Dancing on the Head of a Pen: The Practice of a Writing Life
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In this masterful blend of the practical and the spiritual, Robert Benson invites you into the work and rewards of a writer’s life. More than a primer on effective writing, Dancing on the Head of a Pen is a winsome guide to the place in the heart where the life of the spirit meets the life of art.
“Dancing on the Head of a Pen is a pure delight to read. Encouraging, honest, practical, and important. I needed this book.”
—Melody Carlson, author of more 200 books including Finding Alice
“With deceptive simplicity and an almost seductive easiness in his voice, Benson lays open before us the filigreed mystique of the writing life in all its beauty, its unmitigated angst, and its inescapable vocation.”
—Phyllis Tickle, author of numerous books including The Divine Hours
“Robert Benson’s Dancing on the Head of a Pen is a gem. It is wise, witty, and inspiring—a trifecta seldom achieved by a book on the writing life.”
—James Scott Bell, bestselling author of Plot & Structure
After some forty years and nearly twenty books, I have learned I do not know about a lot of things, but I do know how to write a book. Some of these things are habits stolen from other writers, writers far better than I am. Some are disciplines I stumbled upon to feed both the caliber of the writing and the work of being a writer. Some of them are practices I discovered on my own after years of dancing on the head of a pen.
The Life of the Spirit Meets the Life of Art
A compelling combination of advice and inspiration, Dancing on the Head of a Pen will challenge and encourage writers, artists, musicians, painters—anyone drawn to a life of artistic expression.
Digging deeply into his own writing habits, failures, and successes, Robert Benson helps you choose the ideal audience for your work, commit to it, and overcome the hurdles that inevitably confront both aspiring artists and accomplished professionals.
Extending beyond the craft of writing, this gentle book moves into a rich discussion on the relationship between spirituality and art. Including wisdom from revered writers past and present, Dancing on the Head of a Pen is a beautiful mosaic of inspiration, practical help, and a glimpse into the disciplines that shape one writer’s life.
look for light in the midst of the darkness that seems all around us. My journey in the direction of learning to pray eventually led me to Thomas Merton. I do not go anywhere without a copy of Thoughts in Solitude. Sometimes kindly picking me up when I am discouraged, sometimes gently reminding me that this work is not life and death, he always reminds me that I am only making sentences here. Not life and death by any stretch. Darkness Visible, the slim book written by William Styron about his
discover when he writes too fast or too glibly, too carefully or too safely. A place to discover his voice slowly over time so that when the real game is afoot, he can trust it. “The more faithfully you listen to the voice within you, the better you hear what is sounding outside,” writes Dag Hammarskjöld. “And only he who listens can speak.” I also recommend other writers be a bit of a pack rat. I collect three specific writerly things. And I fool with each collection a little bit almost every
helps us remember to be attentive to the things we already know to do. My friend who writes historical novels set in Scotland told me she plays Scottish music on the stereo while she writes. Her trick reminded me I need silence in order to write. The next afternoon I removed the radio from my studio. Another writer told me he works best late at night, reminding me which time of day works best for me to put new words on blank pages. I went home and rearranged my calendar to protect those hours
produce good work at that pace and consider myself fortunate to be friends with such a prodigious talent. Other days I mutter her name under my breath, annoyed with her for showing up the rest of us, and then I go on to criticize myself for the snail’s pace at which I work. She can turn out what I would consider to be a good day’s work before I can finish a pot of tea. On those days I hold on tightly to what Annie Dillard says of writers who pound out books in ridiculously short periods of time:
to send me one of her funny little notes to tell me how wonderful my work turned out. Even when the next thing I receive from her in the mail includes two dozen pages containing the hard truth about what has to be done in order to make the work good enough for other folks to read. There is no need to try to fool myself. These are the people who love Robert the writer the best, and they are the people who are most likely to catch me if I do not write honestly. They are the people who know my