Series 11: For the Love of Books | Episode 07
Ask Jen! All Your Book and Writing Questions Answered
What was the hardest book for Jen to write? How’s the new book coming along? How on earth do we dip a toe into the publishing waters? And when is she going to write us a cookbook?! No doubt each of us in the For the Love community has had a question or two for our host. And while Jen normally asks the questions, today we turn the tables and give FTL listeners the mic! We asked you to send your book and writing questions, and you delivered some practical and thought-provoking conversation starters. Today in our second Q&A episode, Jen answers all kinds of questions, everything from the craft of writing and how she stays inspired to creating a platform and even how to deal with regular life (her advice on working well with a spouse is gold). And stick around till the very end, when Jen answers all the questions we’ve been asking to each guest in the book series, including what’s saving her life right now.
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Narrator: Hi everybody, my name is Remy. Welcome to the For the Love Podcast, with your host Jen Hatmaker, my mom. She writes books and speaks to crowds. But she mostly loves talking to amazing people, every week, on this podcast. Thanks for listening. We hope you enjoy the show.
Jen: Hey, everybody. This is Jen Hatmaker, your very happy hostess of the For the Love Podcast. Welcome to the show.
Today is bittersweet, you guys, because we are at the very end of our For the Love of Books series. And we have had a great, great run, from first-time authors to poets to writers who put tons of careful thought into funny, and true, and hard things.
This series has just been a balm to my heart and a boost to my brain, but don’t you worry. We’ll definitely be doing this again, because it’s been too much fun, and we as a collective community love reading of books too much to let this be a one-and-done anyhow.
You might remember that the last time we took questions from you, it involved my parents and you guys brought it. That was such a fun and funny episode. Literally, if you have not listened to that one, you need to go back and find the episode with my mom and dad in the parenting series. It is truly hysterical and amazing.
That was such a fun episode for us. We loved fielding questions from you, so we thought it might be great to invite you, my very favorite listeners, for a little Q&A with moi about books and writing, and reading, and inspiration, and all of it. You know, we typically crowdsource the last episode of every series, and this one’s just changing it up a little bit. I am the crowdsourced guest. You’re welcome. And you are the interviewers, and you have asked some amazing questions. So I opened up my email coffers, and lo and behold, you sent written messages and voice memos galore, with all kinds of questions for me. Some about books, some about writing, and craft, and business, some about life. There’s tons to talk about so I thought it was worth dedicating some time to answering your questions at length.
So, to everybody who’s sent in questions: first of all, thank you for taking the time to do that. I actually wish we would’ve gotten to every single question on air, but I have all these kids, and they wanna be fed, and they want a mom in the house.And so sometimes I just don’t get to do everything I want to do.
So here’s what’s happening today. I am recording and going through the questions that you sent, a lot of the questions that you sent. And because I’m an Enneagram 3, we have divided them into categories so everything flows and everything has its place, because we’re just not gonna live in a world of chaos. So don’t you worry.
Obviously everything I mention today will be in the transcript, as always, which you can find at jenhatmaker.com under the Podcast tab. My partner and assistant Amanda is a superstar and will make sure that you can find everything that comes out of my mouth today.
So, we’re gonna just dive right in and start. So much stuff coming your way, so buckle up, crew.
First off, several of you asked questions specifically about my books. So I wanna take a minute and answer a few of those first, and give you sort of a behind-the-scenes peek, I guess, at some of the thought that went into them and how I have evolved a bit from some of my earlier work. And just other really fun and meaningful things that you guys took the time the ask.
This first question came as an email from a member of our community named Kelly, and she said this:
“This is Kelly from Wake Forest, North Carolina. I just finished reading 7 with a group of ladies and thinking things have changed a lot for you and your family since you wrote the book. How much are those principles still a part of your life?”
Thank you for asking that, Kelly. I like that question.
So for those of you who have no idea what she is talking about, because a lot of you are kind of new to me: 7 was three books ago, and I wrote it in 2010.
It was this experiment. Like, I don’t know how else to say it except that we just kept looking at our life going, We just have so much. All of our drawers are overflowing, our closets are overflowing, I don’t know where our money’s going. We’re spending it, but I’m not sure on what.
It just felt like the tail was wagging, the dog and our stuff . . . it felt like our stuff owned us. Right? That we did not own it. Everything felt a little bit unintentional and wasteful, and I could not get my arms around it, and because I’m not a person naturally prone to subtlety. Right? Like, I just don’t have that gear. I don’t do anything like that.
We came up—and by we I mean me—came up with this idea called 7. And so my family for almost an entire year, we took seven areas of excess, and we boiled it down to just seven choices.
And so we picked the areas in our life that felt the most out of control: food, clothes, spending, waste, possessions, media and technology, and stress. So in every one of those categories, we were just going, “Too much. We have too much of this. Too much of it, it’s taking up too much time, too much money, too much energy.” And we spent one month on every idea and boiled it down to just seven choices.
So, for example, the first month was food. We ate the same seven foods for a month. Second month was clothes. We wore the same seven pieces of clothes for the month. We gave away seven things a day that we owned for a month. We only spent money in seven places for a month. We adopted seven practices for greener, more earth-friendly living for a month, etc. It was pretty extreme, which is why Kelly was like, “That feels like maybe that’s not the way you always continued to live.”
Well, first of all, it was never meant to be. It was, as I mentioned in 7, it was kind of in the spirit of a fast, and so we always approached it kind of like you would a fast. It’s temporary, you know? Nobody fasts forever. It’s meant to sort of jar you out. Jar you off high center, jar you out of your comfort zone. Kind of wake you up in kind of an extreme way. And that’s what 7 was, too. So, you know, obviously those things were never meant to be permanent. I didn’t plan to wear the same seven clothes for the rest of my life.
But, to your question, Kelly, tons of those principles still govern our life. We learned so much during that year, you guys. So much, not just about our own personal habits, but about the world.
For every single month that we were really focusing on, I did a deep dive. What can I learn here? Like, for example, on clothes, I really started trying to figure out what does it mean to have an ethical supply chain? Right? If I’m paying two dollars for this shirt, what does that mean for the person that made it? Where is it coming from? So it was way more than just external behaviors for us. It was, What is underneath wealth inequality? What does spending look like, how is consumerism affecting our family and our culture and the whole world?
It was a lot. Like, it was a lot, no joke about it. And so those are the kinds of things that once you learn, you can’t un-know. Once we really started paying attention to what consumerism looks like and how it affects us, and our neighbors, and our neighbors in the world, we just could never shake it.
And so, a lot of those principles . . . it changed the way we spend on a permanent basis. It absolutely changed the way we waste and recycle and it changed the way we . . . what exactly we decide to buy, and sort of what matters to us. What we pay attention to. Changed the way we think about our neighbors, and so we still have a lot of those in place.
And I chronicled all of my failures, my personal failures, and it’s not just quite as serious as it sounds. It’s called 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. And it has a workbook, too, if you want to do it with your small group or your friends or your Bible study or whatever.
So anyhow, thanks for your question Kelly. Alright, this is a call in question from Joan:
Joan: Hi, this is Joan, from Chicago, IL. Out of all of your books, which one was the hardest to write and why?
Jen: Super, super question. Which was the hardest to write? Let me think about that for a second.
First of all, I have never, ever discovered that writing was easy, so I’m still waiting for, “Which of the books was easy to write? Does that ever happen? Do I ever get that experience?” I am not sure.
My suspicion is that . . . well, I have two answers, if you’ll grant me two different answers.
The first one is this: all the very first books I wrote, which I wrote a whole bunch of books at the beginning of my career that exactly nobody read, and thank goodness. Like, nobody. And so I put my head down and worked really, really hard, and I wrote in a really concentrated fashion.
I wrote my first five books, which one of them was a book. The next four were studies, but they were equal to length in a book. So it was kind of the same scope of writing. I wrote all five of those in two years. And that was when my kids were two, four, and six. Three, five and seven. And it was so hard.
And add to the fact that I was in the most demanding season of parenting that I’ve experienced yet, but additionally, I didn’t know what I was doing. I just did not know what I was doing. I didn’t know how to pace myself, I didn’t know . . . I was still discovering how to best practice as a writer. I had no sense of rhythm because I had too many kids, and they were all little. I was kind of like a stay-home mom at the time, and so I didn’t have really good practices developed, either. I wrote . . . I don’t honestly know when. When I think back to those years, I have no idea how I got those books written or when I wrote them. I don’t remember. It’s a blur.
But I do remember how hard it was. I remember just this crushing sense of the ticking clock, and the crying babies. And at the time, my husband had a very demanding job. He was working 70-plus hours a week, and so he was gone during the day and most nights, and that was so hard.
I was so thrilled to be welcomed into the community of authors. I was so grateful for a shot, and remain grateful. I was just so flabbergasted that anybody was going to let me write a book that might eventually end up on a shelf, regardless of whether anybody read it, which they did not, but I think that just overrode everything else. That it overrode my underdeveloped skillset. I mean, you guys, when I go back and read some of those paragraphs, I just cannot. I just cannot. I’m sorry, world. I’m sorry. It was all just . . . it was just overwrought, and trying too hard, and oh, I didn’t have a great sense of literary rhythm yet.
I was also writing in kind of a template that I thought I needed to fit, especially with the studies. I thought the studies had to look and feel a certain way, and I didn’t exactly know how to write in any other container, and so I can see that I am really forcing myself into a pre-set model. That first block of books that were so concentrated at such a difficult time in life, when I didn’t know what I was doing for sure.
I hate to go back to what I just talked about, but the other one would be 7, because 7 was so . . . it was so research heavy. You know, as I mentioned, I wasn’t just doing the experiment, I was learning. And so my bibliography for 7 is so long, because I was trying to learn from experts and people who cared about the Earth and supply chains and our industrial food system and mental health and financial sort-of accountability. It was just like drinking through a fire hose.
And so at the same time that we’re going through this pretty intense life experiment, I’m also essentially acting like a researcher. I mean, I’m constantly reading and learning and trying to condense that information and make sense into the book. And so that one was just labor intensive in every way, both in life, and in the writing process.
However, it still remains that writing is my favorite thing, and I am so grateful to do it. And it’s hard, yes, but what isn’t? Everything worth anything is hard. So, thank you for your question, Joan.
Okay. Here’s another write-in question. This one is from Lauren. She said this:
“Hi, Jen. This is Lauren from Haddonfield, New Jersey, and my question for you is what do you think was the funniest thing you ever wrote about in one of your books?”
Oh my gosh, what a great question. Oh, I love that.
So, first of all, you guys, if you’ve never read my books . . . if you’re just a podcast listener, and you’ve not dipped your toe into my world of books, you should just know that I love to be funny. I mean, I really do. I love to be funny. I love to make you laugh, I love to be entertaining. I like that kind of writer. I like reading people who make me laugh. I just find humor so wonderful, and I don’t think it’s unimportant. And so I do. I include a lot of funny stories, even in really serious kinds of books.
So just when you think the content might be pretty intense, I just constantly throw in all these absurd stories, and I love to spin a yarn.
I think maybe one of the essays that I loved that literally made my own self laugh out loud—you know, if you make your own self laugh, you might have something—was in For the Love, which was not the last book but the one before it. I wrote an essay about turning 40, and it makes me laugh to this day. It makes me laugh to think about it, about all the things that happened right around the 40 mark, and I loved writing it. And so it still makes me laugh when I think about it. I love that essay.
I also wrote an essay that I loved in Moxie, or Of Mess and Moxie—I always call it just “Moxie.” But my last book, Of Mess and Moxie—about exercising, which also made me laugh upon rereading. When I read it to myself, I laughed about it. About my love/hate relationship with exercise, and what it looks like to be a 40-year-old who exercises.
Anyway, I don’t know. I love hearing what makes other people laugh. So that is always one of my favorite oars in the water with my readers, is finding out what they loved.
Also, big fan favorite was also one in For the Love called “Fashion Concerns.” So, that one . . . don’t read that one on a plane.
Alright. Here is a call-in from Holly:
Holly: Hi, Jen. This question is from Holly in Edmond, Oklahoma. What can you tell us about the different obstacles you have faced recently in writing your new book baby? And how have you overcome or how are you overcoming them?
Jen: Okay, okay. Hey, Holly. Thank you for asking that, and I appreciate that really sensitive question.
So I am writing a book right now. In fact, I closed it out just ten minutes before I jumped on to do this podcast, and so I am really in the . . . I’m in the weeds with that one right now.
And here’s what’s interesting about this book. This will not come as any surprise to any of you who have been with me for some time. We’ve got some longevity together, I would hope this is true for me forever. But definitely I’ve just had . . . I’ve just gone through development in the last, I’m gonna say, five years. It’s a pretty big deal. I’ve had some sort of transformative spiritual changes in my life. I’m learning, I am asking new and sometimes really hard and definitely uncomfortable questions. Just kind of rattling the cages a little bit, honestly, of basically the spiritual template I was handed, that I grew up in, that I definitely absorbed and then ultimately started churning out my own self.
And just the longer I lived as an adult, the more exposure I had to the world, and to people, the different kinds of teachers and leaders and thinkers that came into my life to lead me into absolutely uncharted frontier for me, because frankly, my life up until not all that long ago was pretty homogenous. Kind of the same types of thinkers, the same types of ideas, the same types of people, largely surrounding me. And so a lot of things challenged what I believed and what I thought I understood and systems that I had never really thought to examine or question. And so I’ve sort of lived that . . . I don’t know if it’s a “transition,” that might be a little extreme. But that “processing,” really.
I’ve processed all that out loud and in public, actually. And a lot of us are doing that, but I am in an interesting position where I have a handful of more eyes and ears on me, and so that has just been a whole deal for the last few years for me. Both very wonderful in nature, in life, and what it has meant in my actual lived world, and also challenging. Because . . . I mean, nobody likes change, especially from their leaders.
So I now find myself writing a book in a little bit different headspace—and frankly not just different headspace, but different public space. I think that is . . . gosh, let’s just call it “well-documented.” Can we say that? Well-documented. Anytime somebody says something to me like that, I’m like, “You know what? Just Google me.” I don’t have time to . . . it’s too much. Just Google my name.
And so I sat down to write this book that I’m writing right now, and I said to myself, I will be true. I will be true. Weirdly true.
That’s interesting for me to say, because one thing that people have always told me is that, “One thing we like about you, Jen, one reason we come to you is you’re real. You know, you’re authentic.”
And that’s true, but not exactly. That’s only a little bit true. I have thus far been real and authentic to a point, the point that I want you to see, and the point that is still beneficial to me—that’s just honest—where I’ll get right up to the edge of it. If I go past it, I’m gonna lose something. I kind of have this sense of where to stop, and how to dial it back. But that is a hard way to live, and it feels fractured, and I feel like pieces of me are very disintegrated in that I’m just not really all the way there. I’m just telling half of it.
On this book that I’m writing now, I just said, I’m not gonna do it. I’m gonna show up faithful and whole, and I’m not gonna try to please some imaginary group that won’t ever be pleased. I’m just gonna tell it straight.
And so I don’t know how that’s gonna go. We’ll see. I don’t know how it’s gonna go, but I think it’s the best thing I have to offer, and I’m gonna share everything I’ve learned in the last few years and what it taught me. What was hard, what I lost, and what I gained, and how that season has instructed me.
And so, this one feels real. Already, guys, I’m reading some paragraphs that I’ve written and I’m just thinking, Okay, I’m just gonna leave it in until somebody . . . until I get in trouble. I don’t know! I’m not sure. It’s a little bit new frontier.
I can’t wait to give it to you, and I can’t wait to discuss it with you. What my community is telling me is that a lot of us are here, and that a lot of us have these questions, and that a lot of us feel estranged in some way. Some of us feel like spiritual orphans, and we’re not sure how to make sense of the church we see with the one we thought we understand in scripture.
So, anyhow, I really appreciate your question, Holly, and I would love it if you would just pray for me as I write this that I am faithful and that I am obedient and I don’t let fear guide me, but rather truth. So, thanks for that question.
Here is a call-in question from Amy, to wrap up our questions about books. And we’ll move to another section. This is what Amy said:
Amy: Hi, Jen, this is Amy from Nashville. So you took my dream trip up to Chicago earlier this year to go to cooking school, and it looked amazing. So now I’ve gotta ask: when’s that cookbook coming out, girl?!
Jen: Oh my gosh, Amy. If I have heard that once, I have heard it a thousand times. Oh, I love food so much. It’s one of my core life values, and so thank you for sharing that space with me.
I am just not sure, Amy, and that is a fact. I can just tell you that I love—I don’t just love food, I love food writing. And if you’ve read my last two books, I managed to talk my publisher into letting me put in some recipes. I don’t know how to describe the recipes except they’re long and rambly, and they’re almost like a stand-up comedy bit. I like to write recipes funny, if you can imagine such a thing. I don’t know if that’s a real thing, but it is in my world.
I have so many food memoirs and autobiographies of chefs, tons of cookbooks. I’m drawn to that kind of writing. I like writing that’s centered around the kitchen and the table and hospitality. I think food is memories, and I think it is nurturing. There’s just something nurturing to me about food and cooking and everything that goes with it.
Having said that, I honestly don’t know. I don’t know if people would buy a cookbook from me. I’m just not sure if there’s a place for that for me. If that ever happened, if I ever got a chance to write a cookbook in the way that I would want to do it, which would have to be considered, like, part-cookbook, part-comedy, part-memoir, I’m not really sure. I don’t know if that category exists, but it would be so fun. If I ever write a cookbook, if my publishers ever green light that for me, then I will send you one, Amy from Nashville, for asking me such a great question.
Okay, moving on. I get asked a lot about the craft of writing. I’m so nerdy. I could talk about this for a thousand years. Like, how I identify something is worth writing about, how I put together my stories, how it feels to be vulnerable about my life, all that. I also get a lot of questions about how to navigate the business of writing, which is a deal. Dealing with publishers, getting a book to print, all that. Getting the word out about it. So I want to take a few minutes to talk with you guys about some of those questions.
Okay, so here is a call-in question from Amber.
Amber: Hi, Jen, this is Amber from Albuquerque, New Mexico. I stole this question directly from your post about asking these questions, but I thought it was so good and I wanted to know the answer. So the question is: what’s the best money you have ever spent as an investment in your writing career?
Jen: Oh, that’s a fabulous question.
I decided to write my first book when I was 29 and I had babies that had just turned two, four, and six. I knew exactly negative things about any of it. Writing, publishing, any of it. Like, literally, I had negative knowledge. This is money spent although, it wasn’t my money. Somebody paid my way to go to a Christian writer’s conference, and they would’ve had to have done it. I could not have afforded that money. Honestly, I believe it was $400 for a five-day conference. For me at the time, it might as well been four million. There wasn’t 10 extra cents in a week.
Somebody paid for me to go to a writer’s conference, and it’s not a small thing to say that that changed my life. Not only is that where I made all the connections to get initially published, which I did, but I learned so much. I sat under a writing teacher for three hours a day at least, and this was his career. This is what he taught at the university level and talked to us and taught us about the craft of non-fiction writing. It was the most fascinating, exciting, wonderful, instruction I’ve ever heard. I filled a whole notebook of notes, stuff I still use to this day.
Then, of course, that was my first time ever to be surrounded by writers, aspiring writers, published authors, agents, acquisitions editors, publishing houses. I mean, I had just never been in such a world. And right this minute, I can feel it in my bones the way I felt when being there. It was like, These are my people. This is my path. This is possible. This is a thing that can actually happen.
And so I left that conference not only having been very instructed in the craft of writing and in a very concentrated way, but with connections that I’m still using—I am still to this day using—and friendships that have lasted now all this time.
I can’t recommend it enough. I cannot recommend immersing yourself in an environment like that, like at a Christian writer’s conference, enough. For me, it was my ticket in. So thank you for that great question.
Here is a written question sent in by Ashley. She said:
“Hi Jen, my name is Ashley. I’m a 30-year-old mom, wife, and social worker from Washington State. I’ve written all my life, and my goal is to write a book. But it seems like the only way to make that happen is with a social media presence. I feel weird trying to build a platform as an influencer. I just feel like, Who me? Why me? Any tips for someone who wants to put themselves out there, but also has no idea how to get started?”
That’s a really good question, Ashley. And oh my gosh, you are not alone. Oh my gosh, you are not alone.
This whole like “build your platform” thing, it can be so suffocating, can’t it? Absolutely suffocating. I want you to know that me and my friends who are also authors, we like commiserate about this all the time, absolutely all the time. It can feel kind of soul-crushing because now in today’s world of the internet, it is positively assumed that you are going to have some sort of pretty robust social media presence to help sell your book. Where back in the day, those two things were never intertwined.
In fact, a lot of writers are kind of like cerebral and even introverted and kind of shy, if not downright weird, right? So often even just the craft of writing does not necessarily translate to the charisma expected on social media.
So I get the dilemma. I absolutely do. This is I think why we see the meteoric rise of so many books or authors that are okay, but their personality is so like dazzling. And it’s such an onslaught of social media work that you can kind of see where that gets weighted.
This is just not a small question, and it’s not unfair to ask. It’s complicated too, and this is only going to be a medium-sized answer. But the best thing that I can tell you to do—and I wish there was like a shortcut to any of this, but I don’t believe that there is. I think that a pretty strong online community is built pretty slow, more or less. There’s always exceptions, and some of those exceptions are for good reason. But for the most part, a community that is strong, that is deeply rooted, that has this sense of connection and loyalty built into it, it’s a slow build. And so I’m sorry to say that my best advice is simply write very faithfully where you are and with what you have.
Put out beautiful, wonderful content to the readers that you have, to the followers that you have, to the friends that you’re already connected with online. Good writing, I find, has a way of getting itself out into the world. Good writing begs to be shared. And that is one upside to social media. It’s such shareable content. And so when you consistently serve your reader with beautiful writing—you’re saying something that matters, you’re saying something important, you are being honest and true and whole-hearted, you are bringing yourself to it—that matters and that counts. It may not be as fast as you want, but you will never regret that faithfulness. You will never regret putting your head down and saying, I may have today literally a fraction of the readers I may have in 10 years, but I’m going to treat them with as much care and as much commitment as I would if I was writing to arenas full of people.
Do your best work right now. Don’t save it. Don’t hold it back. Don’t think, Oh, I’m going to wait until my platform’s bigger to really bring out the big guns. But rather, absolutely show up full-hearted with your best energy, some of your best writing, your best ideas, and do it now. There’s just something so honorable in that. And trust your readers that you have will be so served by your material that they will share it, they will stay, they will help you sort of develop a community that you’ll be so grateful for. And they will be so grateful too that you treated them like that sort of at this phase in your career.
Keep going. Keep going. Keep going. Be able to look back in 10 years, and 15, and even 20 and be very, very proud of the beginning portion of your story, right? That you didn’t sort of half-heartedly do anything, but that you worked with all your might, and energy, and giftings from day one, and you built something that was true. So great question, and thanks for asking it.
Here is another question, a call in question from Sarah:
Sarah: Hey, Jen. This is Sarah from Norfolk, Virginia. I have a question for you: when things are kind of boring, normal, status quo—and not in the nice, comforting sort of way—what do you do to reinvigorate? What do you do to kind of shake things up and just bring some life back into either your work or your space or a relationship. What do you do?
Jen: Okay, that is a great question, Sarah. I also appreciate the honesty. Because you know what? Let’s just be frank. Not every day in our world is some starry-eyed, dazzling mountaintop. Those are rare. Those are the rare days. Like, the victory days when everything is magical and it all comes together—that is just not normal. The truth is, most of life is ordinary and sort of menial and kind of right in the middle of the bell curve. To some degree, I like that. I like that there is a sense sort of stability that isn’t always super high or super low. That’s never really been my experience in real life.
But to your point, it can get you stuck. I know what you mean. You can kind of get stuck right there in the middle of status quo, and so I think that’s really fair.
One thing that’s always really shaken me out of that in more than one way is to make sure that I am both . . . well, let’s see, this might have three prongs. Reading, listening to, and like in real life connecting with fascinating people.
Other people inspire me. Their work, their ideas. Something their craft, and talent, and gift. I have just been straight-up inspired by other writers before, so their genre isn’t necessarily my genre. But as I read the incredible care that goes into the work that they do, I am like, This girl is killing it. It gives me fresh passion to be good at what I do. Sometimes it’s their ideas, and they are showing me a corner of the world that I’ve never experienced before or they are teaching me or leading me or stretch me or challenging me, that is so good for me. I love for someone to rattle my cage. Just say maybe this one way that you’re perceiving this, or experiencing it, or even interpreting or understanding it isn’t the only way. Of course, I hate that at first, but then I love it. I like to be challenged.
Then finally, listen. As a writer, who spends the majority of my time in an office in the pajamas I’ve slept in with my glasses on and a dirty bun on my head, I’ve got to be around real people. That is a non-negotiable for me. And so making sure that I am surrounding myself with great folks, interesting people, really important conversation I’m having face-to-face with somebody not just on Twitter. All this jars me out. It gets me off of high center. It’s like, Okay, come on, back to it. And I come up with fresh ideas and fresh stories.
I have said this before, but I cannot just write a good story if I am not living one. Eventually, it’ll all run dry. Eventually, I’m going to run out of stuff to talk about if it’s all just old news. I need fresh stuff in my life, and people are the way that I best experience that. If you’re stuck, I suggest calling the most interesting random person you can think of an inviting him or her to coffee. Like, “I just want to hear from you. I want to hear your story. You and your family come over for dinner.” Whatever it is. People will always inspire us every time, so that is exactly what I do. Thank you for that.
Okay, here is another written question from Stephanie. She said;
“Hey Jen, this is Stephanie in Raymore, Missouri. It’s my birthday today.”
Happy, happy you!
“And my goal for this year is to finish the first draft of first book and begin pursuing publication. I have two boys, 15 months and two weeks. What strategies can you give for writing with two under two?”
Jen: Well, God bless America. I mean just God bless. If you were listening earlier, you know that I actually understand this. I wrote books with toddlers and preschoolers and kindergartners. This is very, very familiar.
Let me say this straight up: there is nothing easy about this, so I’m not going to give you an answer where you’re like, “There, now it’s easy.”
First of all, I commend you for your goals. I mean, just commend it. I did the exact same thing. When I was writing my first book—which by the way, nobody was asking me to write, not one living soul. But I’m an Enneagram 3, as I mentioned earlier. I don’t know how else to do it. I started writing it in April and I didn’t know what the rules were. So I just said to myself, I am going to finish this by the end of August. Here’s my deadline, and I am imposing it on my own brain. And then I obeyed myself.
It is possible to give yourself a sense of structure and deadline and organization, even when your life is absolutely chaotic, which yours is so chaotic. You have a two-week-old, like, I don’t even know what to say.
A couple of things that got me from ideas in my head to words on a laptop during that season of my life is that I negotiated one day a week, negotiated with Brandon, my husband, who had a very, very demanding job at the time, but we just figured it out. I had one whole day where I could leave the house with my borrowed laptop and write.
What’s the thing? “Necessity is the mother of invention,” there it is. Because it was so necessary because I didn’t have the luxury of blowing any of that time off because I had no other time. My brain figured out, like, Let’s get to business. And so I was really efficient on that day, and I used it well.
When I needed some more time but I couldn’t figure out how to manage that with Brandon’s schedule, I had a very good friend, my girlfriend Trina. You guys have heard me talk about her a million times and have written about her and everything. But we traded kids one day a week so she had littles, I had littles. And maybe it was just a morning, I can’t really remember the details, but we traded. I would have all of hers and she could do really fancy things like go to the grocery store or clean her toilets, and then vice versa. So we swapped. That was absolutely free, it cost me nothing—good thing, because we had no money. I didn’t have also the luxury of nanny, or paying a babysitter all the time, or full-time daycare. That wasn’t a thing we could afford, and so we had to figure it out.
Then last, I remember writing a lot at night, and I am not a nighttime writer. I will tell you right now, I am a morning writer. And so that was just simply, again, necessary. At the time, the babies were all going down around 7:30, and there was still a pretty decent chunk of the day left even though I was absolutely wiped out like you are too, oh my gosh. That was my dream. That was my dream to do it, so I did it, and you can too.
I will just tell you, that you’ll be really proud of yourself one day when you look back on this season where it seems like the dumbest time ever to decide to write a book but that you did it, that you managed it. That you birthed babies and books at the same time because women are incredible. That’s why. Women can do it. We have a gear that we can tap into that is pretty incredible. And so I want you to know, Stephanie, that I am cheering you on, girl. Cheering you on. Put those fingers on that keyboard and get after it. Love it.
Here is a call-in question, a really thoughtful one from Trish:
Trish: Hi, Jen. This is Trish Farrell from Onsted, Michigan. My husband and I run a camp and retreat center. Sometimes working together that much time is really difficult. My question is: how do you and your husband do it when you have to work together on a project and put in a lot of together time?
Jen: I’m dying laughing. Oh, I almost wish Brandon Hatmaker were here so he could help me weigh in on this, because Brandon and I both essentially work from home. I mean, I positively do and he mostly does. So it is a lot of togetherness.
I don’t know how you are, Trish. Brandon and I are wired differently. We process differently. He is a verbal processor, which means any half-formed thought in his head is going to start coming out of his mouth hole. Then he’s going to keep talking until he gets to the thing he was trying to sort out, right? Like, he’s just going to process it out loud, and that’s how his brain works. I’m the exact opposite. I’m an internal processor and I, in a delightful twist of working from home in the same space as your husband, require dead silence to work. Like, I can’t even have music playing. I get really focused in.
This is my point: I get your question. I get your question. What has helped us over the years knowing that we both work closely together—which we do. We started a church together and we’re both authors and we’re both teachers and speakers. We have a lot of overlap in our life, the same way that you do—is that it’s done us world of good to talk out loud about what we need. Like, when Brandon comes into my office and I—and this is super helpful, I have an office at my house that has a door, so yay for that—but when he comes into my office and he starts talking and he wants to work something out, it’s not fair for me to just sit there and get mad because I’m in the middle of a paragraph and that like absolutely disrupts the magic. I mean, boom, it disappears like a cloud. He’s not trying to sabotage my work, he’s not trying to be rude, he’s not trying to be mean, this is just the way he does. When I tell him in advance, “I need the next three hours with no interruptions. I’m on a project, I’m on a task, I need to put my head down and get it done, and then I’m going to be available,” and he’s like, “Oh okay, great.” We have been able to avoid a lot of hurt feelings or resentment or like even passive aggressiveness by just saying up front, “This is kind of what I need right now, maybe a little space.” Conversely, Brandon can say to me, “Can I have your attention for 20 minutes? Can you listen to this thing and help me work this this through?” “Great, yes.” So then I can close my laptop, I know what he needs from me and what he’s kind of wanting and expecting out of me and that I can provide.
We just do better when we figure out what it is we need and we say it pretty clearly on the front end, not the back end when we’re just pissed, right? When I’m like, “If you don’t get out of my office with your words, I’m going to murder you.” Or, and he’s always frustrated like, “I can tell you’re not listening to me,” and I’m not. He’s right, because I was in the middle of something and I don’t switch gears really easily.
Oh, let me say this one last thing before we move on. Any like overload on togetherness, which is a real thing, is solved for me by spending time with my girlfriends. I love Brandon. I love him and we’ve been married for 25 years, and I want to keep being married to him, but he cannot do everything for me. My girlfriends fix a lot of that. Just breaking up that constant togetherness with some different female energy around you, with some friend time that isn’t so like in the trenches, oh my gosh, there is nothing better for my mental health than time with my girlfriends. Do not forget to call them even if they just come over and sit on your porch, which is literally what me and my friends do on the regular.
Super, super good question, Trish. May God have mercy on your marriage and on all this beautiful togetherness that you get to experience, which is sometimes just an opportunity for growth.
Okay, moving on. A lot of you asked a different set of questions. What inspires me? What am I reading? Am I inspired from what I see happening in the world? From my family and friends, from travels, generally asking what moves me to write? What moves you to write? You guys asked some really intriguing questions about this, so here we go.
Here’s the first one written in an email from Sarah from Oswego, Illinois. And Sarah asked:
“What inspires you to write? How do you know how to speak to the soul of so many of us?”
That is so nice. Thank you, Sarah. What a nice thing to say. What a lovely thing to hear. I have said for some time I am moved and inspired by people, and that is just a short answer.
I was talking to a girlfriend one time who does kind of similar work to me. She’s a spiritual leader and she’s a writer. And the stuff that I do, she does too. We’re just different in a lot of ways. We’re good friends, but we’re very different. We process things differently, we even interpret things differently. We sort of approach our work differently, which we actually love this, this is something we appreciate in our friendship. But I was telling her one time—and this is what appreciate in our friendship, and this is reduced, and if you want to poke holes in this it’s too easy to do, so just don’t overthink this, listeners, but is just kind of a very broad stroke for how I see it—I said, “I think when Jesus said all of life boils down to basically these two important ideas, right? ‘Love God, and love people.’ You know, He said first, ‘Love God with all your heart, and mind, and soul, and strength. And the second one is just like it: love your neighbor as yourself.’ So, there. There’s your life. There’s your life plan. Those are the two things that matter.
And I was telling my girlfriend, I said, “I think in the big, two-pillar life that Jesus describes, you are just the most identified and the most connected with the “love God” piece, and I am the most identified and the most connected with the “love people” piece.”
Obviously, we both have both, there is no separation here of the two. I am just saying in the way that we are geared, she leans that way, to be very cerebral, and study oriented, and I lean toward people.
I write for you, and I care about you, because I love you. Like, I don’t know how else to say it. When you tell me your stories online, when we sort of come together as a community around ideas, and pain, and good work, and things that we care about, things that we share or struggle through, it’s just precious to me. I mean, it’s just so precious to me, and I care. Like, I care. I have big dreams for women, I have big dreams for our community, and what we can do in our neighborhoods, and in the world together, and for the church.
And so, I’m inspired by you. I hope you can receive that as an answer, because that is the truth. In fact, that is literally the way that I formulated the outline of the book I’m writing right now, went through almost a year worth of online conversations that I’ve hosted with you, and our community, and in the various places that we host online conversations, and mined it. I asked, Where is our community energy? Where are we concentrated? What are the things that keep capturing our attention together? Where’s the wind at our back? Which discussions really were deep, and rich, and important, and good? And that became the outline for what I am writing, because I care about you.
So, there you go. And thank you for saying that nice thing.
Okay, here is a write-in question from Laurie:
She said, “Jen, what books or resources did you read that caused you to change your stance on LGBTQ issues? Do you have plans to write a book on the topic?”
Great question, and thanks for asking.
I can say, for us, this was a very long road in a similar direction. It wasn’t just one fell swoop. I didn’t read one paragraph of one thing and kind of go, Oh, I think I’m . . . This is . . . I’m changing my mind.
Brandon and I went through a pretty intense investigation on this idea. And for those of my listeners who are not kind of coming out of the Christian space, you may be like, What the heck are you talking about? There is still much, much, much contention inside the church on, Where does this fit? What about our friends and neighbors who are LGBTQ? And what does this mean, scripturally? And what does is mean theologically? And how does this fit into the structure of church and a faith community? There’s still a pretty intense conversation around this.
And so, we . . . That’s not really a question I’ve ever asked. I didn’t have that growing up. Nobody was asking this. This is was just not a topic of conversation, ever. I honestly don’t ever remember hearing anything, one way or another, from a preacher, or a leader, or a pastor. I just don’t remember any of it.
So this was an adult question for us, for the first time. And for us it became . . . There was this moment where what I’d heard in my ears as an adult, which is kind of a fairly rigid interpretation of what that looks like, and what I was seeing with my eyes, did not match anymore. And I saw so much pain and suffering at the intersection of faith, and church . . . well, really, I should say church, and church structures, faith at large, and the LGBTQ community.
There was just so much pain. I mean, it couldn’t be denied. There was no denying how much sorrow was there, and self-harm, and broken hearts, and broken families—kids and their parents kicked out of churches, and out of leadership. And then, of course, the longer we became really closely connected to the LGBTQ community, their own personal pain, right? And their own . . . their internal suffering.
And so, I’m just not a person who can see that much sorrow and be able to just say, Well, we must be getting this all right. We’re getting this right, and this is just a result of it. And so, that began our deep dive into asking questions. What are the other interpretations out there? Are there other thinkers that have theological differences here around this idea?
And we learned so much, you guys. It’s such a deep dive. I mean, we must have read 25 books, at least. At least. And had 10,000 questions, and 10 million conversations. We asked, and we asked, and we asked, and we pushed. We talked to our gay friends and just said, “Can you tell us your story? Tell us what you heard, tell us what that did, and then what? And what have you learned? And tell us about your family.”
And all this just began emerging for us, where we came to understand that there is a very sound, robust body of work out there that absolutely welcomes and affirms our LGBTQ brothers and sisters in a way that doesn’t have to skirt around scripture at all, but rather just understand it in context.
And we really did that heavy lifting absolutely intensely for two years, but the better part of four. So that was slow. It was slow work. And came out on the other side, with our conscience absolutely intact, being able to say we entirely embrace and affirm the LGBTQ community, and find their place before God noble, and honorable, as noble and honorable as any of us, and still in need of Jesus like the rest of us, but beautifully made and needed, gifts absolutely welcomed into the church at all levels.
And our lives have been absolutely changed, incredibly expansive, and I’m so grateful for what we’ve learned. I’m so thankful for the people that are in our lives, and the path that we have walked, and that they walked with us. And what a community, and what a beautiful place. We have seen so much healing and so much hope, so much joy and restoration. This has just been some of the greatest work of our adult lives.
I do not have any plans to write a book on the topic, I’m no expert here, and I’m not sure that just another straight person needs to write a book on it. There are so many beautiful offerings out there from the LGBTQ community, deeply faithful people whose work is intelligent and academic, even, very grounded in research and scripture, and it’s fabulous.
I’ll put together a list of some of the books that we loved the most, and we’ll send it on over to the transcript at JenHatmaker.com.
Thanks for your question, Laurie. Here is a call in question from Yvonne:
Yvonne: Hi, this is Yvonne from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Can you tell us who are some writers whose work inspires you most?
Jen: Great question, and there is a long list, long, of writers whose work inspires me. Because I kind of draw from different genres.
I’m not really just one thing. I’m not just a humor writer, I’m not just a memoir writer, I’ve kind of done all that. Like, I’ve written studies, and I’ve written essay type books, and . . . Anyway, I’m kind of all over the place, so I draw from all over the place.
And so, that’s worth noting. When you’re reading somebody and you are moved by what they are saying, it is pushing you to think new thoughts, or to open up a new conversation, or to consider a new perspective, like, That is good writing, that is good thinking. And Austin absolutely does that for me. Her latest book is called . . . Or, her first book, actually, is called I’m Still Here.
I actually interviewed Austin on a previous series, and you should listen, because it’s a fabulous interview. She’s just a wonderful person.
So, those are some of my best, some of my favorites. I could literally list 100, and that’s not a joke, so I better just stop there. Thank you for your question, Yvonne.
Listen, everybody, thank you so much for your amazing, thoughtful questions. I love hearing from you. Like, I love you, and I love hearing from you. Thank you for listening to our book series. I was so proud of you during the series, so proud of you, for being such avid readers, for reading great writers. Thank you for being smart readers, for being wise, and curious yourself. I just . . . You are the best.
So, since I asked every one of our guests these wrap up questions around these books, I’ll give you my thoughts on these.
We asked: what’s the first book that you ever read that you distinctly remember having a major impact on you?
And for me, it was The Secret Garden. I just . . . I was so lost inside of it, absolutely lost. I joke you not, I have probably read that book 50 times. That is when I was like, Oh, a book can transport you, it can create a whole new world for you, it can give you characters that will become absolutely beloved, and it can change you. So, The Secret Garden.
Another question we asked: what’s one book in your life that you have read over and over again?
I am a re-reader. I don’t know if you know that about me. I like to read books a thousand times.
Probably the one that I could reach for on any given day—I don’t even care if I read it last month—and still be utterly delighted in it like it’s the first time I read it, is Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris. I have pages in that book where they’re wrinkled because I cried laughter tears onto the page, specifically the title essay, “Me Talk Pretty One Day,” when he was learning another language, in another country, with other classmates. I am not sure I have ever laughed that hard at any single paragraph. And so that is one that I will reread until I’m dead.
Finally, we saved this call-in question for the last, because it sort of encapsulates the essence of our very favorite Barbara Brown Taylor question that we always ask, which is: what’s saving your life right now? With a bit of a twist.
So, this one is from Lynae:
Lanae: Hi, Jen. This is Lynae from St. Paul, Minnesota. My question for you is . . . actually, I have to say, I’m doing a project on resilience. And I wonder for you, how you define resilience? And [are] there one or two particular strategies that you employ regularly to sustain your own sense of resilience? Thanks, Jen.
Jen: What a beautiful thing to ask, Lanae. What a wonderful sense of internal knowledge to prioritize and put such a value on resilience, which we need greatly right now. We just need it greatly. Like, how would I define it?
I’m not sure if this is technical enough, or if this is a good definition, but to me resilience is this internal strength where you know who you are, you know whose you are, you know how you were created and what you were created for. And that sense, that anchor is so strong, and it’s so rooted, that really, no matter the wind or the waves, it holds you fast. And so, you are not going to get blown off course by every storm. You are not going to find yourself drifting. You are not going to capsize, but rather, even in the storm, which is hard and scary, and it will wobble you around a little bit, at the end of it you’re still there. You’re still afloat. In fact, you’re still sailing.
And so, I’ve had to learn this in my life, and I do have a couple of strategies to sustain resilience. The first one, I promise you, I could not possibly mean this more sincerely, and I hope it does not sound trite, because it’s a really easy reach answer, but I mean it in the most genuine way.
I do just have this reset button in which when I . . . I’m just prayerful. That’s just it, when I pray, and when I can just shut it all down, and sit in the rocking chair, and pray, and talk to God, and sometimes just sit quietly with Him also, which, to me, counts. When I am looking at the earth, and the trees, and the grass. . . that helps me. It does. It makes me stronger, and it reminds me who I belong to, and it reminds me what I’m doing here.
And something about it is supernatural. I do not have the first idea how prayer works. I mean, I am the worst person to ask how does this all work. I don’t know, but I will tell you that that develops in me a strength and a courage to keep going when everything feels really loud and scary. Like, that is a thing that helps me.
And then—I don’t mean to be a broken record about this—but my little, in real life, community. So my best friends, who have been my best friends for a long time. These are not new people, you know, these are . . . they’ve been around long before Jen Hatmaker had a podcast or whatever the heck, are my steady Eddies. They just make everything okay.
And between my best friends and my family, and we all live here in Austin, that is my crew. I mean, that is my crew. I mean this sincerely, if everything else in my life went away, if I’d lost it all, if it all slipped through my fingers or got taken away, as long as I still had my people, if I still had my family and my friends, and I could still sit on a porch and pray to God, I would be fine, I really would.
That’s what matters to me, it’s what holds me fast. They remind me who I am. You know, when I get really loud voices in my head calling me names or doing all that crazy, and it’s confusing and disorienting, it’s my people that are like, That is a lie. Also, we don’t have to talk about it all the time. Maybe let’s just watch TV, maybe let’s just watch football, let’s grill. So, real people in my life absolutely steady the waves for me.
And so, that’s it. Thank you for great questions. And you guys, thank you for being amazing listeners and readers and friends to me. That’s what you are. You have been for a long time, and I will forever be grateful for you. My plan is just to serve you until I’m just, I guess, in the casket. That’s my plan. I don’t have a stop date. I love you, and I want to build what we have, and I want to serve you well. And I think our capacity to do good to one another, and for one another, and in this world is endless. Endless. It just knows no bounds.
And so, being a part of this community with you is one of the greatest joys of my life, and so thank you for your questions. Thank you for listening. Thank you for being a part of this podcast community. I just . . . I love you dearly.
You are not going to want to miss next week. Next week we open up a whole new series. Are you ready for this? For the Love of TV. Also one of our shared values, you guys, do not act like it isn’t. And wait until you see our lineup. You are going to be tickled, and we are going to have a blast.
So I will see you next week for the beginning of For the Love of TV. Until then, thank you for being amazing readers. I love you. Bye, guys.
Narrator: That’s it for today’s show. Hope you enjoyed this chat. Be sure to subscribe to my mom’s podcast and give it a “thumbs up” rating if you like it. From the whole Hatmaker family, hope you have a great week and see you next time!