How did you become a writer? Born to a blue-collar family in Toronto, early on I wanted to become a doctor because that was what bright Jewish boys were told would be a crowning achievement. My capacity with language, I simply took as a throw away talent that got me invited to sit shot-gun in the car with the boys so I could chat up the girls. Years later I would learn the Irish witticism: “A writer is only a failed talker.”
By my junior year in college, chemistry was not holding my interest and a romantic interest in poetry and the poet’s life had me in its grasp. Again, I loved women and women loved poets. And I was off to the races.
On reflection of life spent at the races: Be cautious about what we do to seduce others because in the process we often seduce ourselves. Or, the first person every salesman always sells is himself.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.). Writers: T,S. Eliot, Donne, ee Cummings, Blake, Dylan Thomas. Books: The Bible, Jung, Zen literature, Buber, Siddhartha. Teachers: 1) John McManmon – a great, great 18th century prof at UCLA, poor Irish who went in and left “the Hood,” and dear friend across time who challenged me and challenged me again. 2) Carlos Castaneda was introduced to me when a book of poetry I had written, “Don’t Call It Anything” came out and won the Schull Poetry Prize. Carlos was a grad student in Anthro at UCLA, and I was an Asst. Dean of Students. The Anthro dept. thought Carolos was too close to his subject, Don Juan, the Mexican brujo, and didn’t know what to do with him. One month later, Carlos was on the cover of Look Mag, and he and I had a great laugh. His teacher, Don Juan always said, “Follow the path with a heart.” The no B.S. teachings of John and the follow the heart of Carlos/Don Juan played major themes in my holding the course and compass in my work.
Other: My parents. My mother doesn’t fall into any category but was a category on her own. She opened my feminine side, the side that allows me to see the whole house if you leave your window up six inches. She was brilliant and an ethicist posting up small signs around our house reminding us “It’s nice to be important but more important to be nice.” Not bad for a woman orphaned at birth, working full time in a butcher shop when she was fourteen, and never graduating from high school who went on the head up the Credit Dept. at major department stores. My father, who told me early on that God had gifted me but I wasn’t to use those gifts just to get my head further down in the trough. My great tragedy was his early death from ALS. My great gift was his love of life and people. Thanks Dad.
When and where do you write? I have worked in coffee shops, in cars, with background noise becoming white noise and ommmmm. But most of the time I work very early in the morning at home. I wrote several of my books from 3 or 4 in the morning until about 7. And then made my kids breakfast. Now, I can write at any time, as long as I have quieted my ego and got out of my own way. I scribble notes to myself all the time. My character Jacob in my JACOB THE BAKER books is similar in that way. Except I am the one with character flaws.
What are you working on now? I write almost every day, with the exception of the Sabbath. I am working on another JACOB book, blogs, columns, and posting stuff up in shorthand always. When people tell me they are bored, I am amazed. If I had a dozen lives I couldn’t imagine being bored. When my kids were little, I would tell them: “If you’re bored and feeling flat, look inside – that’s where it’s at.” Doggerel, perhaps, but Auntie Mame had it right, “Life is a banquet and most poor bastards are starving.”
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? Nope. Written some stuff that best serves as kindling but no blocks.
What’s your advice to new writers? I’m often asked this question after I give a talk or am cornered on a plane. And my answer remains the same after all these years. “Write one page every day for two years. Then throw away half of it, and you have a book.” “Every day?” they ask, astonished. “Yep, every day. Being a writer isn’t something you do only when your girlfriend leaves you, and you’re sitting in front of a fireplace on a rainy night.”
Someone like Ben Hecht or of that ilk once said, “A writer is someone who sits down to work and prays for the phone to ring.”
You’ve got to be driven to write - particularly in my case beginning as a poet. Poets never had to worry about selling out because there was no one buying. And if you’re looking for strokes, stroke on. A poet is someone who throws rose petals over the Grand Canyon and learns not to wait for the echo. And a great writer is a poet running a marathon.
Noah benShea - www.NoahbenShea.com
Bullet Point Bio
• North American poet philosopher.
• The international best selling author of 23 books translated into 18 languages.
• Syndicated column contributor NY Times Regional newspapers Nominated for The Pulitzer Prize.
• Spoken to the Library of Congress, included in the Congressional Record.
• Published by Oxford University Press and World Bible Society in Jerusalem.
• Dean, UCLA at age 22, at 30 a Fellow at several esteemed “think tanks,” Visiting Professor of Philosophy University of California SF Med School, Philosopher in Resident Dept of Internal Medicine Cottage Health Hospitals, Santa Barbara.
• Private advisor to corporate and political leaders, Ethicist for Sansum Diabetes Research Institute, nominated for the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas that Improve the World Order, National Laureate for the ALS Association.
• Noah benShea National PBS Special airs in 150 cities in 2009-2010.
• 2009 – present National Philosopher for Foundations Recovery Network, Nashville, Tenn.
• 2012 – present Executive Director, THE JUSTICE PROJECT / Making A Difference – Sage Publishing, Inc.