Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. They are engines of change, windows on the world, lighthouses erected in the sea of time.Barbara W. Tuchman
Writing lyrics is one of the most challenging things you can do with words. Here are four titles that can help you become a master in no time.
(Writer’s Digest, 2009)
Pat Pattison is on faculty at Berklee College of Music in Boston, and his series of songwriting books have become something of classics. This one is devoted to lyrics: discussing a handful of basic principles and outlining how they can be employed. His writing style is conversational and informal, and though the multitude of exercises that intersperse the text won’t be for everyone, Pattison has lots of worthy ideas that can help any writer raise their lyric-writing game.
(Writer’s Digest, 1988)
Sheila Davis is queen bee of the craft of lyric writing, and in Successful Lyric Writing she offers a pretty comprehensive look at how lyrics work. She includes helpful and relevant exercises (with space for you to try them) in this book, which is much easier on the brain than her formidable and now hard-to-find The Craft of Lyric Writing. Highly recommended for smart, analytical writers who love to get down and dirty in the craft of making words zing.
We wouldn’t usually recommend a book about one author’s work for general information on writing lyrics, but this one is too good to pass over. Sondheim is one of our time’s greatest songwriters and his understanding of lyric craft is second to none. The vast majority of his lyrics have annotations explaining not just what’s on the page, but how he got there. Though you’ll have to put up with his occasional boasting (we think fair game) and disparaging remarks towards a handful of now deceased lyricists (form your own opinion), this book is a masterclass in how first-rate lyrics are made and well worth a look.
The second part of Sondheim’s collected lyrics. More lyrics, more comments, more anecdotes. Incidentally, if you were wondering what the hell the books have to do with headwear, check out ‘Finishing the Hat’ from his 1985 musical Sunday in the Park with George.