Guest Blog ~ Author Jill Dearman ~ The Play of Writing

The Play of Writing

From “Bang the Keys: Four Steps to a Lifelong Writing Practice” by Jill Dearman (Penguin/Aug. 2009)

How does an actor know when the play has begun? The curtain rises, of course! When the show’s over the curtain falls. What does a dancer do before a performance? Warm up. Just like any athlete must. Writing is both an exercise and a performance, so the rules of the actor and the athlete’s game are the same for us. A little warm up goes a long way towards putting us in the mood to write and helping us to enter “the zone.”

And these days, when modern life is so filled with insidious interruptions, I think it is especially helpful to begin one’s writing time with a cue, and end with one too. When I run my Bang the Keys workshops I usually sit in front of the clock and ask a workshopper to warn me when it’s one minute to “showtime.” Sometimes when I’m feeling particularly divaesque I demand that a gaggle of assistants powder puff my face, spray my hair and feed me a chewing gum cigarette for effect. When the clock turns and the hour has begun, I light a candle. When the wick catches fire we all know that the workshop evening has officially begun. When we are done, I blow out the candle. Over and out.

Arranging one’s time is a huge part of this phase in one’s writing practice. There is something about training your body and mind to begin and end an endeavor consciously, as in lighting a candle to start the workshop, blowing it out to end, that naturally carries over into the way you structure your writing life as a whole.

As always, focusing on a fun, doable micro (coming up with a writing “cue”) can help with the much more intimidating macro (meeting your six week writing goal, and ultimately finishing a large work).

Certainly a good way to prepare for one’s writing hours is to try a meditation (as outlined in the “Channel Surfing” chapter of BANG THE KEYS), or perhaps do a little quick journaling, but there are additional methods I’d recommend trying, just to change it up.

If you are aiming for 500 words a day you can be as rigid as Graham Greene and literally end your writing day when you hit that lucky number. I would recommend though that once you are in a good writing jag you push yourself to write just a little more. Incrementally you may work up to 1000 words a day or much more than that. But even if you stop at exactly 500 (or just under), good for you! That is a great way to end your writing day, by doing what you set out to do. The question though, is how to begin?

I enjoy mediating at the beginning of my writing time. Meditation, after all, is simply the act of focusing on one thing with relaxed concentration, and creating a boundary (or force-field, in my mind) to keep out all other things. Thjs can sometimes help to close out the rest of the world, and help me tune in to my own creative world.


“One chiefly needs swiftness in banging the keys,” said author Mark Twain, who pioneered the use of typewriters. Modern-day author and writing coach Jill Dearman has taken Twain’s words to heart in creating her successful “Bang the Keys” writing workshop, offering participants a four step path to creating and maintaining a robust habit of banging the (now electronic) keys.

Scribes have been longing for a relevant and modern writing workshop-in-a-book, one that deals with the issues of distraction that plague them in this information-overloaded 21st Century of ours … and now it has arrived, in fresh, crackling prose: Bang the Keys: Four Steps to a Lifelong Writing Process (ISBN: 9781592579143, Alpha Books, August 2009, $16.95). With a foreward by John Leland, New York Times reporter and author of Why Kerouac Matters.