Dancing on the Head of a Pen: a book review

I first encountered Robert Benson at a writer’s conference in the late ’90s.photo

He writes in prose, but with the spirit of a poet. I still have my autographed copy of Between the Dreaming and the Coming True, purchased that week by me, the wide-eyed wannabe writer. Shortly thereafter I bought Living Prayer, a lyrical exploration of the depths of prayer that haunted me for years.

And this month I rediscovered Benson in Dancing on the Head of a Pen: The Practice of a Writing Life, which I received as a review copy from Blogging for Books. 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.

9781400074358_p0_v3_s260x420Dancing 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.

And even if you will never choose to write, here’s a Bensonism for you to mull over in the days ahead:

“The spiritual life is not so much about answers as it is about better questions.”

Me? I’m headed back to the writing process—or maybe to a bookstore to acquire the Benson titles I’ve missed over the last 15 years.

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