How To Write One Song

by Jeff Tweedy


2023 Oct 29


There are few creative acts more mysterious and magical than writing a song. But what if the goal wasn’t so mysterious and was actually achievable for anyone who wants to experience more magic and creativity in their life? That’s something that anyone will be inspired to do after reading Jeff Tweedy’s How to Write One Song.

Why one song? Because the difference between one song and many songs isn’t a cute semantic trick—it’s an important distinction that can simplify a notoriously confusing art form. The idea of becoming a capital-S songwriter can seem daunting, but approached as a focused, self-contained event, the mystery and fear subsides, and songwriting becomes an exciting pursuit.

And then there is the energizing, nourishing creativity that can open up. How to Write One Song brings readers into the intimate process of writing one song—lyrics, music, and putting it all together—and accesses the deep sense of wonder that remains at the heart of this curious, yet incredibly fulfilling, artistic act. But it’s equally about the importance of making creativity part of your life every day, and of experiencing the hope, inspiration, and joy available to anyone who’s willing to get started.

Notes & Highlights

Part 1.1 Why?

It’s soul-crushing, at any job, to aspire to BE something versus being driven by what you want to DO. Because you’re never going to be exactly what you’re picturing.

Maybe it’s a cliché, but you have to focus on verbs over nouns—what you want to do, not what you want to be.

Part 1.2 The Hardest Part

As the saying goes, “No work of art is ever finished; it can only be abandoned in an interesting place.

Part 2.8 Word Ladder – Verbs and Nouns

Let’s start with a few basic ingredients and see if we can make something exciting happen. An example to start…
Come up with ten verbs that are associated with, say, a physician, and write them down on a page. Then write down ten nouns that are within your field of vision […]
Now take a pencil and draw lines to connect nouns and verbs that don’t normally work together. I like to use this exercise not so much to generate a set of lyrics but to remind myself of how much fun I can have with words when I’m not concerning myself with meaning or judging my poetic abilities. […]
Anyway, that’s the exercise, and I find it almost always works when I’m feeling a need to break out of my normal, well-worn paths of language.

Part 2.11 Word Ladder Variation

Another worthwhile variation to try involves revisiting the exercise we did with nouns and verbs. But in this word ladder, I’d like to try a simple variation so that I can illustrate how the same rote patterns of language can attach themselves to these word pairings and how liberating it can be to take adjectives, in particular, out of their usual environments and let them twist and contort nouns they’ve never been related to.

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How To Write One Song by Jeff Tweedy