You’ve heard that old joke. A guy asks a New York cabbie how to get to Carnegie Hall, and the cabbie says, “Practice, practice, practice.”

I’ve written before about work ethic issues, deadlines, laziness, and the barriers we tend to erect around our own creativity. I’ve preached that you should be able to write anywhere, any time—not just in your special little writer’s nest after everyone in the house has gone to bed, or before they wake up in the morning. This advice is intended to help you write more often, to write more words—to practice your craft.

A few weeks ago, at Wondercon in San Francisco, I was cornered by the guys from the Guys Can Read podcast. A couple of nice gents, enthusiastic supporters of books and reading . . . my kind of guys. I was delighted to do the interview and delighted with the podcast. One of the things I touched on in that interview was the quote I’ve often repeated but still don’t know how to credit:

So many people say, “I’m going to write a book,” having never written before, having no background or education in it, but none of them would ever say in the same cavalier manner, “I’m going to play cello for a major symphony orchestra.”

Who was it who said that everyone has one great book in them? I hate him (or her), whoever it was. It could be that everyone has a great story to tell—a real-life experience that would be worthy of a book—but that doesn’t mean everyone has the ability to write well enough to actually do it, and end up with a manuscript worth reading. This idea that everyone who passed high school English can do what I do peeves me to no end. That screenwriter who compared the idea of sitting down to write a book to walking into a symphony orchestra and demanding a cello hit it spot on.

No one would really think they could just pick up a cello and play it, and reasonable people would accept that even after some lessons that they wouldn’t have the talent to play the cello at the level of Yo-Yo Ma. I shot baskets in the driveway with my father and brothers as a kid, that does not make me ready for the NBA. I could practice and practice and practice and I would never be anywhere near as good at basketball as the average NBA third-stringer, let alone Michael Jordan. I just don’t have the talent for it…

Read the rest in…

Editor and author Philip Athans offers hands on advice for authors of fantasy, science fiction, horror, and fiction in general in this collection of 58 revised and expanded essays from the first five years of his long-running weekly blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook.


—Philip Athans


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Or contact me for editing, coaching, ghostwriting, and more at Athans & Associates Creative Consulting.


About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, ( is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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  1. I think it’s the most common thing to say: ‘I’m gonna write a book’. The why is quite simple IMHO: Everyone -well, everyone who attended school in whichever form or shape- learned to write. Write sentences, that is.
    Also, eveyone has their memories of events, be it from hearsay (third person), actual things that happened to them (first person), or just ‘plain made-up’ stories, either factual (non-fiction) or just fantasies (fantasy/fiction). Hence, in essence, it is general belief that ‘writing a book is just something you do’. After all, us lads all thought we were going to be the next Pele, or Cruijff or any modern day star football (soccer) player. Some of us succeeded, the majority however still gets out of bed every morning and goes en route the office for our 9-2-5.

    The above is just to point out that yes, everyone has a story in them, and everybody thinks they can write it down. And they can, be it sentence for sentence, but they can.
    In my li’l book of knowledge, there is however a HUGE difference between being able to write down an event, and being able to translate an event into a -readable- story. The latter is where we Wordsmiths come in… (Perhaps this is where the distinction between writers and authors actually arises…)

    Let it be known that this is the view point of a wannabe writer (author?)


    C. Matt Hewes (

  2. Rectification:

    I said ‘plain made up stories’ and named the factual ones ‘non-fiction’.. That’s not right of course… should be -because it is- fiction. Bad choice of word, sorry..

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