Nurturing Craft in an Age of Content: An Interview with Addie Zierman
This is the sixth in our series of interviews with creatives who inspire us by staying craft-focused in a era of easy-to-consume, shareable internet content. Our aim is to explore the tension of art versus entertainment, empowering readers to find, nurture, and stay true to the stories inside of them. Enjoy!
If you haven't heard of Addie Zierman, get out from whatever internet rock you're hiding under and go catch up on all the insightful reading you've missed over the past 5 years. With her honest, insightful approach to faith and her witty candor, Addie approaches the difficult topics we all wish we were writing about with so. much. grace. And this interview? No exception. We're really thankful she shared her words and wisdom with us!
Upwrite Magazine: Can you tell us about how writing Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark was different than writing your first book, When We Were on Fire, in terms of process? After going through the publication process with an extremely personal and in-depth memoir of your teens and early twenties, did it become more difficult to reach a vulnerable place when you sat down to write again?
Addie Zierman: The biggest difference when it came to writing Night Driving was that I was on a deadline with that one. I wrote my first book as part of my MFA program, and so it was really crafted within the incubator of that community. Writing Night Driving as the second book of a two-book deal made it feel, to me, much more stressful and lonely.
When it comes to vulnerability, I've never rally been able to write any other way than completely authentically. I think that in order for memoir to really work, you have to go all the way down deep into your experience and put it on the page. It's always tough, but I think that I was pretty purposeful about being as honest and vulnerable as I possibly could in Night Driving.
However, missing that community piece that I had in grad school made it unbelievable hard to do that. I think I'd underestimated how important that was to my experience, and in the future, I will work harder to ensure that I have that community of people speaking into my life and my work as I do it.
Upwrite: You recently reflected on Joshua Harris's I Kissed Dating Goodbye and the lasting impact of purity culture for a post on your blog, writing about the danger of one dominant narrative when it comes to big issues of morality. How can all of us work to bring light to a spectrum of ideas, even when our intuition or upbringing might tell us an issue is black and white?
AZ: When I was growing up, it seemed like the only faith narrative that was offered was the one that Focus on the Family offered and endorsed. It was the same story in Brio Magazine that was in I Kissed Dating Goodbye that was in the Christy Miller Series that was in CCM. It took me a lot of years and a lot of grief and pain to figure out that faith is not one-size-fits-all. That there were people outside of the evangelical tradition doing faith in very different ways that felt truer to me than all that glittery evangelical fluorescence.
I still believe that Jesus Christ is the way to God. But I believe there are a million different ways to approach that relationship, and each looks different depending on how you are crafted and designed. And that's GOOD. That's BEAUTIFUL. There are so many problems with trying to squeeze everyone into one narrative...but one of the most tragic ones is that we miss out on all the color and light and beauty that occur in the mosaic of faith when we all live our most authentic story.
We reclaim the mosaic when we, each of us, begin to do the hard work of sifting through our faith stories. However we grew up, we all received a muddled mix of truth and fiction. There are pieces of our faith that are good and sturdy and will hold up over time. But there are other pieces that never belonged there in the first place -- someone's opinion disguised as Gospel truth. Those Capital-O Opinions are the construction dust that tinge all of our unique faith experiences the same gray color. But when do the work of chipping away that layer of grime, we discover the unique narratives underneath -- the color that makes the mosaic beautiful.
Upwrite: It seems a lot of your personal ministry is based out of being a voice for those that are doubtful--people whom faith might have been weaponized against, people who struggle to belong to faith communities, and those of us whose intellectual sensibilities make a lasting faith incredibly difficult. How do you feel like the ministry of telling your own story has helped in your own healing and acceptance process?
AZ: I started writing my first memoir in the middle of my own faith upheaval. I was in grad school, and I was so angry at God, but at a time when I might have walked away from my faith altogether, I was forced to confront my faith experience. I was in a memoir program, working toward my Master's. And I sort of had to write about my faith because I was writing memoir, and the evangelical faith experience had defined my entire coming-of-age life. That writing was hard and rough...but it gave me a way to move through the anger and the pain, to say the things I needed to say to God and to others and to myself.
This week, I've been officially blogging for five years. I started blogging in the same way I started memoir writing: because I was told I had to. My literary agent at the time said that without a blog, I would never sell my book, and so I started blogging -- telling my story in these tiny little weird, internet-sized pieces.
But of course, like the MFA program, that blogging ended up being another unexpected avenue of healing. It gave me a reason to continue to press in on the questions and the doubts. It gave me a way to pray and a way to feel less alone. I feel like in writing those posts, and even, to some extent, the second book, I was building some kind of slow bridge from cynicism back to hope.
Upwrite: We see a lot of faith-based content on the internet that's designed to drive traffic and advertising revenue, which can be discouraging. But there also are so many writers like yourself that are striving to offer gentleness and honesty. What are some of your favorite writers or resources online that are cultivating hope instead of trolling for clicks?
I read anything and everything that Micha Boyett writes. I find Emily Freeman's voice to be gentle and wonderful as well. And there are a number of smaller blogs that I hop around to whenever I have the time. But honestly, most of my favorite resources come in the form of actual paper books. I read a lot of Frederick Buechner and Henri Nouwen and Kathleen Norris. I love books about spiritual formation and am doing more reading in that vein of thought. I'm sure there are tons of voices like those on the Internet, but I haven't spent a ton of time looking for them. Sometimes I feel like the act of being on the Internet in general makes me feel a little frantic.
Books help me settle. Quiet me. Open up space inside of me. I realize that's a weird thing for a blogger to say, but there we are.
Upwrite: We absolutely love your sense of humor and your unabashed enjoyment of pop culture. Give us a quick rundown of who and what is making you laugh right now.
AZ: I am a shameless TV fan. It's really a problem. The funniest show I'm watching right now is Kristen Bell's new show, The Good Life. I also have this thing about Hallmark Channel movies. I think their total nostalgic, small-town, la-la-land storylines are so funny because of their almost defiant disregard of reality. It's the absurdity of falling in love via a town-wide Christmas cookie baking contest...or of inheriting a pumpkin farm and falling in love with the manager. It all just makes me laugh in the best, dorkiest way.