Anyone Can Write a Book, Right?

Pat Henshaw

We’ve all heard it time and time again. “I’m going to retire and write my book. I can do better than the writers out there,” our best non-writer friends say. Sometimes we argue. Mostly we stay still and grin to ourselves. 

Being an author is one of those weird professions that simultaneously makes the writer both a loner and group participant. 

Mostly we spend our days daydreaming with our hands on the keyboard, recording nuances of what we see, hear, smell, and feel. Scott sees people in space. Jeff sees hockey players. Liz sees a bartender caught up in a messy situation. I see gay men moving to a small foothills town and making it theirs.

Until you become a writer, you read people like Stephen King and so many others say that they “get to know” their characters. Only those of us who are writers know that this means some insistent voice in our heads who tells us in no uncertain terms that his or her story is so important, so critical that if you don’t sit down right now and take notes, the character will die.

Not just die any old death, but horribly, tragically, and all your fault for saying you had something else to do.

So we grab our laptop, notepad, netbook, something, anything, including napkins, receipts, bills, traffic tickets, anything to jot down who this person is and what the problem is. Often this happens in the middle of the night when a quick run to the bathroom turns into an hour stint of notetaking.

Arlo Guthrie has a theory about songwriters that I think applies to authors too. His theory is that at any one given time there are songs floating around all of us and only a special few—people we call songwriters—can hear these melodies and/or lyrics. The songwriter plucks the melody sometimes alone, other times with lyrics, and shapes it into his/her particular style. In his case, he hears everything as folk music.

He says his theory explains why at one given time there are so many songs about broken hearts or lovers’ tiffs or days in the hood, whatever hood that might be from big city to lonely mountain backwoods.

Having been a book reviewer who was reading five to ten books a week at one time, I’ve seen these inadvertent trends occur. For example, I would get recent books to review from my editor each about firefighters and their love/hate relationship with law enforcement. These weren’t books written to follow fads, but books put out by various houses and a variety of authors writing in different genres. When that happened, I would always think of Arlo’s comment.

Arlo’s good friend and sometime mentor Pete Seeger attributes a different theory about songwriting to Arlo’s father Woody that was less New Age and one I wholeheartedly believe. Seeger says Woody said, “Oh, he just stole from me. I steal from everybody.”

In a way, I believe that’s what all writers do. Ovid’s Pyramus and Thisbe in the book Metamorphosis became Romeo and Juliet in Shakespeare’s hands. Moliere used the Medieval ballads from the troubadours as plots for his books. The characters in authors’ heads could easily be nothing more than modern versions of long forgotten stories we were forced to read in school.

As long as we’re not copying word for word someone else’s work and we’re putting out own unique spin on it, we’re creating our own piece in the land of fiction. Books like Ronald Tobias’ 20 Master Plots remind us that there really isn’t anything new under the sun. 

Quite possibly the voices we hear and the sights we perceive are really our distorted visions of what every other writer has tried to recreate. Maybe Plato in The Allegory of the Cave wasn’t far off. Could we all be describing what we see on the wall in the back of the cave and not what is really happening outside in the sunlight? 

All of this creativity is happening while we’re alone wallowing in our little cocoon of make believe.

At some point, we have to emerge, manuscript in hand, and as I said at the beginning of this piece, we have to join the world.

Of course, we can do anything we want with the pile of words we’ve spent months and years gluing together. What those of us QSac authors have chosen to do is share our creation with readers. How we do that is immaterial, really. We choose to bare our hard work to the world.

Now we must become our own greatest fan. We must shout from the highest rooftop how every else’s life will be so much better if they read the words we raked up from the litter of words around us. We urge readers everywhere to jump into our pile of words where they will have more fun and feel more fulfilled than if they’d played in a pre-COVID McDonald’s PlayPlace.

We absolutely must join the world and throw off our hermit cloaks and do an about face. Nobody wants to buy a book from an author who says, “Well, it’s not very good. And you won’t like the characters or what they do. But if you give me $3.99 (or whatever the price), you can have it.” So instead we put on our party clothes, our biggest smiles, our happiest tones, and make our corner café of a book sound like a Michelin 3-star bistro in the middle of Paris.

Yup, being a writer is both the loneliest and the most gregarious job in the world. You don’t have to sell a million copies of your book to become an author. But you do have to put in the time, the thought, the haggling between two words—did Joe just laugh or did he giggle?—and keep at it, word after word, scene after scene, page after page until the story ends.

I had a writing mentor who once said it helped to be certifiably looney to be an author. There are days when I think she’s absolutely right.

Oh, yes, and anyone can write a book. I did. And you did too. See?

Pat Henshaw:

  • Is a she, not a he.
  • Writes contemporary MM romances.
  • Has interviewed Arlo Guthrie, Big Bird, Fred Rogers, Liberace, and Vincent Price.
  • Has lived and worked on all three US coasts and in the middle of the country, too.
  • Has been a reviewer, costumer, librarian, and teacher.
  • Has ridden an elephant, touched the pyramids, and stood at the edge of a volcano.
  • Believes love is essential to everyone’s happiness.

She wants you to remember: Every day is a good day for romance!

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