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

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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 PenSee more details below

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:
715,657
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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