Review: Dancing on the Head of a Pen by Robert Benson

Robert Benson’s Dancing on the Head of a Pen: The Practice of a Writing Life is just that: an tangible display of the real, lived life of an active writer. Benson is not an armchair author, writing only in the nooks and crannies of life. Indeed, he is an author whose very life is informed by his dedication to writing.

When I first picked up this book, I imagined (and, in some ways, secretly hoped for) a “how to” guide on writing from a place of inner reflection or spirituality. I imagined that Benson, whose name I had only heard maybe once or twice, would lay out a practical approach to writing from a place of interiority. I guess I expected bullet pointed lists of what to do, what not to do, how to do it, how not to do it, etc.

Instead of bullet points and lists, I found a story. Rather than laying down the writing life in an easy-to-read-easy-to-duplicate list, Benson tells his story. In doing so, Benson demonstrated the goal to which I (and almost every other would-be-writer I know) aspire. We want to tell our stories. We want to look deep within, engage with our own experiences, and tell others about that engagement.That engagement is the meat of a good story. Without stooping down to the bullet point lists of popular culture, Benson bids us pull up a chair and listen to the story of a man who might be our favorite uncle or freshman literature professor.

By way of mechanics, the book is easily accessible. The cover is attractive, the text readable, and the layout easy to follow. With fewer than 200 pages and short chapters, the book is a quick read. Certainly a book I would keep around and look at again from time to time. The title of the book is a clever medieval pun. Scholastic theologians, caught up in the minutiae of systematic theology, debated the number of angels which could fit on the head of a pin. Although the contents of the book do not necessarily allude to the scholastic debate, the title is appreciated.

I have been provided a review copy of Dancing on the Head of a Pen by Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest-though-not-necessarily-favourable review. For more information on Blogging for Books, please visit


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