Wednesday, October 29, 2014

'Dancing on the Head of a Pen' by Robert Benson

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.


This is a likeable book which focuses more on the attitudes we should embrace when we set out to write, rather than the craft itself. The author is whimsical, wry and willing to poke fun at himself. He comes across a bit like the type of friendly University Professor whose classes and lectures we always look forward to.

The book is full of short chapters, each designed to coerce us into the right head space for writing. Some of Benson's advice includes not to think about the fact that we are attempting to write a book, but just enjoy each step, because when you really think about it, who needs another book anyway? So many good books have already been written, that anything by us will seem audacious and pretentious anyway. To quote Robert Benson himself when impressed by another author, 'I felt if I wanted to contribute to the literary world, I should offer to do his laundry and mow his grass, so he has more time to write.' I appreciate books which help us to just plow through inferiority complexes and get on with it.

More of his advice includes courting our muse, who often shows up when we're just wandering around doing something else. He calls Writer's Block  'the affliction that must not be named' and has handy tips on dealing with it. My favourite chapter is one on the several hats we have to wear as writers, but never at the same time. Benson keeps a beret, a baseball cap and a fedora on prominent display to remind him of his separate roles. The first is for the creation of his initial drafts, the second for editing, and the third for getting out into the world to do all the scary, but necessary, PR stuff.

Finally, he counsels us to take it slowly. Fast is good for many pastimes, but not writing, and to help us stay patient, he reminds us that our work in progress is more important to us than to anyone else, after all. In spite of all this common-sense reasoning, it is a book which encourages me to pick up my pen and write more.

Thanks to Blogging for Books and Water Brook Multnomah for my review copy.

4 stars 

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