I first discovered Sarah’s blog when I devoured her fantastic blog series last summer, 10 Books A Day For A Week. Her words are now a daily/must read blog for me. Almost every single post that Sarah writes resonates with me in profound ways. She is releasing her first book this fall, Jesus Feminist–and I am incredibly eager to read it! (You can pre-order it here.) She writes the way words live in my mind–conversational, poetic, raw and genuine. I’ve written many of her ‘quotes’ in my journal and ‘happy list’–I feel she in many ways a kindred spirit. If I sound like a slap-happy ridiculously ga-ga fan, it’s because I am, and I’m honored to share this interview with you. Sarah’s a contributor to Deeper Story & SheLoves Magazine. Her words on inspiration, writing and day to day sacred life are wise beyond her years. If you are a blogger/writer/author, or even just a creative soul–settle in and enjoy…
Sarah: Tell me a little bit about your background–were you born and raised in Canada? Did you meet your husband in the States or abroad?
SARAHBESSEY: I am Canadian born and raised, for generations back. I’m a prairie kid from Saskatchewan & Alberta. My spirit is deeply rooted in my western Canadian heritage. I went to university in the States, which is where I met my midwestern husband. We lived in Tulsa for awhile before heading to south Texas for a few formative years. We moved home to Canada in 2005. I didn’t realise how homesick I had been until I was home again. We have moved around a bit with Metro Vancouver but are quite settled down now with our three tinies, an extended family nearby, and a fantastic community here in Abbotsford, British Columbia. We live between the Pacific Ocean and the mountains, it’s tremendously beautiful.
Brian and I have been married for nearly 12 years, together for 14. In our wedding picture we look like we’re headed off to prom. We have 3 tinies: Anne is 6, Joseph is 4 & Evelynn Joan is nearly 2. And yes, that’s every bit as busy as you can imagine.
Sarah: I am always amazed at not only how often you blog, but that every post is so well written and full of quality content! Can you talk about how you find inspiration for your blog posts? What gives you ideas/prompts on what to write about?
SARAHBESSEY: To me, art is like manna. I have enough words/inspirations/ideas for today and so I can write and work with abandon. Tomorrow, there will be more. I had to learn to trust God’s provision for the “day’s bread” before I was released to really write freely. Plus, blogging has been a good medium for my temperament. I’m not a perfectionist–I’m a good-enough-ist! Almost everything I write on my blog took less than hour and it’s first draft (or a mildly edited second draft). I’m very much a “just write” type of person. So if I feel inspired, away I go which probably also explains the lack of focus (and frequent typos) for my blog: I write about everything, it seems. Sometimes I think it would be “smarter” to just pick one thing and laser-focus there, but the truth is that I have a lot of interests. I don’t want to compartmentalize my work anymore than I want to compartmentalize my life.
Sarah: How do you approach your writing when dealing with writer’s block?
SARAHBESSEY: I usually take a break. For me, when I’m blocked, it means that I need to go live my life. Just as the presence of a fever in a child is usually an indicator of something else like a virus, I see writer’s block as an indicator that my well has run dry and I get to take a break and become full again. I don’t stress out about it – much. I find something to write eventually, if I relax and get on with life.
A friend once told me that choosing to be a writer is like choosing to have homework everyday for the rest of your life. And that is absolutely correct! I never feel caught up on writing. So you just make peace with it’s permanence and even it’s ebb and flow nature.
Sarah: Besides writing, are there other creative outlets you practice regularly?
SARAHBESSEY: I read voraciously. I’ve usually got 4-6 books on the go at a time, and I love to read. I also knit quite a bit.
I find a lot of creative energy in daily work. It sounds a bit crazy, I know, but I find my energy restored by tidying, organizing, keeping the house picked up or clean. Maybe it’s because so much of my work and life is about the whole “long obedience in the same direction” – as a wife, a mother, a writer, a pilgrim – and there aren’t very many “quick wins” out there. Cleaning, choring around and cooking all give me a sense of accomplishment, plus it requires just enough concentration to work but not so much that I can’t be dreaming or praying while I work. I almost always come out of the daily work with a lot of creative energy ready to spend. Same thing with daily walks.
Sarah: What is your greatest creative inspiration?
SARAHBESSEY: I’m inspired by Love. I’m inspired by Jesus, by Abba, by the Holy Spirit. I am inspired by the glimpses of Him and His ways, the scent of his presence on the skin of others, as I find them out here in the world. All good and perfect gifts are from our Father, and so when I see or experience or hear about Love in the lives and art and work of others, it just makes my thumbs prick with joy. I’m also crazy inspired by my husband’s love for me, and our tinies; motherhood has been my greatest altar so far. I find God in every corner of my life and it makes me feel like even the most mundane moments of my life are sacred ground.
When my husband went to seminary at Regent College in Vancouver, I feel like it changed my own life – and not just because of the price a family pays for someone to be in school. His studies deeply affected our spiritual journey and understandings. I feel like I came alive through much of what he brought home to us. We love to talk about theology and the Church, so his studies particularly around Christ & culture & missional theology deeply inspired much of my own work and my style of narrative theology. I’m also very inspired by my surroundings.
And finally, its probably superstitious, but I feel most at home in my writing voice when my body is in western Canada, like my spirit can breathe better when I am outside, or close to the fresh air.
Sarah: What are your greatest creative barriers?
SARAHBESSEY: Time is a tough one. I feel like I have more ideas than I do time. Part of that comes with my season of life as a mum to young children. I have childcare for two mornings a week so when it’s time to write on those mornings, it’s game on. I work best under pressure so maybe the lack of time actually works in my favour…never thought of that before this minute–Ha! And going back to the creative inspiration in work, I feel like disorder and mess and a long To-Do-List stresses me out. I do best as an artist with a lot of “white space” on my margins – time to think, to clean, to work, to mother, to be present in my life. If I have a lot of commitments or time out of my nest or too many people around, I feel strangled. So you’d think I’d be better about saying ‘no’…but I’m not. I’m an introvert and get my best energy-recharging with some time alone.
Sarah: Is perfectionism an issue for you? If so, what are your strategies for managing it?
SARAHBESSEY: Well, I answered a bit of this above. But no, it’s not. I’m not a perfectionist by nature or temperament. I’m very much a Type-B personality. So I think that’s the secret to my prolific blogging – I don’t care if it’s not perfect. Of course, this makes me a terrible DIYer and a nightmare for my editor.
Sarah: What’s things do you want to write about in your lifetime?
SARAHBESSEY: I’d love to write my parents’ life and love story. I’d also love to write about my grandparents a bit more. I haven’t figured out a way to do that well yet, so I am just letting those ideas sit for awhile. Most of my own reading preferences are fiction and literature so one day, perhaps, I’ll get brave enough to tackle those genres as a writer again.
Sarah: Do you have a writing rhythm?
SARAHBESSEY: Not particularly. I work well under pressure, leave things to the last minute and I’m terribly undisciplined.
Sarah: What’s the best thing about writing for you? The most challenging?
SARAHBESSEY: The best thing about writing – oh, how can I pick! I feel like writing was how God healed me and set me free. I’m one of those folks who don’t know what they think until they write it out. So that makes most of my blog a painful archive of my own journey (some times I’d love to burn down my archives…so embarrassing!) But I found that as I wrote, and prayed, and met God over and over again in my work over the years, I was profoundly healed, set free, made whole. It challenged me. Almost all of my work feels like a snapshot of me wrestling with God in real time. God used the great love of my life – the written word – to not only heal me, but also to bring me back to community, to joy, to freedom, and even to my calling. I fell crazy-in-love with Jesus and the broken but still beautiful Church again through this.
The most challenging thing for me is vulnerability and fearlessness that real true writing requires of me.
Sarah: When did you first realize you were going to be a writer?
SARAHBESSEY: In Grade 2, Mrs. Phillips class at Mable Brown Elementary in Regina. Mrs. Phillips used to take me out of handwriting class and send me to the library to read Caldecott Award winning books, and write stories. (I could already write in cursive like a boss, thanks to my mother’s insistence of my practice at the kitchen table.) Mrs. Phillips was the first person to call me a writer. She used to take my terrible little stories about snow bunnies and girls named Alice home, and type them on her typewriter, leaving me the space on the page to draw illustrations. By exposing me right off the bat to fantastic children’s literature, my tastes were set in that direction, too. She did me two favours – she called me a writer and made a life-long reader out of me.
Sarah: How do you balance writing & motherhood?
SARAHBESSEY: I gave up on the illusion of balance and I’m just all in for embracing the Crazy now. One that that helps me considerably is our babysitter (although she’s more like a Gift of God than a babysitter, in my opinion) – she looks after the two littlest ones for two morning a week and helps with our laundry situation. So that is a huge help. My husband is very passionate about my work and likes to free me up to work on the weekends here and there. My parents also help when i have a speaking engagement or a deadline looming. But on a day-to-day basis, it’s crazy sometimes and I might miss a shower or have to pass on a great writing opportunity or let a lot go, because, I am primarily a stay-at-home mum in terms of time, energy and heart-focus so my family is still my main priority.
Sarah: What is your writing environment?
SARAHBESSEY: Well, I wrote some of my own book sitting cross-legged on the washroom floor while the baby was in the bathtub! Not exactly most writer’s ideal I imagine. I think I write best in my own home at a kitchen table in silence. Of course, that is very rare. So I typically go to the local library to write or a coffee shop. Sometimes I write during nap time but usually that bit of time in the afternoon is for email and managing the “back end” of my vocation like social media, etc.
I do my best writing in the early mornings. I never write in the evenings – I am hardly coherent after 4 in the afternoon.
Sarah: What’s the best piece of writing advice you can give?
SARAHBESSEY: Just write. That’s it. Write about whatever you want and write a lot. Your voice, your purpose, your freedom, all of it will come in the right time.
Sarah: Do you listen to music while writing? What are you listening to these days?
SARAHBESSEY: I actually prefer silence. I suppose that’s not so surprising to any other mothers of tiny children but I yearn for silence sometimes! I don’t need a lot of music and am not a big music listener. I tend to find two or three favourites and just keep them on for years at a time. When I do listen to music for writing, it’s almost always instrumental and I have a particular weakness for Jane Austen movie soundtracks. When I’m not writing, my taste tends towards Josh Garrels, Mumford & Sons, All Sons & Daughters, Civil Wars, that sort of thing.
Sarah: You are passionate about justice and write so beautifully about it without being judgmental or preachy. Has this topic always been important to you? What prompted you to write more about justice issues on the blog?
SARAHBESSEY: I feel like such a social justice wannabe. I have caught God’s heart for justice and now I’m just trying to figure out how to work that out and through in my own heart and life. I want to learn from people who are further along this path than myself and just jump in where I see God working. I have always had a tender heart for people, and I admit that my natural personality is very focused on justice but it was through theology and the Church that I discovered God’s passion for justice. It’s deeply tied to my understanding of the nature and character of the God I love so passionately. Half the time I’m writing about my own failings or struggles in this area.
Sarah: You took a trip to Haiti last year with fellow bloggers to shine light on the work that is taking place there. How did that come about?
SARAHBESSEY: I did not pursue it. (Are you sensing a theme? Again, with the God’s sense of humour and/or sovereignty thing). I had written a post a few weeks before about how I was afraid of poverty. The blogger trip was already set and ready to go when one blogger had to step back. So they had an open spot, and somehow my name came up in the discussions. When they asked me, my first instinct was to laugh hysterically at how utterly God had called my bluff to say ‘no way’. But I went, and I’m so glad that i did. Haiti is a complex place, just as justice is complex, but doing good is actually pretty simple. I feel like I made friends – lifelong friends on the team, new friends in Haiti, learned a lot, hopefully did a bit of good, but the important thing to me is to stay with Haiti now. I don’t want to be some weird poverty tourist or treat Haiti like a prop in my own life, but I want to work out justice and God’s heart alongside of the incredible people of Haiti. God is already at work there, and my main takeaway from my experience there is the importance of staying and listening with respect and friendship. We have a lot to learn.
Sarah: Do you have a mentor?
SARAHBESSEY: I don’t have a formal mentor, no. I haven’t found a lot of success with formalizing relationships in my life. [Perhaps I’m] showing my postmodern sensibilities no doubt, but there it is: institutions still freak me out. So I have my own village still raising me, each of whom mentor me in one way or another. From a writing perspective, I have a tribe of friends with whom I chat almost daily and they challenge and critique and inspire my work but it’s quite informal even while we’re wildly committed and crazy friends with each other.
Sarah: What are you reading now?
SARAHBESSEY: I’m reading Michael Gungor’s The Crowd, The Critic and the Muse & John Irving’s A Prayer For Owen Meany.
Sarah: I like to ask writers this question: What’s a six-word memoir that captures your life as an artist?
SARAHBESSEY: Joy and work come with living loved.
Sarah’s Recommended Writing Reads
I particularly like how he talks about pushing through resistance.
I loved his thoughts about the Muse. I always joke now about how my job is to put my butt in the chair because if the Muse shows up, she’s going to find me working.
I loved this book. She helped me articulate my thoughts about using it up and spending it all.
My Favorite Sarah Bessey Blog Posts
(My disclaimer: I could easily add 10 or 20 other posts here, but I’m specifically including my favorites of Sarah’s posts that address creativity, artistry and writing. Oh, and a few of my favorite 10-Books-In-A-Day posts–they’re delightful.)