What Writers Can Learn From the Beatles
by Jack Mulcahy
Please welcome Jack to the Writers Journey Blog this week with a delightful and thought provoking feature.
“Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book?
It took me years to write, will you take a look?”
From “Paperback Writer,” Writer/s: John Lennon, Paul McCartney
Publisher: Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
Have you watched The Beatles: Get Back, yet? Any portion of it?
My wife and I watched Part One, Episodes 1 and 2, just before I started writing here. The vid is a documentary about the period of time during which the Beatles were planning a live show. The events of what I watched tonight (Monday, November 29, 2021) detail the group and their promoters, producers, and the like discussing (arguing) whether they should perform live and where.
The first thing I found was that when Paul, say, would be working on any song that appeared on Let It Be or Abbey Road (and a few I knew would appear in someone’s solo work), I found myself singing the next part of the song. We know them now from the finished versions, of course. But the songwriter didn’t know those pieces at the time of the filming. So I listen for what I “know” is coming, and it doesn’t happen.
At one point, my wife said, “Hey, George, I’ve got a bridge for that song.”
The Beatles of 1969 offered me quite an object lesson as I pursue my writing process. Right from the start, every song in the video is incomplete. Some of them are barely recognizable as the great songs we all know and (most of us) love. Others have enough to claim a place in the song’s lineage, but they need more work. But not one song is perfect the first time we hear it. Which is very much the way most of us create our works of wonder.
As I watched the onscreen psychodrama play out, I also noticed that the Beatles as a group were divided along the same line that divides our writing styles, no matter what our genre. Paul (especially) shows up as a plotter. He wants to have every note planned, every guitar lick fitting perfectly into every song.
John shows up as a pantser. His way has little patience for plotting first. John just wants to plunge right into the song and figure it out as he goes along. He wants no part of mapping songs out.
The documentary (and history) shows us the results of each man’s method. “Yesterday,” “Let It Be,” “Lady Madonna,” and “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” are part of Paul’s careful planning process. John’s “pantsing” method comes through loud and clear in “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “Not a Second Time,” ‘Don’t Let Me Down,” and “You Can’t Do That.” I’ve always been a pantser like John; and that’s the only comparison I can comfortably make between myself (hack writer) and John Lennon (creative genius).
Imagine, if you will, the truths we learn from the Beatles. Even the best creators don’t hit a home run every time. Even the Beatles had a few turkeys. And even the Beatles had to spend years in the wilderness (John was playing a church picnic for no pay with his group the Quarrymen when he and Paul met), working nonstop (in *ahem* strip joints in Hamburg) they had to perform eight to twelve hours a night. Hard work. Terrible places. No real money. And nobody had ever heard of them in those years, except a small circle of fans.
From such humble beginnings emerged a musical and cultural phenomenon that changed the world.
We can take from the Beatles’ experience the thought that any of us has the potential to change the world. But only if we keep at it. As an old song says, “Keep on keepin’ on.”
BIO: Jack Mulcahy is the descendant of Irish immigrants, who ingrained in him at a very early age a love of stories and writing. He has been a writer all his life. His writing has appeared in newspapers and magazines, and he has sold fiction to Young Adventurers, Pulp Empire, Abandoned Towers, Shadow Sword, Lesbian Short Fiction, Lost Worlds, Sorcerous Signals, and Flashing Swords.
At present, Jack is revising his novel, Healer's Awakening, the first book of a projected trilogy. Set in the world established in the short stories. Healer's Awakening focuses on Valeriya, a Healer, who has been a slave for ten years, and how she escapes her abusive master and overcomes the lies that hold her back from true freedom.
Jack and his loving and supportive wife, Pat, live in suburban Philadelphia, by the grace of their three cats, Miles, Baby, and Molly, the real homeowners.
Want to read some of my short fiction? Visit my website, https://www.authorjackmulcahy.com, and click on the “My Works” page.