Joseph Bentz is living a writer's dream life. He's a full-time English professor, novelist and non-fiction writer. In his spare time, he teaches at writers conferences around the country and co-leads a "support group" of sorts for fellow creatives trying to deal with all the challenges and joys that come with sharing their work with the world.
When did you first realize you were a storyteller?
I know I was writing stories at least as far back as fifth grade because I have found a few of those stories in a box in my garage. I may have started writing stories even earlier. By the time I was in high school, I knew I wanted to write a novel, and I started working on one at a more serious level in college. I still had years of work ahead because my first novel, Song of Fire, wasn’t published until I was 34 years old.
What do you love about the writing process?
The magic of writing is that a story or idea that at one point exists only in my own head can be placed into the heads of other people, many of whom I will never know. The events and people in my novels become “real” to me, and I love the fact that readers can know those people and that story too. I know those readers won’t see the story exactly the way I do, but I like that too, the idea that there many versions of the story flowing through other people’s brains. My novel A Son Comes Home is sometimes taught in literature courses where I am asked to speak, and I love to hear the impressions of readers to see how their ideas are similar and different from my own understanding of what I have written.
With nonfiction, part of what I love about the writing process is that writing is a way of figuring things out or thinking through things. My books on Christian living issues, such as When God Takes Too Long or Nothing is Wasted, start out as questions I have in my own life. Writing a book about them gives me the chance to dig deeper into those issues and try to make sense of them for myself and others.
What is the hardest part of being a writer?
The hardest part keeps changing. At certain points in my writing career, discipline has been the hardest part. I had the desire to write, but I had trouble sticking to it hour after hour, day after day, until a project was finished.
Self-doubt and insecurity have also been big enemies.
Another hard part is trying to translate the ideas that seem so beautiful in my head to actual words on the page that will be meaningful to other people. It’s often hard to find the words to fit the idea.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Coffee. Lots of it.
Music has also been a big inspiration, especially for my early novels. I don’t like to listen to music during my writing time, but listening to music before and after writing can unleash a flood of ideas. The ideas can’t be tied to the music itself in any logical way, but music somehow stimulates the creative flow.
Other writers are also a big inspiration. Whenever I read something, I often have to stop and take notes on ideas that have been sparked for one of my own projects.
What are you working on right now?
I am working on a book about passages from the Bible that have changed the world. Even if you have never opened a Bible, you would still know what the “prodigal son” refers to or what a “good Samaritan” is. I want to examine why some of these passages have been so influential and also look at some ways they have been misunderstood. This book will focus on portions of the New Testament, and my next book will be about the Old Testament. I have a deadline of March 15, and the book should come out later this year. It will be published by Beacon Hill Press, which has changed its name to The Foundry Publishing. They have published several of my books.
To keep up with Joseph and his latest projects, check out his website and his blog, Life of the Mind and Soul.
I've been writing stories and taking photos since I was old enough to hold a pencil and stand behind a tripod.