We at Wipf and Stock are delighted to introduce The Theologist, our new blog series of interviews on writing and publishing in the fields of theology, biblical studies, philosophy, etc. Consider The Theologist your guide to all things writing, from finding inspiration for your work to reading the best literature on writing, from overcoming writing obstacles to finding writing mentors, and more. Kicking off the series is an interview with Nijay Gupta, biblical scholar, professor at Northern Seminary, and author of Cascade’s Prepare, Succeed, Advance: A Guidebook for Getting a PhD in Biblical Studies and Beyond and the forthcoming The Writer: A Guide to Research, Writing, and Publishing in Biblical Studies. In this interview, Gupta discusses his favorite books on writing, difficulties and breakthroughs in his writing career, his preferred drinks and foods for writing, and much more.
What inspired the idea for your book, The Writer?
I regularly teach a seminar on research methods and best practices in writing. I find myself giving the same advice over and over again, and I thought: “someone should put this into a book!” A lot of my books have that backstory, practical advice and how-tos that help demystify the academic world.
There is also a lot of imposter syndrome out there amongst students and even academics—I experience it all the time! Do I measure up to others? Am I a good enough writer? Do people think I am a terrible writer or scholar? A book like this, I hope, puts readers’ minds at ease. We all have the same struggles, the same questions, same fears. Picking up a book like this can be a form of empowerment, advice from someone a few steps ahead who can lend some support and offer some insight.
If you had to describe your life as a writer with an animal, which animal would it be and why?
I honestly couldn’t even guess, but maybe it is best if I try to come up with a symbol. My symbol would be “companion.” I don’t see my writing as dropping knowledge on people. I see it as conversations together with the reader on a journey towards understanding. If there’s an animal for that, that’s me!
What, if any, are your favorite books or articles on writing?
Two things I recommend. #1: I took (two) Journalism classes in college as part of a Public Relations major. That was incredibly helpful. Newspaper articles need to be succinct, keep the reader’s interest, and be informative—all things we want from good academic writing. #2: I recommend the work of Helen Sword. Look up her books on academic writing.
Describe your ideal writing environment, and if distinct, your actual writing environment(s).
I’m going to be perfectly honest with you—I’ve moved from state to state so many times, and now with juggling the schedules of three active teens/tweens, I’ve had to learn how to research and write in the most uncomfortable circumstances: in a parking lot, on the sidelines of a soccer game, sitting on the couch and working during commercial breaks. I gave up on ideal a long time ago. I think what I have learned is that I can do some research/writing things in short moments with distractions, and other things require peace and quiet—and knowing the difference is crucial to productivity and sanity.
Do you have food items or beverages you tend to enjoy while writing? Any music you like to listen to? If so, what?
Drinks: coffee in the morning (with the home espresso machine, dark roast Peet’s), tea in the afternoon (peppermint preferably)
Food: nothing that will make me sugar drunk
Music: honestly, no, unless my kids are loud, and then blast Yo-Yo Ma
What is your kryptonite as a writer?
Faculty meetings—ha ha. Okay, seriously? Intimidation. Writer’s Block. A feeling that I have nothing important to say after all. But you push through it, ask for advice, go for a walk. Get sugar drunk. Then get sober and get back to it.
When you were a young writer seeking to publish books and articles, what were your biggest struggles? Have you overcome those struggles? If so, how?
One of my biggest struggles was trying too hard to impress people. The reality is, you can’t win at that game. You try to climb a mountain with no top. The ladder of success just keeps going up and up into the ether. I learned not to write to impress “the right people,” but rather to write out of a sense of calling and wanting to make a difference in the thought lives of readers, not reviewers.
What have been your biggest breakthroughs in writing throughout your training and career?
Find your lane, find your audience, find your voice and style. You can’t be all things to all people, I tried that, didn’t work, I’m exhausted and still recovering. So, know what you’re passionate about studying and talking about, what groups of people are responding, and then invest in those communities. Also, publishing editors are important. Get to know some of them and find the person that you click with. You need a partner in the work of writing and publishing.
What advice would you give to a writer working on their first book?
The tendency for many early career academic writers is to write something not controversial, to avoid harsh reviews. I get it, it is scary to put yourself out there. But with so many books published every year (every hour!), you really do need to find a fresh angle on [whatever]. It doesn’t have to be world-shattering, just a twist that makes a difference. Also, don’t work in isolation. Find a community that you can dialogue with throughout your research and writing. Too many writers exist as islands, but good work often requires feedback loops throughout.
What’s your least favorite part of book publishing?
Easy, INDEXING! It’s horrible. It’s a humbling exercise after the joy of completing a book.
What books are you currently reading?
Jerry Toner, A Roman Guide to Slave Management (historical fiction, really good)
Simon Gathercole, The Gospel and the Gospels
Alan Culpepper, Matthew commentary, New Testament Library
Love Sechrest, Race & Rhyme
Jamie Davies, The Apocalyptic Paul
Lisa Bowens and Dennis Edwards, ed., Do Black Lives Matter? How Christian Scriptures Speak to Black Empowerment (forthcoming, Cascade, it’s good!)
Nijay K. Gupta (PhD, Durham) is professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary. He has written or edited over twenty books including Prepare, Succeed, Advance (Cascade), Worship That Makes Sense to Paul, A Beginner’s Guide to New Testament Studies, Paul and the Language of Faith, and Zondervan Critical Introduction to the New Testament: 1-2 Thessalonians. He has served on editorial boards for Journal for the Study of the New Testament, Priscilla Papers, Bulletin for Biblical Research, Journal for the Study of Paul and His Letters, and Brill’s Biblical Interpretation monograph series. Currently Gupta is writing a commentary on Philemon and Philippians for the New Testament Library series and co-editing the second edition of the Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. When he is not reading or writing, he likes to drink coffee and watch soccer with his family.
Nijay Gupta’s forthcoming book, The Writer
Students are expected to research and write, but they aren’t always taught how to do these things well. The Writer walks through Nijay K. Gupta’s approach to and best practices for becoming an effective and efficient writer in biblical studies. He handles a wide spectrum of issues from idea conception to research and note-taking to book proposals and contracts to working with publishers and more. Gupta shares his own publishing autobiography, offering the chance for aspiring writers to learn from the ups and downs of his experiences.