Banging the Keys with Jill Dearman

Jill DearmanA true New Yorker, Jill Dearman has words in her blood. She is a writing coach and editor who’s been teaching her Bang the Keys workshop for more than six years. Her industry credits include teaching journalism at NYU and writing for a variety of outstanding publications. With a background in literary writing her short stories and other works have been published in magazines like Lilith and New York Stories

It seems that Jill’s success has been written in the stars. She spent several years on the best seller list with her St. Martin’s Press books Queer Astrology for Men and Queer Astrology for Women. She has written astrology for Ladies Home Journal, Redbook, and Celebrity Living. Mademoiselle magazine named her one of the countries top-ranking astrologers. 

I’d like to offer you a little bit of insight into Jill with the following interview.  And check out the contest at the end of this post.

KS: Life takes people on so many different directions. When you were growing up did you ever see yourself being a teacher, a writer, or an astrologer? These three things are very different, but yet you seem to pull them together to make you whole. 

JD: I’ve always had a strong passion for language (writing) and symbols (astrology), but when I fell into teaching in 2001 that was the element that made all the pieces of the puzzle stick together. I love to share my knowledge, to learn, which is such a huge part of teaching, and on and on … 

KS: Your book Bang the Keys is a fresh look at how to get yourself going and keep the muse alive. I loved the section on journals. I have that addiction you refer to, you know, the one about notebooks. Well, I’d like to know how journaling has really affected your life as a writer and as an astrologer. 

JD: Ha! I bet you have at least four on you right now! Like most artists I have many moods, and many imaginative thoughts. I have to have a notebook on me at all times to make sure I can release my emotions on paper, and to ensure that I don’t lose those bits of inspiration when they come. I keep a “cahier” (French for notebook) on my computer, and I always note what sign the sun and the moon are in when I make entries. When I look back sometimes I think, oh, I was doubly opposed by the stars on that day, no wonder I thought everyone hated me!  

KS: You also talk about meditation in Bang the Keys. This is something I have tried many times, but it is almost impossible for me to focus long enough to…well, you know. Of the exercises you mention in the book what would you say is the most effective for a newbie to try? I found myself intrigued with the “metta meditation” or Peace Training. How exactly does this help a writer focus? 

JD: Sharon Goldberg has written and spoken beautiful on this subject. (For more see my blog entry on The idea is simple. You sit and focus on your breath as you silently send yourself repetitive messages of “loving kindness.” When you think of it, it’s not so different from the way you would comfort a child who is upset by saying “You will be fine; I am here” and then repeating those words again and again. It sure can’t hurt! And since we writers tend to self-flagellate ourselves in our minds so frequently, I think we should answer the question “where is the love?” with a resounding “right here, baby!” As in, in our own hearts, for ourselves. We can then let that love and compassion spread out into the world. And getting to a place of peace does help the writing … a lot! 

KS: You talk about “Paying yourself first” in Bang the Keys. This is a concept that I think many people misunderstand. Most people only think of payment in terms of financial. Can you explain a little bit more about how a writer can best pay themselves? How did you first get yourself into this routine? 

JD: Time is a writer’s greatest asset, and for all of us it’s in short supply. Before we write down “Lunch with Jed at 1pm on Friday” maybe we should look at our week and see if we have our writing hours scheduled first. And if we tend to have a very unstructured, minute to minute approach to time we might end up doing “research” (Googling the history of snare drums, and downloading some tunes) rather than writing. By paying ourselves first I mean writing down the writing hours we plan to do, in our calendar, just as we would write down the hours for classes we might take, appointments we might make. And then doing those hours. Giving ourselves the time we promise is paying ourselves first. 

KS: I found myself intrigued by the personal thoughts you share throughout your books and I found a lot of inspiration from them. I also found so many truths that I had not realized before. Writing has taken a back seat in my life since becoming a publisher. But I miss it. I miss the thrill and I miss the challenges. What I don’t miss is the fear of failure. Your section in Bang the Keys about nearing the end really hit home with me. I kept seeing that word over and over, Go! And I realized how much of the angst of nearing the end I had survived in my own writing. What for you has been the most difficult part of the writing process? Is it the stuff at the end or are there other things that terrorize you more? 

Bang the KeysJD: I’m so glad you shared that Karen, as so many writers must do other things to support themselves, and to get their “platform” out there. It’s reality, but it’s hard. In regards to finishing, well, my thing seems to be this. I’m a little bit of an eager beaver. I tend to like to do things way ahead of deadline, and then I feel utterly out of control as I have to cede control to other people who are making the final stages of the process happen. That could be a writing pal who has my manuscript and is giving me notes, as I wait silently in a panic. That could be the folks who handle the business of writing and getting the magazines, books, and other publications out there. I’m so grateful to them but at once so fearful about what will happen to my baby! To explain how I deal with this self-imposed stress, take a look at the movie Broadcast News with Holly Hunter, William Hurt, and Albert Brooks. There’s a great scene where we see Holly Hunter, who is a type-A, super competent news producer bawl uncontrollably before she heads into work where she does her job like superwoman. That’s her ritual. I’m not so different! 

KS: The last chapter of Bang the Keys is The End is the Beginning. I don’t think a lot of writers realize this. They figure that once they have finished a project their work is done and it becomes someone else’s job from that point on. What advice, outside of buying Bang the Keys can you offer writers to make their journey more exciting and less traumatic? 

JD: In this era it is up to the writer to do so much to get their work out there. All I can say is, please realize you are not alone. Writers must help each other, and I know that we feel good when we are generous towards each other. Think of the finishing of the writing of a book, play, what have you, as a wedding, and everything that you do afterwards as the marriage! Don’t just be a bridezilla, be a good spouse! 

KS: Your Closing thoughts and anything (including shameless promotion) you want to put in go below here. 

JD: Please check out my book trailer:

It really captures a lot of the sensibility of the book and has some helpful tips from my writing workshop. My website also really gives a strong sense of what I have to share with writers: Take a look…and then get back to work! And thanks so much, Karen.

My Review of Bang the Keys

This book is just what the industry needed. There are a ton of “DIY” books out there. Of course all know that writing is a solitary sport, but I can’t rememeber anyone ever remiding us to do it FOR ourselves. Jill Dearman reminds writers that no matter what, this is still about you. With concise exercises that I guarantee will get any writer going, Bang the Keys ripe for the picking. Dearman doesn’t talk at you, she talks with you and her expertise in this field is priceless for anyone who has become a master at self-sabotage. It’s not just another how to, it’s a better way how to and that is precious to anyone who values their vocation as a writer. If you are a writer, then buy yourself a copy, then buy a copy for your fellow writers.

Contest: One random poster will be selected to receive a FREE copy of Bang the Keys from me (karen).

©Karen Syed


6 responses to “Banging the Keys with Jill Dearman

  1. Congrats on the book Jill! Thanks for the useful tips in this interview! I can’t wait to read this book and tell everyone about it. It feels good to think about writing as paying yourself first! That’s really positive and motivates me!

    I think for many writers there is no light at the end of the tunnel in their POV. You’re right, we should all consider the positive impact our published writing will have on our lives!

  2. Great book Jill! The worst thing about paying myself first is to make it all fit. Just when I set aside time for me, the child, the husband, the dog, work…something or someone else needs a piece of me or my day.

    I always seem to be last in line on pay day. Maybe meditation..?

  3. Thanks for these comments. Re: astro, I just enjoy tuning in to the cycles of iife –in all forms — paying attention to the seasons and such.
    Nice note re: driving!

  4. Sounds like an interesting book! I never thought about how meditation could help with writing. Something I’ll definitely have to explore.

  5. I don’t meditate specifically, but I do use my dreams to solve storyline problems, as well as my driving time. I guess its the motion of the world past my windows that does it, but if I park a problem in the back of my head before a reasonably long drive I often get a solution just pop into my mind. I even bought a digital recorder to make notes when that happens, otherwise I’ll forget when I get where I’m going and have to deal with real life again. I have to have the page in front of me if I want to actually get the words down, and often the words I end up with completely redefine what I started out trying to do!

    I don’t lay out a calendar, but I do get up early almost every day, and I put that time to good use writing. My most creative writing is done first thing.

  6. I can so relate to this post and book! Although I have never been a journaler, and probably never will be, I am interested in the meditation exercises and “paying yourself first,” something I have trouble doing.

    Time is in very short supply, and I seem to be doing more of “everything else” except writing; the one thing I truly love to do.

    Jill, do you still rely on astrology in your everyday life?

    Great interview, Karen and Jill!


Leave a Reply to Jill Dearman Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s