Wednesday, July 5, 2017

WATCH: Katy Perry - Chained To The Rhythm Video

I often describe the town I grew up in as a bubble. It wasn't until I went to college that I started to even remotely realize just how sheltered I was and how different the whole town was compared to the rest of the world. 

Watching Katy Perry's performance at the Grammy Awards made me think of my childhood but also of the world we live in today. There are so many things we perceive that might or might not be true. And there is so much that we have to question and analyze and decide about, especially in a world of supposed fake news and social media.

I wanted to bring awareness to this song and this performance because it impacted me in terms of how I think about and view the world but also in my own writing. I've been working on revisions of a young adult novel and in this particular book, the main character has a lot going on in her head. She's trying to cover the sadness and insecurity she faces. So much of this story in particular is about what people see on the outside versus what a person is experiencing on the inside. Many if not most books are like this and it's one reason I love reading and writing so much. I've discovered so much from getting to know a main character as I'm reading. As a writer, I love that I have the opportunity to help readers see that there is more to us than meets the eye. It's fascinating to think about and I hope you get some inspiration. 

Watch and think about your own life or your own writing. Can you recognize examples of how something portrayed to others is different from the reality? Explore this in your own writing - either about yourself or in connection to your main character. I've recognized that in order for readers to connect with your character, they need to know what the scoop is. Here's a great blog post from Adventures in YA Publishing about a blueprint for writing that I found to be super helpful. It refers to your protagonist and what's going on under the surface and I hope you find it helpful!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

JOIN: Celebrating Embracing the Suck

Every Saturday, join me as I CELEBRATE This Week 
with Ruth Ayres from Discover. Play. Build.

Earlier this week, thanks to a friend, I discovered Gail Crust's blog. It's new! She's a new blogger and I was excited to read her first post. I remember when I first started blogging. A friend had suggested I try blogging and I had no idea what I was doing but I set up my blog and I started. That was in 2008. Since then, I've written tons of blog posts and connected with so many amazing people online and in real life. 

I especially love how Gail talks about being a writing teacher instead of a writing teacher...and she means a teacher who writes with kids instead of a teacher who teaches writing without also doing it herself. If only every student could have a teacher who writes. It makes a huge difference. In my comment to her I explained why i believe this is so important.

"My family and I went to an amusement park near us today and I saw a guy with a shirt that said, 'Embrace the Suck'. I have absolutely no idea what the shirt was referring to* but I was really close to asking him if I could take his picture because sometimes I really do feel like writing means embracing the suck. It's also embracing the creative life that comes with being a writer and the awesome...but there's a lot about writing that feels like "the suck". The thing is, if we (as teachers) are in the arena with them, it's more like being writers together rather than, like you said, being a writing teacher who doesn't write. I'll never forget when I started writer's notebooks with my students and I realized I was going to have to write in my own to model for them and write along with felt like pressure but it was a good pressure because just having a notebook with them helped me start to think like a writer. I started noticing things so I could put them in my notebook and I still love my notebook. I love that I get to read your very first post and I'm excited to see where this writing journey takes you."

I looked it up and it seems that "embrace the suck" is a military term. You can read more about it in this NPR article here if you'd like.

My idea behind Story Exploratory was that it would be a place to share in the suck together...and to share in the fun and excitement of writing too. Brené Brown talks about being in the arena in Rising Strong and how your trust is different when someone is in the arena with you. 

I'm here. Living the writing life as best I can. Celebrating all that comes with it, the fun times and the suck. I'm glad you're here too!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

READ: How To Reboot Yourself

I find power in others telling their stories and 
I hope you do too!
Check out It's Monday! What Are You Reading? at Book Date
For the kidlit version, visit Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers.

It's summer and for me, that means time off with my family and the headspace to focus on my writing and to reassess my life in general...which means I've been reflecting on all the plans I had for this blog and what I hoped it would be. I haven't kept up with posts as much as I'd like to but I do love having this space to talk about writing in general so I'm starting with this post and hoping to get back into the swing of at least posting once a week here. 

The post How To Reboot Yourself from Mike Vardy at Lifehack reminded me of The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin and her podcast Happier. In the book and on her podcast, Gretchen talks about how when you have some kind of life change, it gives you an opportunity to start fresh. It can be something huge like starting habits after you move or when you start a new job. For me the summer is like a clean slate. It's a clear breaking point when I can start up new habits. This year I really wanted to focus on yoga so I got an unlimited membership at my favorite local yoga studio. I've been going at least 4 times a week so far and am hoping to keep it up for the rest of the summer. I also wanted to zone in on writing revisions of my YA novel and to get that done before the end of June. I'm making good progress but I know I need to step up my game a bit. And then there's blogging. I also want to zone in on my blogs and making sure to keep up with them because they are a wonderful opportunity for instant publication and it helps me to have a place to get my thoughts out of my head.

Maybe you don't have the summer off like me but even starting a new week on Monday can be a sort of restart. Don't feel that you have to have summer off or move to a new city. If you feel like you might need a reboot, read Mike's post and try one of the idea he suggests. When it comes to writing, even a new notebook could be a great restart or finding a new place to write and making a commitment to write every Tuesday...just do it once and then do it again and over time it becomes a habit. But also, I know there are times when I've needed a break from my writing and maybe that would be helpful too. Take a break and plan to start up again with a fresh outlook. 

Have you ever tried a reboot for your writing or something else?
Can you recognize a time in your life when you experience a reboot 
and maybe you weren't even trying?
How did it feel? How did it impact your mindset?
I'd love to hear your stories!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

JOIN: Celebrating Yoga and Just Doing It

Every Saturday, join me as I CELEBRATE This Week 
with Ruth Ayres from Discover. Play. Build.

A little over two years ago, I ran an 8k without enough training and my plantar fasciitis was in full effect. It's taken me a really long time to get over it and still have some heel pain if I try to run even for a few minutes. I'm slowly adding one minute at a time to my running but until I can (hopefully) run again, I'm putting lots of energy into yoga and walking. So today I'm celebrating a week with lots of yoga! 

I signed up for unlimited yoga for the month at my favorite local studio and went everyday this week except for yesterday. My body already feels stronger overall. I got to use the new wall ropes they recently installed, focus on my breathing, and work on my chaturanga. 

At the end of my first class where we used the walls ropes the entire time, the teacher asked if we were all okay with going upside down. We were all pretty skeptical but at the same time, we all said yes. I wasn't sure how this was going to all. But he asked another person in class to show how to do it and then we did. It was actually a lot easier than I thought it was going to be! And it was fun!

Which leads me to the biggest lesson I learned - or was at least reminded of - from this week. Too often our heads get in the way of what our bodies are able to do. If I can just distract my brain for a few minutes, or tell my brain to stop holding me back and just do what I don't think I can do...I can actually do it. 

The same goes for writing. So often I sit down to write and feel stuck but as soon as I can tell my brain to stop getting in my way, my words start flowing. It's not easy, but it's helpful to know that it's really possible. I can revise this novel I'm working on. I have to stop thinking about it and just do it. 
Which reminds me of my mantra: I believe I can and I will. It works for yoga, it works for writing, it works for lots of other things. 

Sunday, June 4, 2017

JOIN: Celebrating Summer and First Line Mentor Texts

Every Saturday, join me as I CELEBRATE This Week 
with Ruth Ayres from Discover. Play. Build.

It's summer! At least for a few of us in our house it is. My husband's school gets out on June 9th but the boys and I have been off for a week already. The weather has been absolutely gorgeous. We've been to the pool twice and my mom, my sister, and I took the boys to Cedar Point for a few days. I had never been and it was super fun!

While we were away, I left my computer at home and it was nice to have the freedom to just enjoy being away and spending time with my family. We have some great stories to share and so many laughs. While we were at the water park, I found a seed idea for a middle grade novel. We'll see if I ever write it but I was glad that I at least had my writer's notebook with me so I could jot down ideas. A writer can never underestimate the power of living. It gives you ideas! If I just sat in front of my computer all the time, I wouldn't have stuff to write about. 

Speaking of writing, I've been working on a picture book and I find that using first lines from other picture book as mentor texts really helps me. Too often, my first versions are more to the point and would be considered "telling". The good thing about picture books is it's super easy to just start again since they are so short. After I write a first draft, I'll go back and pull some mentor texts, read them for ideas of how the story rolls out, and then I'll pull a line or two and try writing my own lines with the same rhythm or style. I've done this a few times with different manuscripts and with different mentor texts. It helps me so much! If you want ideas for snatches of text, you can visit Teach Mentor Texts for lots of ideas!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

JOIN: Celebrating Getting Through Stuck

Every Saturday, join me as I CELEBRATE This Week 
with Ruth Ayres from Discover. Play. Build.

I'm taking a quick break from revisions to share how I got through stuck. 

I was stuck. 

I had lots of reasons for being stuck. 

But then those reasons started to feel like excuses.

So I made time to sit down and get unstuck. 

But little bits of time here and there became me just staring at the words that were there and not knowing where to go next.

I was still stuck. 

Stuck on chapter three. 

I'm revising a young adult novel and chapter three was like a muddy rut and even though I was there, splattered with mud, desperately wanting to get out, the tires just couldn't catch. I was going no where. 

Two things helped me finally get through stuck. 

1. I found a nice chunk of time to actually really feel like I could get past chapter three. Something about knowing that I had enough time to wrestle with it made a difference. My mind was in the mode of knowing I had to do whatever it would take. Sometimes it's all mental but I find that if I pay attention to what's going on in my head, I can get past it. (For example, not that long ago, I was convinced I need a candle to be able to revise. I spent some time and a little money going to buy a candle, but then I could sit and focus. Moral of the story: It helped me get stuff done.)

2. I found other things to do than just figure out what would come after chapter three. I already had a list of thing to do with this novel based on CP feedback. I needed to add some description of a few places and characters so I focused on that. It felt like progress even though I had no idea where these descriptions were going to go. Free writing helped me feel like I was adding words to the page and it got me connected to the story again. 

And now I'm not stuck any more!

I'm way past chapter three and it feels good. I'm celebrating getting through stuck today. Maybe you've been there too and what got me through might get you through. Maybe you have ideas to share with me. (I'd love to hear them!) Maybe I'll need to remember what worked this time I was stuck...because I'm sure I'll be stuck again.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

JOIN: Celebrating Podcasts

Every Saturday, join me as I CELEBRATE This Week 
with Ruth Ayres from Discover. Play. Build.

Last week, I had to spend an hour in the car driving to visit a school. They're doing something called blended learning and a small group of us were going to see what it looks like in action. 

Knowing I would be in the car for an hour, I looked up some podcasts. I had a This Creative Life episode waiting for me and also an episode from Dear Hank & John. I listened to both and then I also listened to a couple of episodes from I Should Be Writing.

I used to drive at least 45 minutes both way but now I barely have a 5 minute drive so I don't listen to audiobooks like I used to but I decided I really like podcasts so I started looking for others I might like. 

Well, I found Happier with Gretchen Rubin and I'm in love! I've listened to almost 20 episodes now. I love that they are short (about 20 minutes) and they have good ideas to share about life and building better habits. I've been telling all my friends about it so I wanted to share here and tell you!
I'm so curious! Do you listen to podcasts? I know a ton of people do...and if you are one of them, I'd love to hear which podcasts you love most and why. Thanks for sharing!

Saturday, April 1, 2017

JOIN: Celebrating Spring Break and Time

Every Saturday, join me as I CELEBRATE This Week 
with Ruth Ayres from Discover. Play. Build.

I'm celebrating the fact that I had time to relax this week. I didn't realize how much I needed spring break. 

I had time
to sleep in
to play with my kids
to meet up with friends
to wander a flea market
to cook healthy meals
to read
to write
to catch up on homework
to make a video
to organize the house
to build two dressers from Ikea
to do research
to play with Perdi
to visit the library
to recharge.

It was much needed! 
And now it's the weekend. Whether you have a spring break or not, I hope you enjoy the weekend!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

WATCH: Thoughts on How Education Can Change the World By Jen Vincent

I am and always will be an educator at heart. 

Sometimes being an educator keeps me up at night.

And that leads to me creating a middle-of-the-night video that shares my thoughts on education because I'm so fired up I can't sleep. 

Teachers have the power 
to change the world
because we are charged 
with changing the lives of children.

I believe every teacher has to show kids they see them and they have to inspire them. And the easiest way to do that is to get them fired up to be consumers and creators. That's why I blog at Teach Mentor Texts and Story Exploratory to share ideas for how we can all be consumer and creators. With everything I share, I hope someone is inspired in some way.

I'm over doing things how they have always been done when we know better. 

I'm sharing this education-focused video here because I'd love to generate more discussion about how education can change the world. Whether you are an educator yourself or not, I appreciate your thoughts on education! 

Here are some things you can do to join in or share:
  • Visit and share my post at Teach Mentor Texts. You can comment here but I'd really love to keep the conversation there if possible.
  • Watch this amazingly powerful speech from Chris Emdin. It helped me solidify some of my own thoughts. (Thanks to Kathy Burnette for sharing it with me.)
  • Create your response to the question: How can education change the world? Link or share it in the comments here.
  • Share the post and my video. We need more people in this conversation! Please invite others to think about this and join in. 
Thanks for listening! I see you. You inspire me. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

READ: Rising Strong by Brené Brown

I find power in others telling their stories and 
I hope you do too!
Check out It's Monday! What Are You Reading? at Book Date
For the kidlit version, visit Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers.

A couple of weeks ago, it was a super windy day. I mean gusts of winds stormed through our culdesac and I braced myself as my hair blew all around my face as I walked Perdi. It was a Wednesday. I know because it was also garbage day. 

It was garbage day and the garbage cans and recycling bins lined the end of all the driveways. Perdi and I made it to the end of the street, we did our usual loop and then headed back towards home. Up ahead, across the street from my house, our neighbor's garbage can had blown over. Contents of their garbage can now were strewn all around their part of the circle. A Pringles can was slowly clattering it's way towards us.

Ugh. I was annoyed. A voice in my head complained about people and how they can't keep things nice and can you believe they would let their garbage just take over the street and were they going to clean it up and ohmigosh, the nerve. I walked the whole way down the street so cranky and mad at them. 

And then I realized, they probably took their garbage out, went to work and had absolutely no idea the wind had taken their garbage and spread it all over the street for everyone to see and be annoyed with. And here I was judging them for something they had no control over. In Rising Strong, Brené talks about seeing people through a lens of "they're doing the best they can".
So what did I do? I pulled out a poop bag from Perdi's stash and put my hand in it like a glove and I walked on over there, took a deep breathe, and picked up the garbage. 

Yup. I did. 

And I'm damn proud that I did. 

Did I want to?

Nope. Not at all. Not one bit. I don't even want to repeat some of the things I picked up that day. 

But I did it anyway. 

Because for all I know, they were doing the best they could that morning. 

It wasn't their fault the wind was being a jerk that day.

I have so many other great takeaways from this book but this one stood out the most. It's the most useful in life. Try it for a day. Try approaching people and situations with the perspective that everyone is doing the best they can and see how it changes your mentality. It lifted a burden off of my shoulders. It's easy to tell a story, whether I'm telling a story about myself, how others see me, or how I see others. My brain likes to fill in the gaps when it doesn't know the whole story. I bet yours does too. That's kind of how brains work. That's why I love this new way of looking at things. It's much easier to be compassionate if you start with the fact that everyone is doing the best they can offer at that very moment. 

I owe a huge big thanks to Patience Bertana for sharing her love of books and knowing I would like this one enough to buy me my very own copy. She was right. It's a gem of a book. I love Brené Brown's work. I've blogged about her Ted Talk on Listening to Shame before and if you aren't familiar with her, I definitely suggest checking out her Ted Talks or her books or her website or her Instagram. Really, she's amazing anywhere you can find her!

Have you read one of Brené Brown's books?
Is there a book that has shaped the way you look at life?
I'd love to hear about it!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

JOIN: Celebrating Wilson Phillips and Mold-A-Rama

Every Saturday, join me as I CELEBRATE This Week 
with Ruth Ayres from Discover. Play. Build.

A few weeks ago we took a trip to the Field Museum in Chicago. We had never taken the boys before so we decided it was a good time to go now that our youngest is six. We explored the pyramid in the Egypt exhibit, we looked at the dinosaur fossils, and all the animals they had. Of course, I think what my kids will remember are the Mold-A-Rama machines. I'm not sure if you ever had these when you were a kid but I remember them mostly from every zoo visit and I loved them. I'm so glad we still have them and I didn't realize they are actually pretty rare these days. My parents were surprised that it costs $2.00 to make a wax animal now because it used to be a quarter or fifty cents. (It was funny because $2.00 seemed normal to me so I don't really remember how much they were.)
Hopefully they'll remember something besides the Mold-A-Rama machine and how it smelled of warm crayons and how they had to reach their hand in and pull it out and how it was warm and they had to hold it upside down as it dried but if they have this memory, that works for me too. 

And then this morning, my husband showed me a video of Wilson Phillips performing at the Bulls game and it took me back too. Part of me felt annoyed that they are trying to be the Backstreet Boys and make a mini-comeback but then I remembered listening to their album over and over again. Gosh I loved Hold On. I know every single word. Still. And I don't even care if it's basically the same lyrics over and over, I loved this song. It's still pretty awesome and relevant today. 

So I hope they do make a comeback. How about Wilson Phillips, Tiffany and Debbie Gibson...that's a show I would go see. Can you tell I grew up in the 80's?
Mold-A-Rama and Wilson Phillips were blasts from my past that I got to wax nostalgic for this recently. Has this happened to you recently? Something from your childhood came up and took you back to your childhood? I'd love to hear about it!

Also, anyone up for karaoke? 
I could belt out Hold On like you wouldn't believe...

Friday, March 17, 2017

WRITE: Energy In Our Words

In The Right to Write, Julia Cameron explains, “So much of what we need, so much of what we want, is to be savored, cherished, cared for, and cared about. So much of what is missing is tenderness. When we commit our thoughts to paper, we send a strong and clear message that what we are writing about and whom we are writing to matters. As Sonia Choquette, spiritual teacher, advises us, ‘The power of the word is real whether or not you are conscious of it. Your own words are the bricks and mortar of the dreams you want to realize. Behind every word flows energy.” (p. 97)

For me, I find that I understand my message - in a way it becomes clear - when I write it down. But I agree that it also becomes real and important and worthy when I write it down. I've been talking with a friend a lot about how our childhood shaped who we are and how we and we have experiences that give us the opportunity to advocate and talk about issues of diversity but at the same time, we feel a sense of privilege that also makes us hesitate to tell our stories and to advocate. It's a weird spot to be stuck in and we've talked about how we can best raise our voices.

But this year my word is zealous and my whole reason for choosing that word was to propel myself to speak more loudly and more clearly and more passionately. So I'm taking these ideas from Julia and Sonia to heart. I'll be writing about what's in my heart and hoping it will shed the light on what my heart knows I need to do.

Let's Write! Set a timer for 5 minutes and let yourself write and write and write. Just get the thoughts that are rumbling around in your heart out. Then take markers and highlight or write over the words that stand out to you. Boil your words down to your current manifesto. Here are some sample manifestos from Lifehack you can use as mentor texts. And here's a blog post from Alexandra Franzen where she outlines important elements of a manifesto. 

I'd love to read what you come up with! 
Feel free to share in the comments or email me at jen [@] teachmentortexts [dot] com.
I'm going to work on mine and I'll share it here soon!

Monday, March 6, 2017

READ: Malcom X's Thoughts on Taking Action

I find power in others telling their stories and 
I hope you do too!
Check out It's Monday! What Are You Reading? at Book Date.
For the kidlit version, visit Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers.

March means the Slice of Life challenge from Two Writing Teachers. It's a month-long blogging challenge. I've participated twice before and both times I learned about myself as a writer. It's powerful to write and publish something every single day. 

In 2015, I blogged about myself and how I started on this journey towards really and truly needing to tell my stories and recognizing that my voice is important. This post shares this conviction and also lists all of my posts from March 2015. 

I'm not participating this year but I've been thinking (still) about telling my stories and inviting others to share their stories with me. Just last week I stopped a friend in the hallway at school and said, "Can we sit down and have coffee sometime and chat?"

When I explained more, she warned me she's going to tell it like it is and I smiled. That's exactly what I want. This year, I'm passionate about having conversations. I want to hear what others are thinking, experiencing, feeling. It's too easy to walk around shaking my head and keeping my thoughts to myself but if I continue to do just that, I'll never impact change.  My friend Shawna Coppola shared this piece from Malcom X on Twitter recently and it's been reverberating around and through me ever since. 

I invite you to read Malcolm X's words below and to share your thoughts with me. 

Some things take hold like this did because they ring true. I want to help people all over the world...but the more I think about this, the more I realize my biggest impact is with people close to me. People I see often, people who know me, people who trust me. Engaging in conversations about race right now is as important as ever. 

We all have circles of influence. 
We need to elevate that influence, amplify our voices, cause a stir.

We need to be thoughtful, be cautious, be safe.
But also, be brave, be open, be a safe place.
Be a friend.

Would you like to sit down and have coffee sometime and chat? 
Send me an email at jen {at} teachmentortexts {dot} com.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

JOIN: Celebrating Conversations During Catch

Every Saturday, join me as I CELEBRATE This Week 
with Ruth Ayres from Discover. Play. Build.

Two weeks ago I attended a day of professional development. We did an icebreaker where we walked around with a paper full of bingo-type squares. In each square was a fact about one person in the room. Our task was to walk around and try to guess which fact belonged to each person. 

One of the squares said, "I have been to 48 states." The fact belonged to the instructor and she explained, "I had been to 48 states before I was 18." She still hasn't visited Alaska or Hawaii. 

It made me think this might be a fun challenge for our family. Later that afternoon, I played catch with my six-year-old in our front yard. I didn't want to play catch. I was tired and all I wanted to do was sit down. But he so so so wanted me to play with him. He loves playing catch. I groaned as I slipped out the front door and told him we had to do short catches because I can't throw as far as dad.

But then as we threw the football back and forth and I asked him what he thought of the idea of trying to get to all 50 states. We had a big discussion about what states we have been to and what's the difference between and a city and a state and is Guatemala a state and on and on. It was such a sweet discussion, just me and him, outside on a rare warm day in February. 

Even though I didn't really want to play catch, I did. 
I'm so glad I did. That sweet little conversation was just so perfect. 

 And then he went to school and typed up this note using the Seesaw app. 
And I was really glad I went out to play catch with him. 

Sometimes it's the small little moments we shouldn't let pass us by. 
Sometimes it's the small little moments we shouldn't overlook. 
Sometimes it's the small little moments we should cherish when we can. 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

JOIN: Celebrating the Small Things

Every Saturday, join me as I CELEBRATE This Week 
with Ruth Ayres from Discover. Play. Build.

Sometimes it's the small things. Most of the time it's the small things. Last weekend we were in Orlando, Florida. It was a random, spur-of-the-moment trip that we booked only two weeks in advance. My husband is a huge football fan and got tickets to watch the athletes competing in the Probowl as they practiced...and we also were able to spend two days at Disney. It was a nice break to the cold, dreary days of Chicago winter. 

We have some great memories from our trip: surprising the kids, meeting Richard Sherman and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix's family and Tinkerbell, fighting Darth Vader AND Kylo Ren, riding the Rockin' Rollercoaster twice but as I flipped through the pictures, these stood out to me. We went to Disney Springs one night to talk around and get cupcakes at my favorite vegan bakery and our six-year-old had a football that he bought at ESPN Wide World of Sports. We were busy and walking and moving all day but he just wanted to play

We found some benches near the water and maybe we should have told them this was a bad place to was near the water and people were walking by...but we didn't and my husband joined in and it was so fun. 

The pictures are a little hard to see but I have the memory in my heart. As the kids get older I've realized how these memories are so much more important than things we buy them or places we take them. I'm glad we have them and I'm celebrating them today.

Do you have small moments to share and celebrate this week?