Interview by Alex Mellen (PWR class of 2014)
What was your first byline—the first piece of writing you had professionally published?
My first modest success in publishing was in writing for half-a-penny a word doing short stories and brief devotions for Sunday school take-home papers in the late 1960s and early 1970s, such as Challenge, Conquest, The Baptist Bulletin, and Vital Christianity. The first serious money I made was when I started to write profiles and interviews with popular musicians during the 1970s, which I sold to Guitar Player, Contemporary Keyboard, Downbeat, Country Music, and Music City News.
What led you to begin teaching writing at the university level?
During the 14 years I worked as a full-time freelance writer, I taught a lot of seminars and workshops across America at secular and Christian writers’ conferences, and I enjoyed that very much. When Dr. Jay Kesler, who was president of Taylor University in 1996, approached me with the idea of creating a professional writing major, I accepted the challenge and became a full-time professor in 1997 at the Fort Wayne campus of Taylor. It took three years to develop all the courses and recruit students, but by 2000 we were in full gear. By 2009, when the major was moved to the Upland campus, we had more than 90 professional writing majors in the program.
Why should high school students thinking of attending Taylor University come to this conference?
We always have a special track just for younger writers, so this provides a good way to learn more about writing and publishing and even to get to talk with Taylor students who are professional writing (PWR) majors themselves. The high school students can ask about specific courses and internships and independent studies.
Why did you choose the topics you did for this conference?
I consider myself the “utility player,” in that whatever holes we may have when creating the full range of topics for the conference, I can step in and do that topic. I like the chance to do a variety of teaching on subjects related both to writing and to marketing.
What does your most recent book, Finding Success with Your Dream Writing Projects, offer to professional writers or those who want to start writing for publication?
I am very excited about this new book. It is a combination of the very best freelance articles and columns I have written for the past four years for such magazines as Christian Communicator, The Writer, Advanced Christian Writer, Writer’s Journal, and Writer’s Digest. In the book I first review all the basics of entering the field of writing, such as understanding the copyright laws and setting up a manuscript and learning the terminology of professional writing. I then move into topics such as writing style, proofreading, interviewing, researching, marketing, and promoting. It’s a very content-heavy book, and the early reviews have all been extremely positive.
Name a book, nonfiction or fiction, that is not directly about writing but has taught you something about writing.
The book that had the most impact on me was Jack London’s semi-autobiographical novel Martin Eden. Although it is a novel, it does a marvelous job of presenting the challenges a writer faces when desiring to have a career as a full-time author. The story is enthralling, the writing is superb, and the theme is powerful.
Dr. Hensley will be teaching three sessions at the conference:
Titles, Leads, and Closings
Writing and Marketing Your Testimony (Or Someone Else’s)
The Business Side of Writing