Kristin Tennant is a freelance writer for Relevant and The Huffington Post, blogger at Halfway to Normal, and contributor to the Seal Press anthology Ask Me About My Divorce: Women Open Up About Moving On. She, along with her new husband and their blended family, lives what she calls a “halfway normal” life full of surprises and redemption.
by Emily Perschbacher (’13)
I have yet to acquire the motivation and the guts to expose my vulnerability on a blog of my own, but Kristin Tennant, who visited my Advanced Creative Writing class a few weeks ago, has asserted the benefits of blogging for her growth as a writer. I still can’t say I’m sold on the idea of blogging (I prefer the privacy of journaling), but her advice for writers and bloggers is very much worth sharing.
Since graduating from Calvin College in 1992 with a degree in English and Journalism, Kristin Tennant has been gaining experience, and exposure, as a writer, beginning as a newspaper journalist. She switched to copywriting for graphic design firms before launching her own freelance business. Kristin has blogged for the past five years.
One of my classmates asked, “How did you get to work at Relevant and Huffington?” Kristin said that editors from Relevant read her blog and asked, and re-asked, to publish her work. Getting to write for Huffington was different. Kristin was encouraged by a friend to email Arianna Huffington reasons why she should write for her. Two days after Kristin sent the email, she received a response. Blogging has helped her develop a consistent tone and cohesive message in her written voice.
Someone else asked, “Why blog?” Kristin said that writing has kept her thinking, and she blogs because she’s compelled to write and has stories to tell. Also, it satisfies the extrovert in her. She has found blogging to be a great avenue for sorting out the messiness and complications of life together. In her blog Halfway to Normal she writes:
“My stories might be mine, but ultimately I hope my blog is about all of you. . . . you’re hoping you might find out something about yourself. Reading personal narratives is like going to the therapist, but it’s free, and you don’t have to worry about parking. Reading your comments and feedback will be therapy for me. If it goes according to plan, we’ll all be better off in the end.”
Kristin discovered that publishers want writers to have a voice and an audience pre-market. Blogging has served as a platform for writing her book: a memoir of her redemption story in which she explores the red thread running through episodes of her life, the universal truth sewn into the elements of her personal narrative. The importance of reflection—assessing the formative, eye-opening scenes of her life—is twofold: it allows her to make her personal story universal and helps her decide what information to include as she writes.
On getting closer to the truth
Like any other writer, Kristin has asked herself: Why write? Why do I do this? Her answer involves much more than to do well and get paid. Internally, she feels compelled to write because she’s been created to create and has stories to tell. She said, “You have to tell this story—it’s not up to you. How you tell it is up to you.” Externally, she feels that people need to hear stories, develop compassion, and connect through the sharing and hearing of stories rather than facts alone. She feels the push and pull of being challenged to write, being brave enough to share her work rather than hide it behind closed doors, and the reward of connecting with people through discourse.
Creative non-fiction writing is not about word count but about progress, meandering through your history to see what you can learn and discover, not only getting further along but going deeper, getting closer to the truth. She encouraged my class to make writing hard again by finding the controversial, scary, difficult topics. She asked us, “Are you willing to sit down and take the risk to write even when you don’t know where it’s going?” From Isaac Rentz she quotes, “We need to accept that creating is hard. It’s supposed to be full of obstacles. It’s easy to get comfortable in our niches, but often we find our voice only when we take creative risks.”
The posts she noticed that people responded to the most are the ones that she didn’t know the answers to. She has learned that sometimes she needs to articulate the confusion without coming to any neat, tidy conclusions. People are grateful for vulnerability when it’s not garish. She suggested that we write creative non-fiction as a poet would a poem or an artist a painting where they expect their audience to bring their experiences and mood to the work—for them to find their own truth not necessarily what you want them to get out of it. Let readers feel what they want to feel; give them space to enter into the written discussion.
Kristin never regretted pushing herself to be more open, honest, and vulnerable even when it was scary. In regards to vulnerability, she advised that we gauge our own comfort levels, give ourselves emotional space, and strip away the excess to find the small moments and feelings that take us by surprise. She loves looking back at the painful, scary moments–the powerful moments that allowed for growth–and seeing change in herself. She says that we all have redemption stories: God is able to take pieces from the junk heap of moments of our lives and make something new and surprisingly beautiful. But to be redeemed it has to be broken.
So, for you bloggers out there (maybe I’ll join you some day), do not be afraid to venture into yourselves, dig deeper, and share what you find. Others will be looking for it, too.
Emily Perschbacher (’13) plans to graduate from Taylor with a BA in English/Creative Writing, and has dabbled in art classes enough to earn a minor. She dreams of someday owning a plot of wooded land with horse stables somewhere out west, but until she finds work suitable for affording those, she’ll be returning home to Saint John, Indiana in search of hire there, or elsewhere.