythms, I wrote as needed. Finishing a poem for a recording project, video or event was the catalyst that forced me to nail myself to the seat of some coffeehouse where I hid out from anyone I knew, checked Twitter and Facebook, filed my fingernails and mentally organized my taxes until I finally gave up on procrastinating and wrote something.

I learned writing a book doesn’t quite work like that. Author friends encouraged me to set up an amount of words a day to write, so I did. Some days those words arrived on the page swimmingly well. Other days they escaped slowly and I painfully watched as if my laptop screen were an annoying leaky faucet.

Here are some tips I learned from writing a book on how to complete a longer writing project:

1.     Set a schedule.
Do this because most days you won’t want to. If you wait to write until you feel like it, you’ll end up with a stained deck, scrubbed floorboards, lint free jackets, plates and plates of eaten cupcakes, but probably not a finished piece of writing. Schedule the days you will write, how long you will write, and how many words you will write that day. Give yourself a week or two of grace before your deadline. Do this because sometimes life happens, you get the world’s worst cold, have a family crisis, or have an urgent project that comes up.

Do this also because even if none of these things happen you will more than likely have a day or two that you will come up with some reason why you mustn’t write that day. Maybe you have to practice your English accent for your Lord Grantham Halloween costume, even though Halloween is several months away. Maybe you suddenly realize you never alphabetized the cleaning products underneath your sink. These are the things writers do to skirt away from writing, because we’re basically afraid we’re gonna suck. Allow yourself the grace to have a couple of “oh no what if I suck?!” days, but also remember almost every first draft sucks so get over it and write! Deadlines don’t care as much about whether or not your writing sucks, they just want you to finish so your writing will eventually not suck.

2.     Remove distractions.
Put your phone on airplane mode. Turn off TweetDeck. Do not use this time to figure out how to use Pinterest. Stop calling long lost friends you haven’t talked to since you were three years old. Oh wait, those were my distractions/procrastination tools. Ahem, in your case get away from anything that will distract you from getting the job done. If it’s social networking, turn off the internet mode on your phone or computer. If it’s people, go and write in a place where no one will talk to you. Like a library or a monastery, the opposite of the bar in Cheers.

For me, I have to leave home to write most of the time. When I was single I did this because I was likely to watch TV or take a nap instead of write. Now that I’m married I do this because I will think of all sorts of random things to talk to my husband about since we both have an office at home. Whatever you do, go someplace where all you can do is write. After you get your words in for the day you can read Wikipedia bios, tweet anonymous quotes, watch Cheers or call your friend from preschool.

3.     Trust in the process of drafting.
My first draft felt like a failure to me, because I had such big ideas for what I wanted to write but I couldn’t get the words to live up to my idea. This is the beauty of writing. To be a writer, doesn’t mean you immediately write something genius, it means you disciplined yourself to keep sharpening what you’d written until you got it just right. Don’t be afraid to think, write, rewrite, think, rewrite, cry, rewrite, think, rewrite. Rewriting done well can lead to writing that really doesn’t suck.

Now, as I have written this and had the audacity to post it online for anyone to read, you will have to remind me of this. Let’s keep each other accountable so the ideas inside of us will get written.


The Importance of the Book Proposal

Okay in my last blog, I waxed poetic about ugly crying and the pay off of finishing the thing that’s in your heart to start. For this post, I’m gonna be more practical, since I’ve had a few people ask me where to start as it relates to publishing a book.

Let me start off by saying I am by no means a veteran, I’m just sharing here the practical lessons I learned as a first-timer writing a non-fiction book while the experience is fresh on my mind and before I get distracted gearing up for this week’s episode of Scandal and Downton Abbey. Practicing “his Lordship” in my best English accent and rehearsing my Olivia Pope walk really does take a lot of work.

Here are a few thoughts that may help those of you with book dreams in your heart. Complete a book proposal.

Whether you’ve decided to self-publish or submit your book to a publisher, a book proposal will help you organize your ideas and see if they are really book length. Many people come and talk to me after events with book ideas burning inside of them. They decide this is the time. They are just going to start writing. Without a book proposal, you may be likely to get disillusioned with what seems like an awesome idea from the onset. You may find yourself getting lost in what was your point in the first place.

A couple of my friends bugged, bothered, and encouraged me until I finally gave in and completed my book proposal. Here’s why a book proposal can help you:

1.     A book proposal is like a business plan for your book. The first part will include a chapter outline, description of your demographic, what qualifies you to write the book, and what makes your book different from other books on the market on the same topic. The second part is two sample chapters of your book.
2.     If you can’t finish the proposal, you will know either your idea is more the length of an article than a book or that your idea has been written about well and you have nothing fresh to add to the topic. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing. You could either turn your book idea into an article or blog, or you can move on from that idea and work on another one.
3.     Your book proposal will help you discover who your market is. Before you publish a book, you want to have some sort of readership in mind, other than your mom or best friend.
4.     A book proposal will provide you with a sketch with which you can write your book. It’s much easier to write a book when you have a sketch or outline of some sort. As writers we would love for you to believe that we sit down at our MacBook (I mean all writers use Apple products, right? Right?!) and extemporaneously come up with immediate and unplanned genius for our readers (I get some cool points for using extemporaneously in a sentence, right? Right?!). But this is a myth, a legend, don’t believe the hype. Every great writer you know sat down at the MacBook, notebook, typewriter with a plan. A book proposal will force you to have one.
5.     If you decide to go with a publisher, many publishers are not looking for your finished non-fiction manuscript. They want a proposal because they want a sample of your writing and they want to know how you plan to access readers and succeed in the current market.
6.     For me, writing my book proposal was a microcosm of the book writing process. It required discipline, it wrung me out of creative energy and ideas, it brought out all of my worst procrastination tendencies, but it was so worth finishing. How you complete your book proposal is a fraction of the experience you will have actually writing a book.

Michael Hyatt posted an e-book on How to Write a Winning Book Proposal. It really helped me with the first draft of my proposal.

So with all those tips said, when are you gonna finish that proposal and stop procrastinating?! Writers don’t procrastinate, right? Right?!


A Few Thoughts on Writing a Book

I’ve been writing on a regular basis since I was twelve years old. In all my years of school, studying as an English major, writing vocationally, I never met a writing project that beat me…until I had to turn in the first draft of my book.

I was supposed to turn in 40,000 words. At the end of a few months I had arrived at a meager 27,000, and that felt like someone had squeezed the words out of my veins. I clicked send and emailed the draft to my editor. My husband walked in and smiled.

“You finished your book! Let’s go celebrate. We can do anything you want.”

I disintegrated into a shoulder shaking, ugly cry. Turns out tears was the way I wanted to celebrate.

I shared this with friend, songwriter, and fellow author Candi Pearson Shelton and she told me:

“The difference between poems and songs is the pay off. You know how you feel when you know a poem is finished and you’ve done your best with it?”

I nodded.

“You’ll eventually feel that way about your book. It’s just gonna take a whole lot longer.”

We laughed. And I breathed a sigh of relief that maybe my tears didn’t mean I was a failure. Candi was right. By my third draft, some feedback from friends and writers I respected, plus edits and challenging questions from a great editor, I finally felt like writing a book hadn’t beaten me. I arrived at my word count and felt good about what I’d written.

I had to excavate my past, dig beneath my stories, get honest, and focus more on doing the best I could than comparing myself to anyone else. Breaking Old Rhythms is a result of several coffee house conversations, a few embarrassing moments, honest prayers, and a few stanzas of poetry weaved in.

Whether it’s writing a book, completing a degree, raising kids, starting a business, caring for a loved one, or just simply getting up out of bed and living every day to its fullest, don’t let it beat you. Keep showing up until you figure out its rhythm. Learn to dance with it, until it brings out the best in you.

Next blog: The Importance of the Book Proposal


Breaking Old Rhythms - Book Trailer

I am less than 2 months away from the release of my first non-fiction book Breaking Old Rhythms: Answering the Call of a Creative God on March 1! Thanks to the wonderful peeps at Skor Inc. here is the book trailer. Check it out!

Video by: Brody Harper and Ryan Slaughter of Skor Inc.
Music by: Matt "DJ Opdiggy" Owen
Book Publisher: Intervarsity Press - Crescendo


Amena Answers Your Questions Part 3

My third Question and Answer blog featuring questions from Angeley Crawford on Facebook. 

Question 1: What is "Christian" Poetry?

Question 2: How do I find a writers' group?

Question 3: What are your thoughts on dealing with the hurt or envy that comes with interracial dating?

Have more questions? Find me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Pinterest.