Dancing on the Head of a Pen is a very quick and easy book to read. It comes off as more of a motivational speech than anything else and motivational speeches always do tend to go down well. In other words, there are no "ouch!" revelations inside, unless you come to the realization that you are an incredibly undisciplined person (which I am going to bank on you already knowing if you know you want to write but haven't written anything yet). The short answer to the question of how to start writing is simply to do it.
Practically speaking, Benson has filled this book with suggestions based on how he writes, acknowledging that what works for him might not necessarily work for another. He referenced a variety of authors he knows, all of whom have different methods for putting pen to paper. Because all people are different I think it was wise for Benson to write this book with the idea of motivating others in mind, rather than attempting to offer a step-by-step guide to write for publication. If you read this book, you might find yourself motivated to ditch the excuses and get to work. First though, I suppose one must remove the doubts that they have that they can't write anything decent. It's hard to write anything when you assume you have nothing brilliant to offer. I chuckled over this passage:
"A day spent reading Anne Dillard or Graham Greene or John Le Carre or Thomas Merton or Doris Grumbach or Frederick Buechner can convince anyone who wants to write that the good stuff has already been written and, in fact, so marvelously written that anything else by anyone else, including me, borders on being audacious at best and pretentious the rest of the time. Last week while reading Buechner, I realized tat if I wanted to make a contribution to the literary world, I should do his laundry and mow his grass so he would have more time to write." (Chapter 3, Go to Your Room, page 35)
I have a lot of lawns to mow and laundry to do for others!
There are practical tips included in this book but, as I say, Benson is quick to note that these are things that work for him and might not necessarily work for the next person. However, there is one universal truth which stood out to me (because, of course, it would). That is?:
"Any writer should have a shelf of . . . books. He need not read the writers I read. But he should never forget that we are all going to write under the influence of someone. Better for him if those writers are better than most. At the very least they should be the ones who make him want to lie down and take deep breaths before taking up his pen. Those are the books that will make him live, and write, more intensely. Reading anything less will not help him grow as a writer.
A direct relationship exists between the caliber of the writing you read and the caliber of the writing you make."
(Chapter 8, Under the Influence, pp 102-103, emphasis mine)
I agree with him whole heartedly! The people who I read definitely influence the life that I live and, frequently, the way I write. You can tell who I read - I think - if you read a few of my blog posts. Sometimes I think other authors are screaming through me in my speech and writing patterns. So, friends, let us read well so that we may be influenced by the wisest and the best!
I do envision myself writing a book someday. As my first title has flitted away, I'll have to do some additional thinking and pondering. I know that writing is an important way for me to be able to express myself and that I feel calmer and more thought through once I write something down, whether it be for public consumption or personal release. Words matter deeply to me and the order they are placed in can change a world (or, at least, a life). It's interesting for me to pick up books every now and again which talk about how one can write more effectively. For me, writing is a "future thing" but reading Dancing on the Head of a Pen did encourage me to start practicing now.
I pulled out a notebook and got started.
Many thanks to Waterbrook Press for sending a copy of this book my direction in order to facilitate this review. I did not receive any additional compensation for this review and all opinions are - forever and always - 100% my very own!