Thursday, July 17, 2014

Dancing on the Head of a Pen, by Robert Benson

I have never heard of Robert Benson before but apparently he has written a number of books. He has written and published so many that many people have asked him for advice on how to write for themselves. This book is an answer to their questions.

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!


Barbara H. said...

Interesting. From the title I never would have guessed this was a book about writing. It sounds good: I think I'll add it to my TBR list. The hardest thing is making time around other family obligations, but other writers I read have those as well. I've been praying that if this desire is of the Lord, that He'll show me how to go about it.

And I definitely agree that the writers we read greatly influence the writers we become - as well as the rest of our lives.

Annette Whipple said...

Neither of my libraries have this, so I'll have to seek this one out elsewhere. One of my recent classes,in particular, motivated me to write and see what I can do.

I did. For a couple months. Then Little League began. Now we're busy enjoying summer...being away, having company, playing Uno, checking the birds' know...all those important things of summer. However, I DO want to write. I want to write for magazines.

I also have an idea for a children's book in my head. We'll see if it ever comes to fruition.

Quite honestly, I am not certain you need a brand new title. I know it's very specific, but if you aren't going to publish for another 5-10 years, it may be fine.

Sometime google how to write a nonfiction book. You may be surprised at how simple it may be to come up with your 70,000 (or whatever it may be) word count. At least it sounded simple to me when I took my class.

Anonymous said...

This sounds like an interesting book! And yes, books I read influence my writing to degree that is almost frightening. Recently I read Eric Brighteyes by H. Rider Haggard, and for the next few days I had a hard time not lapsing into Norse Myth in my writing:
"And with a fell cry, the child snatched up his sister's doll and holding it a aloft he ran, fast as Odin's thought, to the sofa, and there he did toss it in the air, and cry 'O-ho, sister mine, cans't see thy doll aloft? Wilt thou dare again to steal my fire-truck?'
But the tale so runs that his sister, in a fey mood, called out to him; 'what?! Dost think that our mother will not hear, and hearing, punish?'"

Bluerose said...

I have no desire to write a book, though I did earlier in my life. (I DO want to write more journal type things for myself.)

"So, friends, let us read well so that we may be influenced by the wisest and the best!"

Thank you for the extra encouragement there! I've been trying SO hard to make better reading choices. I came over to your blog one day and made myself a list. ;)

Michelle said...

I have always thought, in the back of my mind, I would love to write a book.
However, I don't have formal training, so its only been a thought.
I like to think I read books by good authors and not `twaddle`
I am encouraged my most books I read.
The closest I've come is to do reviews, which I enjoy.

*carrie* said...

Sounds interesting. I read his book Living Prayer a year or two ago after it was recommended in a different book I was reading.

Shonya said...

Sounds interesting. I used to aspire to write a book (or books). . .however, the older I get, the less I think I know and the less I feel I have to offer!

And while I might like to say I simply don't have time to write, I suspect the truer reason, as you alluded to, is that I simply don't have the self-discipline. I can't even seem to write a decent blog post these days!

Cassandra said...

I agree with Shonya. I want to write but the more time passes, the less I feel that I have to share. I'm still learning and undoing some of the previous foundations that were built. So I'm really back at the beginning...

BerlinerinPoet said...

I was seriously JUST telling John that my new goal was to spend a few minutes (ease myself in with minutes rather than hours) a day writing. And then I read this post. Yes, discipline is necessary!

Top  blogs