Mom Profile: Anna Whiston-Donaldson

Anna Whiston-Donaldson writes about life with truth and humor, whether she is chronicling her inner monologue during an eyebrow threading session, or pondering faith, parenting and loss.

A former high school English teacher and bookstore manager, Anna began writing the blog “An Inch of Gray” in 2008 to share funny stories of life and motherhood and to find an online community. After the sudden death of her 12-year-old son, Jack, in 2011, Anna chronicled her grief journey in real time for her readers in order to reveal what grief is really like and to find healing for herself.

In her New York Times bestseller Rare Bird, Anna shares her story of loss and rebirth. In times of heartbreak, she discovers God is nearer than your own skin. “It is about finding that you are braver than you think, God is more mysterious than you realize, and heaven is closer than you know.”

Anna loves connecting women to one another and helping make sense, in her own way, of this beautiful, hard, grace-filled life.

Is there something you recall your parents doing that instilled your love of reading?

My mother read to my brother, sister and me almost every day, snuggled in my parents’ king-sized bed. Our favorites were the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle series, Stuart Little and Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Mom also let me read whatever she was reading, without regard to content. I read Gone With the Wind, The Thorn Birds and some pretty racy novels before I was old enough to completely understand them, but I was grateful for her confidence in me as a reader. That love of reading never left me.

As a teacher, did you have an approach that worked for the reluctant reader?

As a teacher, I wish I had given my students more choice in the books they read. Free choice books were always the favorites of reluctant readers. Both of my kids enjoyed reading, yet it was amazing to see them fly through books that really interested them, whether The Hunger Games or Eragon for Jack, or Wonder and The Fault in Our Stars for Margaret.

When you stayed home with the kids, did you have plans for what you’d be doing in your “spare time?”

Not really. When I decided to stay home, I realized it was for just a season of my life, so I immersed myself in the often grueling, often beautiful moments with the kids. Over the years I also volunteered at church and in the community so that I could have adult time and use my brain in different ways.

Why did you start your blog?

I started blogging in 2008 as a creative outlet. I had never considered myself a writer, but I would notice funny, quirky things around me and think, “I’d love to write about that.” What started out as a hobby, soon formed a community of friends for me, and eventually led to writing my memoir.

How different is it to write a book versus a blog?

At first, the thought of writing a book seemed overwhelming and intimidating. It felt more “permanent” than a blog, and I put a lot of pressure on myself for it to be profound. What I realized during the process, however, was to just be myself. My authentic writing voice is what drew my community to me in the first place, so I just kept it, with all of my flaws, doubts and fears. The nice thing is that if you meet me “in real life,” you know you are meeting the same person from my blog and from Rare Bird.

What does writing do for you?

Writing has definitely been cathartic for me. Recently I was writing about the first Thanksgiving without our son, Jack, and the tears started to flow—almost three years later. And it was good. I find writing to be much more energizing than exhausting, but I have to make myself get off of Facebook in order to write!

Do you feel “good” at writing now that you have a best seller under your belt?

Well, I would certainly like to learn more about the craft of writing, but writing a best-seller does give me the confidence to explore what comes next. I think that remembering the hard things we have done in the past can get us through challenges ahead. Now I can say, “Well, if I wrote a book, maybe I can do this!”

Do lighter topics still interest you?

Absolutely! My writing has always been a mix of the humorous and the mundane, as well as more profound topics. After I started writing about grief, I wondered if that would be all I would write about for the rest of my life. The truth is, I am a bereaved mom who thinks a lot about life and death and heaven. But I’m also a suburban woman in her mid-40’s who thinks about childhood hunger, perimenopause, her gray roots and a lot of other things.

Do you have advice for the moms out there who may want to try their hand at blogging, writing articles, books, etc.?

Well, if I started a blog, so can you. It’s free, simple to set up, and you can make of it what you want. And with the rise of self-publishing, writing a book is more accessible than ever. I believe telling our honest stories is a meaningful way to connect with others. If you have a story to tell, that is bubbling up inside you, perhaps you have a need to tell it, and someone else needs to hear it!

What about books as gifts? Recommendations?

I love to give books as a gift. I almost always buy my husband, Tim, a nice hardcover for Christmas. The bonus is that I get to read it when he is finished. I also buy my daughter books. This season I would recommend Wild by Cheryl Strayed, The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, and Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. They are all the subject of upcoming movies, and if the movies are half as good as the books are, they will be terrific. For little kids I recommend: God Made Light by Matthew Paul Turner.

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