Dancing on the Head of a Pen: The Practice of a Writing Life

Dancing on the Head of a Pen: The Practice of a Writing Life

4.5 6
by Robert Benson
     
 

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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

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Overview

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.
Robert Benson
 
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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
06/09/2014
Baseball, road trips, and hats feature in Benson’s well-crafted exploration of the writing process. The prolific author (Moving Miss Peggy), who has written on prayer and faith as well as other topics, conveys to a general audience that persistence, sound habits, and good information can help aspiring writers transform an idea into a book. Everyday details about Benson’s life in Nashville abound as he challenges those who advise “quick and dirty” first drafts; shares insights picked up from his wide reading; and confesses his failures (“I once spent a whole year pretending to write a book”). His creative flair, gentle humor, and extended metaphors enliven conventional topics (choosing what to write, developing self-discipline, determining when to share one’s work). He describes his idiosyncratic, sometimes low-tech writing habits to encourage others to find what works for them. Benson emphasizes that writing is a job to which one must show up every day. Throughout, he demonstrates that a determined writers must makes successful choices to finish books. Benson’s sound advice, humility, and steadfast encouragement will appeal to his fans and others looking for a inspirational testimony about the writing life. (July)
From the Publisher
Praise for Dancing on the Head of a Pen

“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, best-selling author of Plot & Structure

“With deceptive simplicity and a kind of almost-seductive easiness in his voice, Robert Benson lays open before us the filigreed mystique of the writing life in all its beauty, its unmitigated angst, and its inescapable vocation. This one is a classic.”
—Phyllis Tickle, author of The Divine Hours

“I needed this book. And I need to read it again—and probably again. Thank goodness, it’s a pure delight to read. Encouraging, honest, practical, and important. If you’re a writer—or have any aspirations to become one—Robert Benson’s words will resonate deeply within you. I will highly recommend this to all my writer friends and even the writer friends I haven’t yet met.”
—Melody Carlson, author of more than 200 books, including Finding Alice and Diary of a Teenage Girl series

“There is little more enjoyable for a writer than to read about the craft, especially when the book is fashioned with the grace and style of Robert Benson’s prose. You don’t even have to be a writer to savor this delicacy. Just do yourself a favor and settle in for a treat that goes down like dessert but is also full of nutrition. I read everything I can find on writing, and I loved this.”
—Jerry B. Jenkins, novelist and biographer

“I love reading and spending time with what Robert Benson writes. I think it is because his words and God’s Spirit meet and dance on each page. In this book Benson generously shares how writing becomes art. Dancing on the Head of a Pen is direction for struggling writers and balm for the bruised writer’s heart.”
—Sharon Ewell Foster, author of the Christy Award–winner Passing by Samaria and Shaara Prize–winner The Resurrection of Nat Turner

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781400074358
Publisher:
The Crown Publishing Group
Publication date:
07/15/2014
Pages:
192
Sales rank:
540,465
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.30(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

 “I think I have a story to tell. I just do not know how to begin. Can you tell me how to write a book?”
 
Most often I hear such a comment during the question-and-
answer session after I have given a reading or a talk. The question also appears in some of the letters from people who are kind enough to read my books and kind enough to write me after they have read them.
 
The question comes up more and more these days. The digital age has changed so many things about the way writers and publishers find each other and ferret out access to sales and media outlets. And more and more the writer must not only make the art but deliver the audience as well. The whole process can seem a little daunting.
 
I always take the question seriously. I was once in the same spot and grateful for any help that might move me along toward learning to get a story down on paper.
 
Henri Nouwen was right when he said, “As long as we have stories to tell to each other there is hope.”
 
Sharing the things I know about how a person goes about telling his story seems only right. Perhaps it is even, as the old prayer book says, a good and joyful thing.

My father came into my office one day at the publishing business the family owned and handed me a stack of cassette tapes and a stack of manuscript pages, and then he gave me an assignment. “I met this young woman in Canada,” he said.
“I liked the things she was saying when she was speaking onstage, and I told her we would help her make a book out of it. I have been working on it some, but I cannot seem to capture it somehow. Why don’t you give it a shot?”
 
The book I helped the young woman make in those early days of my wordsmithing career is considerably different from the books now published under my own name. But it was the first chance given to me to learn how to make the only art I ever wanted to make—a book.
 
It was my first ghostwriting assignment. I was nineteen years old.
 
Many years and many books later, I found myself leaning on my best friend’s doorjamb on a warm afternoon. I
was half conversing about writing a book and half watching the roses blooming in our back garden. Out of one eye I was also watching the fountain beside the path that leads to the studio where I write.
 
I always enjoy conversations about writing and writers.
To be sure, the first joy of keeping such a conversation going is rooted in the fact that any conversation that keeps a particular writer from the burden of trudging back to the studio and back to writing sentences is a welcome conversation.
The subject hardly matters. What counts is the ability to put enough words into the air to delay the inevitable.
 
My friend told me about her recent conversation with a sweet woman we both know. Our mutual friend had been thinking she might try to write a book. The two of them thought a book might be down in there somewhere, hidden in one of the stories of her life, but the one who aspired to be the teller of the tale did not know how to begin.
 
“What should I tell her?” my friend asked. “What does she do to begin? How does one go about writing a book?”

The summer sun dropped down another little bit, and to get it out of my eyes, I shifted from the left doorjamb to the right and went into my best artist-as-teacher pose.
 
“This is the first thing I would tell someone who wants to make a book.”
 
And then I began to expound, and the first thing and the other nine or so went on for a bit. I am a writer. Embellishing is one of my gifts. I also know how to stall when my own writing is not going well.
 
I described the steps I take when I begin to make a book.
 
Some of them are habits stolen from other writers, writers far better than I am. Some of them are practices discovered on my own after years of dancing on the head of a pen. Some are disciplines I stumbled upon to feed both the caliber of the writing and the work of being a writer.
 
After some forty years and nearly twenty books, I have learned I do not know a lot about a lot of things, but I do know how to write a book.

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Meet the Author

Robert Benson is the author of numerous books, including The Echo Within, Digging In, and Home by Another Way. A retreat leader, Benson writes and speaks often on the life of prayer and contemplation, the practice of faith and spirituality, and the art and craft of writing. He is a graduate of and an adjunct faculty member for the Academy for Spiritual Formation, a program of The Upper Room. He is married to the literary agent Sara Fortenberry. Benson lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and he dances on the head of a pen every day no matter where he happens to be.

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Dancing on the Head of a Pen: The Practice of a Writing Life 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
SherreyM More than 1 year ago
The title of Robert Benson's book, Dancing on the Head of a Pen: The Practice of a Writing Life, drew me in like a moth drawn to a flame. What was behind the choice of the words, "dancing on the head of a pen?" Was this just another book on writing? I'll answer both questions at the end of this review.  Open the cover, flip past the title page, and get to know Robert Benson. Benson is a wordsmith beyond compare. He not only writes about the work behind writing but also shares the rewards. I found Dancing on the Head of a Pen an enchanting volume in which our guide takes the reader straight to that illusive place where the lives of art and the creative's spirit meet. Benson's work is not another guidebook teaching effective writing and offering tips. In Benson's words, I found encouragement, practicality, humor, and inspiration. I came away feeling as if I had been groomed to take the gift of writing out into the world and so should return to my desk and finish my book. And I could do so with a smile on my face because now I knew where the source of my words resides. My conclusion upon finishing Benson's book is the relationship between "dancing" and "writing," i.e. the pen, is expression of joy experienced when crafting in the mode one loves. That answers the first question above, and the answer to the second is quite simple. No, this is not just another book on writing. Benson has surpassed many of the books I've read on writing by giving the reader the gift of his own joy and passion for the writing arts. Recommendation: Without reservation, I recommend Dancing on the Head of a Pen writers at all stages of their writing experience. You will come away with a new sense of purpose and meaning in your writing life. And for those of you considering writing, or not, this is a delightful look at this one writer's view of writing. Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed are solely mine.
Copygirl More than 1 year ago
Dancing on the head of a Pen—totally love that title, and it's especially fitting for Benson whose words dance for the reader because he has spent years practicing his steps. Dancing on the Head of a Pen is no writing compendium; it's a contemplative how-to, if such a thing can exist. Benson walks us through his writing process, his practice—a spiritual discipline, if you will. As beautiful as his prose are, Benson doesn't sugar-coat the process: "Most of the time, writing a book more closely resembles digging a ditch than participating in some transcendent creative experience." Yup, that's about right from my limited perspective. Benson covers many of the same topics other writing books do: procrastination, discipline, choosing your subject, remembering your audience, helpful tools. But he arrives through the backdoor, telling his story, wrapping you with his words, and then laying down the truth. As an added bonus, the book is beautifully laid out, with plenty of breathing room. If you're a writer—wannabe or otherwise—this is a book worthy of your contemplation. You'll be reminded of how powerful your calling is and, through Benson's example, how enriching writing can be.
robtennant More than 1 year ago
I immediately did one of the things Benson says he, as a writer does.  I am not in the middle of a writing project, but I wrote something, a fictional dialogue, because of what I read in his routine.  I tried to copy his approach.  I don’t know if I will become a writer, but I plan on continuing this practice at least for the next month or so.  I am going to do what he says he does, and see what comes of it.  I can’t think of a better endorsement that I could give than that for Dancing on the Head of a Pen, Robert Benson’s short book about what he does as a writer.  He takes the reader through his process.  He does so succinctly and clearly.  By the time he’s finished, I think, “Well, I can do that.”  I don’t know if I can write books.  But I can do the things he says he has done.  And when he has done those things, at the end of the line, a completed book comes out.   As I said, this is a very short account.  He says nothing about how to get a publisher to read the work he’s written.  He says not one word about how to market the book.  He talks about editors, but he never mentions how someone starting out can get an editor.  Because I know a couple of authors who have succeeded in writing, getting published, and actually getting a few people to buy their books, I know Benson has left out a lot. However, I don’t think his goal is necessarily a “how-to” in writing novels.  His goal is “how-he” or “how-I.”  He’s saying to the reader, “this is how I do it.”  So, I don’t think he can be faulted too much for what he leaves out though I do think he leaves a lot out.  Dancing on the Head of a Pen is a snippet of his work as an author, a glimpse.  And because he is a competent writer, it is well written. For the prospective author, other works will have to be consulted if a finished product is to come.  Benson will put belief in the one who wants to write.  Read Dancing on the Head of a Pen, and you will think, “I can manage that much.”  And if you or I manage that much, we just might find we can do the things he leaves unsaid that are needed to complete the work. Disclaimer - I received this book for free from WaterBrookMultnomah Publishing Group for this review.
Theophilusfamily More than 1 year ago
"With my elbows on the old table, my chin in my hands, my pencil in my fingers, the lights of the city below and beyond... I fell in love with the craft of writing. I learned not to chase the words but to listen for them."  ~ Robert Benson, Dancing on the Head of a Pen  This book is a pleasure to read. Once I got started, I completed my first leisurely reading in a single evening.  As a lover of stories, I'm fascinated by what goes into telling them and the making of the books that come into my hands.  This book is replete with quotable lines from Mr. Benson, personal vignettes, and quotes from fellow writers.  Mr. Benson talks about the craft of writing without ever reducing it to mechanics or formula, and he talks about the business of writing without ever forgetting that word work is "fragile magic at best."  Mr. Benson is a wanderer when he writes, and not in an aimless or unfocused way. He wanders in a "Don't cheat yourself out of a beautiful dirt road" kind of way. As he points out, the moments you never expected may be exactly what the journey was all about after all.  I like the bits about the actual way he writes... fountain pen, sketchbook, six hundred words a day, lots of colored markers in the editing.  He talks about the times you pretend to write a book when you're really planting four new flower beds, and he talks about how writers need to remember the world they live in when they're so deep inside the world in their head.  He talks about the three hats that writers wear... the Beret, old Gamer, and the Fedora... and how each hat corresponds to the work of the moment. (Passionate artistry, dogged editing, and smooth marketing of the finished book.) This book is ultimately a celebration of writing: the thing that lets us tell out stories, the thing that lets us save pieces of ourselves we would otherwise forget, the thing that lets us give ourselves away to dozens of people we may never meet.  Writing. It is something as down-to-earth as bursitis from typing and as other-worldly as the power of paragraphs that shape our spirits. 
ReadersFavorite More than 1 year ago
Reviewed by Kayti Nika Raet for Readers' Favorite Dancing on the Head of a Pen: The Practice of a Writing Life by Robert Benson is a sage blend of advice and inspiration. It reads like a conversation with the author himself as Benson delves into many aspects of his own writing life, from deciding what to write and choosing an audience to how to stave off the dreaded Writer's Block (or Writer's Pause, as Benson insists). Where Dancing on the Head of a Pen differs from other books on writing is that Benson doesn't tell you HOW to write; he doesn't tell you the mechanics of it, no rules of grammar, or pontifications on the proper length of a chapter, or even where to place that pesky semicolon. What Benson does, and quite well I might add, is lay out his own writing strategy, things he's discovered over the years that work for him. It's told in a way that encourages the reader to look at their own writing habits, whether they differ markedly from Benson's or provide tidbits to be swiped. Sometimes witty, oftentimes wise, Dancing on the Head of a Pen is more for those already writing than for those hoping to start, and sates (at least for a time) the curious hunger in every writer who yearns to know how other authors write. A quick, well put together little book, Dancing on the Head of a Pen by Robert Benson is the type of book to be shared with friends and will make the perfect gift for the writer in your life.
VillaSyl More than 1 year ago
Everyone has the gift of creativity. We just express creativity in different ways. Some people excel in the kitchen, some garden. Some tackle complex computer problems and get lost in the world of numbers and equations. Some take their ingenuity to work with broken people. Some of us nurture creativity in others. Some of us are painters or poets or potters. And some of us write, creating with words and crafting with letters and our tools of ink and computer clicks. This is not a how-to book for how to write. It is what Benson has done throughout his writing career; what he has found works for him that he offers simply as suggestions for others. Dancing on the Head of a Pen is a short, easy to read book full of practical insights for anyone desiring to assemble words on a page for others to read. Each chapter focuses on one topic and Benson effectively ties in his own writing journey, including his victories and struggles, with a tip on making the writing process happen. I liked Dancing on the Head of a Pin, and recommend it for its realistic tips on writing a book for talented or aspiring writers. The book reveals the journey of the author as a writer, his inspirations and his tips to be a writer. Benson delivers on his advice to give writers a way to begin. I received copy of eBook from WaterBrook Publishing in their Blogging for Books Program.