Bang The Keys: Four Steps To A Lifelong Writing Practice, by Jill Dearman
In many ways, this is an unpleasant book to read, being crude, deliberately immoral and decadent, and filled with all kinds of New Age meditation and the sort of assumptions about the reader that make this work clearly aimed at hipsters on the East or West Coasts. As is the case with many books, the author reveals a lot about herself in the writing of the book, and the result is often unpleasant. For anyone who has aspirations of writing and has remotely high-minded views about decency and moral probity, this book offers a lot of crap and a few pretty flowers and maybe some psychedelic mushrooms for the reader’s trouble. That is not to say that the book is without value, for it does offer insights, even if not always novel ones, but rather that the book is not really worthwhile unless the reader is sympathetic with the writer’s worldview, which is not the case with every reader, even those readers who are passionate about writing . Given that the writer makes it a point of reminding the reader that one must remember the reader in one’s writings, it is more remarkable that the writer assumed that all would-be writers are people like her—decadent and crude—which is a bad assumption to make.
The structure and organization of this book is mostly straightforward, and the author considers this (accurately) to be a textual version of a workshop. One of the starred reviews included before the proper beginning of the book gives an accurate and flattering summary of the book’s contents and approach: “Bang the Keys is about purging those internal obstacles that prevent us from getting our stories out, or that clip them along the way. Writing can look like magic to everyone but the writer: to her it looks like the courage to sit in front of a blank screen and the discipline to stay there. The most dashing writers, even Kerouac, can be identified not just by their genius, but by their work ethic—the doggedness with which, even when the blank page looks like a tombstone, they sit down and bang the keys (x).” As might be expected, the banging of the keys is a double entendre, not only literally referring to the banging of keys on a computer keyboard or typewriter, but also an acronym for a four-step process that the author daringly compares to the meaning of the Hebrew letters in the tetragrammaton: begin, assemble, nurture, and go. In slightly more than two hundred pages and nineteen chapters the author offers various tips for meditation, writing either rave or scathing reviews of one’s own writing, creating artificial deadlines, making writing fun, interviewing one’s characters, writing dream journals, beginning with the ending and working backward, getting to know about the approaches of characters towards sex and money, approaching writing from a foreign style to one’s own, focusing on elements of plot and the narrative flow of the story and questions of narrative and genre, and finding writing buddies for mutual encouragement, among other topics.
The result is a book that offers nuggets of insight along with the pages of tedious self-referential naval gazing and portraits of societal decay from the point of view of the demimonde. Some of the nuggets include: yet more evidence that writers are a particularly and often spectacularly neurotic group of people, if any more evidence was necessary, plenty of evidence of the desire of writers (including the writer of the book) to emulate God without giving respect to God, or living His ways, and the fact that writers with their sensitivity often require the support and encouragement of other writers, given the frequency of self-criticism and the reality that the lives and behavior of many creative writers are worthy of intense and well-deserved moral critique. This book is an encouragement to writers that in order to write well, one has to practice writing, rather than simply read about it or pontificate about it. The same is true for moral decency or anything else that is worthy of practice—it is meant to be practiced, not merely known. Reading this book will encourage one to write, and provide plenty of writing exercises to spur a writer’s dormant creative juices, and that alone makes it of some worth.
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