Shauna Niequist (pronounced Nee-quist) is a writer, mother, wife, and avid reader. She grew up in a Christian home, and after she journeyed away from the church in college, books and authors and stories about other people’s journeys helped her find her way back. The daily joys and challenges of life are the inspiration for her books and blog posts, which she admits don’t fall into any neat categories of Christian writing.
Shauna’s writing is, if anything, vulnerable. She writes with surprising frankness about her struggles, opinions and relationships, and in doing so, she has attracted a large and loyal following of readers who are relieved to find out that they’re not the only ones wrestling with life. Shauna was kind enough to participate with our Five Questions series, and in light of her willingness to be so open, I decided to start the conversation with a question about oversharing.
1. In a recent blog post, “On Vulnerability and Cats,” you said, “If you want vulnerability in your relationships, you have to be the one to start it — to tell the truth, to tell a secret, to dive into the messy part of your life and spill it all out.” Recently, Girls star Lena Dunham pretty flippantly told the world that she had fondled her little sister growing up. A lot of people said Dunham’s dirty laundry airing was a picture of how millennials are obsessed with vulnerability to the point of having no discretion. What’s the balance?
Writing vulnerably is so important, because it helps us all feel like we’re not alone, we’re not crazy, we’re not the only ones. It creates a sense of friendship, of connection. My goal as a writer has always been to be a friend — not an expert, a pastor, a voice of authority. A friend. Toward that end, honesty and vulnerability are crucial, and I’ve learned along the way to get input from people I trust about what not to share. I’m a naturally pretty open person, and I absolutely have a tendency to overshare. So part of my writing routine is running everything I write past an editor or friend, asking essentially, “Too far?” I think that’s a healthy practice for any writer. There’s absolutely a tension there, between sharing that helps people connect and sharing that violates. Every writer has a different line, and I’ve learned mine through feedback from people I respect. I have writer friends who are scandalized by how much I share, and others who think I hold back too much — that’s the beauty of writing, though: Every voice is different. And every voice should be different.
2. I’ve read that when you went to college, you wandered from your faith. What would you say to someone who has hit her 20s and says she’s finished with the faith of her theologically conservative, Christian parents?
Keep going. Keep asking questions. Keep being honest about your doubts and challenges and broken parts. I believe that our beautiful, historic Christian faith is more than durable and powerful enough to withstand the journey, the doubts, the questions, the fears. I felt sure, when I was 20, that I was leaving all that behind and finding something better. And my journey was a circle, delivering me right back to the God of my childhood, the God of my parents. God is strong and faithful and wise and gentle enough to let us stomp around, certain that we’re discovering something entirely new, when all the while He’s drawing us back, loving and guiding us even when we’re so sure we don’t want Him to. The journey is such a beautiful part of life and such a necessary part. If you’re in the middle of that sacred, scary journey, keep going.
3. Congratulations on starting your new book, Present Over Perfect, in which you plan on talking about the ways that “plain old everyday life … remind[s] you over and over that perfect is a myth, and that perfect breaks our backs and breaks our hearts.” How does the perfect rob us of the present when we’re using social media?
It’s so easy to think that something more amazing is happening out there. And when we become obsessed with out there, we miss out on right here. It’s easy to create something beautiful in a photograph. It’s far more challenging — and far more meaningful — to create something beautiful in your home, in your marriage, around your table with your community. So many of the most truly valuable things — forgiveness, truth-telling, rest, honesty, safety, love — are impossible to capture and translate to the internet. And that’s OK. Focus on those very valuable things anyway, and let the internet be what it should be: a great way to connect with out-of-town friends, post photos of pretty cappuccinos with designs in the foam, and buy shoes. There’s nothing inherently wrong with social media as long as you always keep in mind that it will never be a substitute for the real thing. The real thing is rarely as photo-ready, but that’s OK: Photo-ready is over-rated.
4. Do you think you could be content with your life if you weren’t as well-known and sought-after as you are? I mean, would you be OK if 253 people read your blog and no publishers were interested in printing your books?
Oh, I love this question. YES. A thousand times YES. There’s this myth that professional or public success makes you happy or fulfilled or satisfied. Being well-known, at least in my experience, just means that many more people are commenting on your outfits, which is very strange. And as a writer, if you could affect 253 people with your words, that’s pretty great, right? 253 is a lot! I LOVE writing, because I love the craft of it, the fingers-on-keys part, not because of the sales metrics. I’m very very very grateful to have a publisher — I’m not knocking that or taking it for granted at all, but the old adage is true: Book sales won’t keep you warm at night. Instagram likes won’t make your heart burst the way your kids will. Getting to do work I love is a privilege, and the fact that people connect with it is amazing. But my marriage, family and community matter so much more. That’s where the contentment and peace and fulfillment are.
5. Name three relatively undiscovered bloggers who probably don’t realize you’re a fan of their work.
I would never ever call these three undiscovered, but I do LOVE their writing and learn so much from them.
Laura Turner — Laura and I grew up together. Well, let’s be real: I babysat Laura and her brother and sister. Yes, I realize that makes me sound truly ancient. Laura is a smart, beautiful, subtle writer, and she writes about faith and culture with a sharp eye. Also, she’s really funny and has fantastic fashion sense. If Laura likes what I’m wearing, JACKPOT.
Preston Yancey — Preston is a writer’s writer — you can tell he loves words and ideas and that’s he more well-read than most people twice his age. He also loves to bake, which means I have a lot to learn from him, terrible baker that I am. He and I share a love of books, liturgy, and life around the table.
Sarah Bessey — The quality of Sarah’s writing just floors me. If you’re a writer, you should be taking notes on the way she uses language. It’s extraordinary. And the way she writes about the faith tradition we share feels both prophetic and deeply loving — most people can only pull off one of those. I think she’s doing some of the absolute best writing on the internet right now.
Shauna is the author of Cold Tangerines, Bittersweet and Bread & Wine. Her newest project, a 365-day devotional called Savor, will be available in March. She writes at www.shaunaniequist.com, for the Storyline Blog, and for IF:Table, and she is a guest teacher at her church, Willow Creek. You can follow her on Twitter @SNiequist.