Shani Chen, author of If Nuns Were Wives, began her writing career later in life. Why? because at first, she wanted to be a nun. Ever since becoming a teenager, Shani felt a calling towards religion and eventually to become a nun.
However, sometimes, no matter how much we plan and want something, life takes an unexpected turn. After spending years trying to become a nun, Shani was absolutely shocked when the nuns encouraged her to return home and to a bright future.
She found her husband and became mother to bright and beautiful children, but in her heart, she always carried the principles and teachings from the nuns with her, always.
She found that many of the life lessons she learned while in their company were incredibly useful and applicable to daily life – especially married life. And so she wrote a book – her first ever book – looking at marriage from the perspective of a nun.
I’ve had the great pleasure of reading and reviewing If Nuns Were Wives and connecting with Shani over social media. I truly adored this book and found it incredibly helpful in my own life. I was absolutely delighted when she agreed to be interviewed!
Without further ado – here’s Seven Questions on a Saturday with Shani Chen!
1) What does a typical day of writing look like for you?
A typical day of writing for me is not very glamorous. Because I am tasked with taking care of a newborn and two toddlers, I really have to be smart about my time. Free moments are rare and usually come in small pockets. The only exception to this is when the kids are napping, and that is usually where I get the most writing done. I just go outside into my tiny garden with a notebook and pen, and sit in our lawn chair under the shady guava tree; it’s like an escape from my world inside the home. I can’t just drive and get away, so this is what I have to do. And even though writing during naptime means sacrificing my own sleep, it’s worth it to me. Writing is worth being tired over, worth giving all my free time to. Being able to share a message and hoping it’ll help people is one of the most meaningful and gratifying things I’ve ever done.
2) Your first book, If Nuns Were Wives, provides marriage advice from the perspective of an aspiring nun. What was your favorite part about writing the book? Any aspects that were particularly challenging to write?
My favorite part about writing the book was how I learned to hone in on my intuition and my internal guidance system. It’s like I gained super powers. I believe everyone can tap into this inner knowing and solve every problem that comes up. But unfortunately, most people don’t trust these intuitive gifts. Instead, they look outwards… to all the noise. We’re bombarded with information all the time and trained to look outside of ourselves for answers. Research. Read. Watch the news! But it all just becomes static. What I learned is that we need to go inwards, to get quiet, reflect upon the situation and eventually, the answers will come.
As for the challenges in writing, I have one in particular. There are a million different ways to say something; a million different ways to piece words together. The challenge, for me, is to find just the right combination of words to get the point across in the way that I want.
3) One thing that I love learning about is what inspires an author to create a book. What prompted you to write If Nuns Were Wives?
When the idea for the book came, I was pretty fresh out of getting rejected by the nuns. Or at least, it felt that way. In reality, it had been multiple years, but the pain was still there, still fresh and stinging. During that time, many big changes were occurring in my life as well. For one, I had begun the second chapter of my life—the one of marriage. And two, old friends were coming back to me, somehow repeatedly asking for marital advice. It didn’t take long before I realized that life seemed to be swapping out one mission for another. My desire for nunhood was transforming into a different creature and that led to my “aha moment” of, “Hey! I’m going to write If Nuns Were Wives!”
4) Looking back on your literary journey, what do you now know that you wish you could tell your past self?
Looking back to the beginning, I was trying to write what I thought people would like to read instead of fully expressing who I was, especially since I was taking on the perspective of nuns. I thought I had to be “holy holy” and perfect. But there’s a side to me that’s a little goofy and spunky which I was trying to suppress in hopes of sounding more intellectual. What I learned through the process, and what I would tell myself from the beginning, is to just have fun writing. Be who you truly are. And in terms of what people think, “Oh gosh, who cares!!”
5) Some authors work on one book from start-to-finish, while others have multiple projects going on all the time. Which one are you (and why)? Do you have any projects on the metaphorical literary table?
Definitely, I’m one to work on just one project from start to finish. I like to completely dive in and submerge into a world; to become completely focused on one thing. Eat, breathe, live it. That’s just how I am. I don’t like to feel scattered and spread out in many directions. It distracts me from my focus. And yes, I do have an idea for a second book that I’m just beginning to brainstorm. It seems like the universe just naturally pointed me to this next step when I wasn’t even looking for it.
6) What are your top three favorite books? How have they influenced your writing? (if not, could you summarize in a sentence or two why you loved those books?)
Just 3? That’s going to be hard. For one, I love the children’s book: Just like Heaven, by Patrick McDonnell. It’s such a simple book, but teaches in very few words, everything I believe to be true about life. Although it was made for kids, I find it a must-read for adults. #2. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff by Richard Carlson. The element of compassion really rang through this one– “See the innocence in others.” “View people as babies.” The author just seemed so pure and kind. It’s very hard to find an adult person with those childlike qualities. My third favorite book is Rising Strong by Brene Brown because she encourages us to have courage when standing alone, and being a new author often requires that.
7) What advice do you have for aspiring authors? What about aspiring nuns?
To aspiring authors, oh this is going to sound so cliched, but please… just be yourself! Don’t be afraid of sounding lame, of putting yourself out there and looking like a fool, of pursuing your passion with gusto. This is your dream; go after it with all you’ve got. And if you keep at it, if you just keep taking one step in front of the other, you will succeed. I know this to be true. And to aspiring nuns, try your best, then leave it up to fate. If you are chosen, then there’s a reason. If you’re not chosen, then there’s a reason. Perhaps your mission lies elsewhere. Don’t give up. And as the nuns told me, “your future looks very bright.”
Interested in connecting with Shani on social media? Check out her:
Interested in her book? Check it out!!