What Mount Hermon Taught Me About Writing and Life
by Joseph Bentz
The Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference has been a crucial part of my calling as a writer. Of the nine books I’ve published, all but the first one came from connections I made at Mount Hermon. I connected with my publishers and also found my agent there. I have made many friends at Mount Hermon and have also served as a faculty member at the conference about fifteen times.
Oddly enough, I didn’t really want to go to the conference the first time I signed up. I didn’t know much about writers’ conferences and had never heard of Mount Hermon. I signed up only because I happened to see a brochure that showed a particular editor I wanted to meet was going to be there. I went solely to see him. It was a seven-hour drive from my house, and at the last minute, I almost backed out.
I’m Glad I Went
The editor I wanted to see ended up canceling, so I didn’t meet him. But I fell in love with the conference anyway. I had brought nothing to pitch and had no idea what sessions I would attend, but I soaked in all the information I could and met fascinating people at every meal and in every workshop. With all these writers surrounding me, I had found my people. I was hooked on this conference.
The next year I came back more prepared, and I have attended most years ever since, either as a conferee or faculty member.
Important Lessons Learned
Mount Hermon has taught me some important lessons about writers and writers’ conferences. Here are a few that I wish I had known from the start:
• I don’t have to force everything to happen in my career as a writer.
As a newer writer, I often went to Mount Hermon feeling great pressure to get some specific result. I felt I had to meet a certain editor or had to get someone interested in a particular proposal. I eventually realized the best things that emerge from the conference are often much different from what I go there to seek.
One year I brought a proposal for a series of World War II novels I hoped to write. I got nowhere with that proposal, but on the evening before the conference officially started, I happened to sit down with an editor who listened to an idea I had for an entirely unrelated nonfiction book I thought about writing someday. She loved it and asked for my proposal. I told her I didn’t have one, I was just talking. I went home and worked on the idea and proposal over the next six months, and that led to a contract and a relationship with her publishing company, which resulted in my next five books, with more to come.
• Knowledge is important, but relationships are even more important.
Some people who can’t decide whether or not to go to a writers’ conference ask, why pay all that money to go to a conference? Can’t you get most of the same information online? If information were the only thing that mattered, I might agree. But I would not trade the relationships I have made at Mount Hermon for anything. I am not referring only to connections with editors and agents, as helpful as those have been. I’m talking about friendships I have formed with some of the most amazing people I have ever known. What’s not to love about a place stuffed with fellow writers and fellow Christians with remarkable stories to tell?
• Some of the best answers I receive at the conference are for questions I didn’t even know to ask.
Mount Hermon has helped to expand my universe of what is possible for me as a writer. It opens up ideas, genres, markets, techniques, and opportunities that never would have occurred to me on my own. I go with my eyes and ears wide open, asking, what might I try next?
• Mount Hermon is a spiritual place, bathed in prayer, and in the presence of the Holy Spirit for more than a century.
The physical beauty of Mount Hermon is inspiring, and the way God shows up is breathtaking. If you listen, he will speak to you there.
Joseph is mentoring a nonfiction clinic at Mount Hermon this year. The title of his sessions is Writing the Irresistible Nonfiction Book. Find out more about Morning Mentoring Clinics here.
Joseph Bentz is published in both fiction and nonfiction, with four novels and five nonfiction books. His most recent book, Nothing is Wasted, was published in 2016 by Beacon Hill Press. His novel Dreams of Caladria was published by Enclave in 2015. He is currently at work on a book about passages of Scripture that have changed the world. He is a professor of English at Azusa Pacific University in Southern California, where he teaches courses in writing and American literature. His blog, Life of the Mind and Soul, can be found at www.josephbentz.com. He frequently teaches at writers’ conferences and also speaks at churches, professional conferences, and other venues around the country.