He makes me nervous. I was due to interview Dr. J.I. Packer, renowned theologian, best-selling author, wordsmith extraordinare in two hours when he called me to pleasantly request a brief postponement.
Another hour for me to sweat bullets, sip more tea and worry.
I’ve interviewed Dr. Packer before and I know him from years ago at Regent College and from moving in the same Canadian Anglican circles. He is British. And I’m Canadian and sloppy and floppy and flustered. But he’s also kind and patient which I remembered again within the first five minutes of the interview. He is also incredibly precise with his words, in writing and in speech. He is a perfect example of every word carefully weighed and placed exactly where it should go.
I was speaking to him about his newest book: Weakness is the Way: Life With Christ our Strength. You must not read any further but pause now and watch this brief and moving video of Packer contemplating weakness by clicking here. Amazing, isn’t it?
I think the topic of the interview added to my nerves because I was preparing to ask a man “going on 90” as he said, questions about how he feels about the end years of his life, and things like what he feels about his pending passing (still years away I would guess from the energetic and thoughtful voice on the end of the phone). And what he wishes he had known then that he knows now. When we ventured too far into his personal experiences of weakness throughout his life, Packer also shared a few thoughts on writing that challenged me:
“If there’s one thing more than another that I dislike in an author, it’s the author talking in the first person about his or her experience in the way that tells me that is what they are really interested in. People don’t think in terms of giving something edifiying so much as giving something that will be interesting. Well now, there is a difference there. Interest can be generated, people can be allured to read along the lines of interest by all sorts of factors that don’t have any spiritual significance at all.”
Food for thought for any writer. My interview with Dr. Packer (minus the goodies on writing) will be in the Jan/Feb issue of Faith Today, along with an excerpt from his book. And by the way, yes, he does do his writing on that very typewriter.
4 thoughts on “Interviewing a Writing Master”
A sobering, thoughtful post Karen. I look forward to the article. Sounds like some great questions were used for the discussion. But for here, the distinction between generating interest and edifying others is so significant and a new juxtaposition for me. Thanks
Yes, that distinction caught my eye and is making me think about what can be a default writing style for me, when I sometimes place myself in the story, acting in place for the reader, and at least open that way. I need to think through that a bit more sometimes I think.
Thanks for this Karen. It brought memories of J.I. supervising my dissertation. I had so many of the same experiences, thoughts and feelings. I appreciate your fine writing as well.
I didn’t know he was your supervisor. I bet you learned how to write very precisely.