Conversations with Creative Women: Jean Williams from In All Honesty

I have been having conversations  with Jean Williams from In All Honesty for many years. More recently we ‘talk’ and listen to each other via blog posts. Jean is a writer, a creative wordsmith who has used her “honesty” to shape her writing and develop a large and dedicated blogging audience. If you aspire to write, to develop your own blog or dare to see where following your dreams may lead, read on. She will encourage and inspire you with her commitment and creativity.Enjoy!
What does being creative mean to you?
Words flowing as if they have nothing to do with me. Walking or listening to music until I’m in that relaxed state where ideas float into my mind. Working hard when the ideas aren’t coming. Editing until every sentence is like a carefully-placed line in a painting. Going to sleep with a question and waking up with an answer. That joyous moment when I know just what to say and how to say it. Running to the computer and typing it out before I lose it. Learning how to write better (lose the adjectives, cut out the adverbs, say less to say more). Growing in confidence. Uncertainty. Joy.
What things have inspired you, given you pleasure and joy?
Other people’s writing: the kind that makes you slow down and savour every word. The Bible: that “wow!” moment when God’s truth and life intersect. Encouragement: the always unexpected moment when someone comes up and tells me what something I’ve written meant to them. Companionship: when a comment lets me know there are people on the other end of my links and posts, walking with me through the day. Above all, God’s goodness in Jesus: every year, my own efforts mean less to me and his grace and glory mean more. 
Where did you grow up and how did family life and your home influence how you see the world and ignite this desire to write?
I grew up in Melbourne. My dad is a mathematician with a logical mind and a soft heart: he taught us to think clearly and to play with words and numbers, and serenaded us with the poems of AA Milne. My mum, an English teacher, nurtured and surrounded us with books and poetry: CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, and all the classics. I read and read and read and read, and when I wrote as a child, I wrote in the language of Elyne Mitchell and Paul Gallico.
I don’t think I was a very good writer as a teenager: plenty of sentimental adjectives and purple prose. I only threw myself into writing five years ago, and to this day I don’t quite know why. Perhaps it was lying dormant, waiting to come out. Writing perfectly suits my love of reading and reflecting and sharing what I’ve learned with others – along with the joy of expressing it as clearly and creatively as I can.
What is in all honesty? When did it begin? 
In all honesty is my blog. It began in October 2007. I wasn’t planning to start blogging; I didn’t even know much about blogs, but for some reason, I woke up one morning with the idea “blog!” fully formed in my head. My subconscious invented the name in all honesty overnight: my goal was to write honestly about my struggles and to encourage others that they were not alone. 
How has it developed and changed over the years?
I learned very, very quickly not to talk too much about other people’s lives online. I also found being vulnerable about my own experiences harder than I expected: it’s bizarre when you see someone face-to-face and they already know what’s going on in your head. I no longer put everything out there as soon as I think and feel it, which I think is emotionally healthy, although I admire bloggers who can do this wisely and well!
I blog less than I used to. I came close to burnout a couple of years ago and had to put writing on hold for a while. That was good for me, because instead of feeling controlled by the need to post every day, blogging became something I’m free to do or not to do, depending on family circumstances and ministry responsibilities and whether I have anything to say. I own my blog, not the other way around! 
My writing has inevitably become more professional as I’ve started writing for others. There’s a bigger gap between writing, editing, and pressing “publish”. I miss some of the immediacy and freedom of my early posts. So my blog is still a work in process! At the moment, I’m trying to find a good balance between the new professionalism and the old vulnerability.
What are some of the ways you have had to juggle your creativity around different seasons in life?
I have four children, and I didn’t start blogging till they were all out of babyhood. I think I was beginning to look to the next season of life, and that’s why the creative juices kicked in. Writing, in some ways, was an obvious choice: you can do it from home and it doesn’t disrupt home life too much. It’s not surprising mums with young kids blog: it’s a great way to stay connected with others when you’re at home all day. Then the kids get older, life becomes more mixed, and blogging slows down!
Now all our kids are at school a new season has opened up, with more undistracted time during the day to give to writing (and, paradoxically, lots of new ministries outside the home to distract me from it). Writing is very important to me, but it’s a lower priority than caring for husband, children, home, and people in our church and community, so I fit it into the spare hours and quieter days. 
How do you balance family life with time to blog?
I’ve done such a bad job of this at times! I started blogging when my youngest son was only one year old. Looking back, that was probably too early: I was obsessed with my new pastime and gave him less attention than I wanted to at times. I still feel guilty about that. But it’s also true that I was there for him, at home, interacting with him throughout the day: that’s both the curse and the benefit of blogging, that you do it from home. 
These days, I don’t usually write during the afternoons and evenings or on weekends: that time is reserved for my husband and children. I also take regular vacations from writing. Giving time to writing does mean that the house is a little less organised! I stay on top of the regular chores, but lots of the extras don’t get done. You have to give up something, but I’d like to make more time for some of these things. 
I think introverts often find the chaos of family life and ministry tiring. Writing helps me relax and gives me time alone to reflect and process things, re-energising me so I can better love the people in my life. In that sense, as long as it’s kept within bounds, it helps, not hinders, family life.
What creative people do you admire – writers, artists, cooks…. How have they influenced your writing and thinking?
Novelists who take exquisite care in shaping every word: Marilynne Robinson, Kazuo Ishiguro, Cynthia Voigt. Authors who write about books and writing: Tony Reinke, Mark Tredinick, Annie Dillard. Bloggers who reflect with such wisdom and beauty on their lives and thoughts that I catch my breath: Ali, Nicole, Catherine, Meredith, Cath, and many others, including you, Susie. Christian writers whose work is richly textured: CS Lewis, Tim Keller, Paul Tripp, Ed Welch. Theologians who shape how I think about God and the gospel: JI Packer, Don Carson, Tim Chester. I also love music and the visual arts, but the influences are more subtle. You have to soak yourself in good writing to be able to write well.
What opportunities have opened up from blogging?
The biggest one is writing regularly for the Christian magazine The Briefing. It’s such a joy to see my work in print and online where it can encourage others, and it’s still a wonder to me that it’s valued by those I respect. At times, I’ve been able to earn some extra money by writing and editing: I feel very privileged that I can contribute to the family finances doing something I enjoy. I dream about books I might write in the future, but have no firm plans yet. I’ve also been asked to speak at women’s events and conferences, though mostly I say “no”, as I have to be careful not to take on too much. But I love teaching women in our church and university ministry, so I wonder if God will open this door wider when my kids are older. 
What’s your goal in writing?
My goal is to bring glory to Jesus as I serve others and help them know and live for him. I think Christian writing can sometimes be a little dry and removed, which is such a pity, because God’s truth grabs and shapes every part of us: thoughts, feelings and actions. It’s rare to see a Christian author who is both rigorous in their thinking and rich in their writing. I know I often fail, but I try (poorly!) to do both these things.

If I could deliver anyone at all to your desk who would you most like to share a cup of tea with?
To be honest, it would be some of the lovely female bloggers I’ve “met” through my writing! I’d also love to sit across the table and chew the fat with people I write for and with at The Briefing: I feel a bit disconnected being part of a writing team that’s not in my home town.
Complete this sentence: I wish I had known……
…that I was free to blog in a way that served Jesus and my family. I’d say to the “me” that started blogging, “Lighten up! The world’s not going to end if you don’t post every day. Breathe. Enjoy your kids. Enjoy the people around you. It doesn’t all revolve around you. It’s about Jesus, not you.”
And finally, what advice would you give someone starting on their journey of blogging?
Be prepared to have your life turned upside-down and inside-out. And if you’re not prepared for that, maybe choose another creative outlet! Nothing you write online ever really disappears, so make sure you’re always fair and kind, remembering that it could be read by the person you’re writing about even if they’re famous. The only way to get good at writing is by doing it, so write a little every day, be brave, and put it out there. Pray before you press “post”, and pray for those who read. Write for God’s glory, not your own. Enjoy the adventure.
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