Compliments of Cliff Goldmacher
Over the years, along with writing around a thousand songs, I’ve read quite a few books on the topic of songwriting and creativity. Below is a list of my top five books for songwriters in no particular order. If you’re serious about mastering the craft of songwriting, it would be well worth your while to give these books your attention.
1. THE ARTIST’S WAY BY JULIA CAMERON
The Artist’s Way is the seminal book on the subject of creativity. An international bestseller, millions of readers have found it to be an invaluable guide to living the artist’s life.
This book had a profound effect on me in my early days of songwriting. The “morning pages” alone were worth the price of admission. I’ve been keeping a daily journal for the last 18 years thanks to this book.
2. WRITING DOWN THE BONES BY NATALIE GOLDBERG
With insight, humor, and practicality, Natalie Goldberg inspires writers and would-be writers to take the leap into writing skillfully and creatively. She offers suggestions, encouragement, and solid advice on many aspects of the writer’s craft: on writing from “first thoughts” (keep your hand moving, don’t cross out, just get it on paper), on listening (writing is ninety percent listening; the deeper you listen, the better you write), on using verbs (verbs provide the energy of the sentence), on overcoming doubts (doubt is torture; don’t listen to it)—even on choosing a restaurant in which to write. Goldberg sees writing as a practice that helps writers comprehend the value of their lives.
For me, the message in this book was one of encouragement and helped me understand how much craft there was in an act as simple as writing a song.
3. WRITING BETTER LYRICS BY PAT PATTISON
Perfect for new and experienced songwriters alike, this time-tested classic covers the basics in addition to more advanced techniques. Songwriters will discover: How to use sense-bound imagery to enhance a song’s emotional impact on listeners, techniques for avoiding clichés and creating imaginative metaphors and similes, ways to use repetition as an asset, how to successfully manipulate meter, instruction for matching lyrics with music, ways to build on ideas and generate effective titles, advice for working with a co-writer
This was my first foray into the daily discipline required to be a strong lyricist. It was a complete game-changer for me and I use Pat’s techniques every time I write.
4. BIRD BY BIRD BY ANNE LAMOTT
“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, Buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’”
A beautifully written book for all creatives that is, at turns, inspiring and encouraging.
5. LETTERS TO A YOUNG POET BY RAINER MARIA RILKE
These ten letters, written by one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century, offer deep and sincere advice to the young poet. They touch on all aspects of life and are valuable to anyone wishing to be a poet and to those who are not. Written with power, style, and conviction these letters will guide and inspire anyone who reads them.
This book was, indeed, inspiring. Reading what a master of his craft has to say to those of us in the early stages is a great way to get a sense of direction in an awfully vague profession.
A final piece of advice, there’s no need to “binge read” the above recommendations. This is dense, rich material that should be savored. Chip away at each book and, over time, I think you’ll find that some deeply valuable lessons will make their way into your songwriting.