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

Robert Benson
Star Rating
Reviewer's Rating
May 11, 2016

Robert Benson always takes the question of “how to write a book” very seriously. For he was once "in the same spot and grateful for any help that might move [him] along . . . Sharing the things [he] knows 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.” He’s the perfect mentor to help nudge a new writer on her way.

One of my favorite things about Dancing on the Head of a Pen are the chapter titles. "Dark Marks on a Page", for instance, explains how different writers make their marks. Benson’s way is different from the next writer, which is different from the next. “Whether or not [Benson’s] way will work for someone else remains to be seen. In the end each writer will have to find his own way.”

The chapter that resonates with me the most is "Six Hundred Words". In it, Benson follows Graham Greene’s writing practice and writes 600 words each day. That sounds doable! “[And] know this: six hundred words a day for about four months will leave you several months to do the rewrite and to have a book within a year if you work diligently.”

Benson’s 174 pages are littered with references to other writers, musicians, spiritual leaders and psychologists. Rather than leave them like a trail of breadcrumbs, he sweeps them all nicely together as a list. I found so much inspiration in Benson’s advice I’ve already made a selection. But I’m so enamored with Dancing on the Head of a Pen, I may put it aside and seek out some of Benson's other work.

Reviewed by Helen H.
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