It is a delight and a rarity to read a new book and to know, from the first few paragraphs, that it is a book you will read again (and again). Dancing on the Head of a Pen: The Practice of a Writing Life by Robert Benson is one of those unique books.
This book about writing and spirituality combines some ideas from two of my longtime favorite books, Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg (about writing) and Take Your Time by Eknath Easwaran (about slowing down to live mindfully).
The book is composed of twelve short chapters that deal with creativity, inspiration, the practice of writing, the technique of editing, and slowing down to write and to live.
Robert Benson recalls a trip he made as a young man in his MGB convertible. He rode out west in a leisurely way, enjoying the trip, and stopping when he felt like a break. This is a metaphor for his way of writing. He espouses writing 600 words a day, stopping at that point, and then starting the next day at the same point. He recommends writing with the barest of book plans - a list of stories, but not an outline. He reminds writers of the inspiration that can be found in reading their old journals, walking, and just being quiet. "Do not be afraid to be quiet. Never be afraid to be alone" (p. 25).
I also love his idea of writing for a jury box. Before starting a new work, he constructs a jury box of 12 readers that he imagines experiencing his book. I think this is a really unusual and creative way of looking at a writing audience.
Robert Benson also talks about "Hat Tricks" and the three hats that a writer must wear: beret (creative writer), baseball cap (rewriter) and fedora (business person who handles the synopsis, cover letter, etc.).
He recommends making a shelf for influential books that inspire and motivate your writing. I found this idea intriguing as well.
He talks about things that inspire: journaling, a swipe file (i.e. newspaper stories, random lines, and anecdotes), a book of quotes, and a spare parts file (items edited from your work but saved for later). He recommends collecting things that move you, reading aloud, blogging, and writing letters.
He also talks about the power of walking, observing the world, and thinking as you walk. Dylan Thomas inspires this idea: "A poet is a poet for such a very tiny bit of his life; for the rest, he is a human being, one of whose responsibilities is to know and feel, as much as he can, all that is moving around and within him" (p. 131).
I truly cannot recommend this book highly enough for anyone who loves to write. It is sure to find a place on my personal shelf of books that influence and inspire me.
For more information:
Robert Benson's biography
A sneak peek at the book Dancing on the Head of a Pen
Robert Benson's website
I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.