One of the big ideas I write about a lot is that songwriting isn’t just about songwriting. Songwriting is about life, because art is about life. You have to be good at being a person before you can be good at being a songwriter.
It’s an idea I come back to time and time again in my own book, but here are five of the most important places I picked these ideas up in the first place.
Stephen R. Covey: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
Some days it feels like the Internet is 98% self-help advice and 98% of that isn’t great advice. But Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits is absolutely the real deal. Whatever you’re trying to do with your life.
The seven habits cover private victory – mastering yourself – as well as public victory – mastering interpersonal relationships. It’s hard to do justice to how powerful and life-changing the ideas in this book are. It’s for good reason The Seven Habits has sold over fifteen million copies around the world, and you’re at a serious disadvantage if you don’t own one too.
Brené Brown: Daring Greatly
As one of the terrorists in Team America: World Police famously said, “I like balls”. And if you’re a songwriter, you should like balls too. Because nothing worthwhile happens without a healthy dose of chutzpah.
In fact, creativity can’t happen without courage. Creativity means uncertainty, and mustering the courage to face that uncertainty is 90% of creative success.
But don’t just take my word for it – let Brené Brown explain it much better than I can. If you’re interested in bringing more creativity, vulnerability and courage into your life – and believe me, you are – Daring Greatly is absolutely for you.
Mihaly Csikszentmihaly: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
You’ve probably experienced the flow that Csikszentmihaly talks about. It’s the feeling of being so absorbed in something that you forget the rest of the world exists – you just seem to get on with something with maximum enjoyment, involvement and creativity.
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience is Csikszentmihaly’s best-selling study of what this feeling is, how it works, and how you can get more of it in your life. You might not be able to pronounce his name,
Nassim Nicholas Taleb: Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder
What could a former Wall Street trader turned philosopher teach a songwriter? When that person is Nassim Nicholas Taleb, quite a lot actually.
‘Antifragile’ is a property where a person, object or system only gets stronger by being put under stress – unlike something fragile (that breaks) or robust (that remains unchanged) when it’s stressed. Taleb’s way of discussing this in Antifragile is heavy, erudite and sometimes difficult to get through, but his message is revolutionary and his ability to explain how and why we should embrace uncertainty in life is unparalleled.
Sean Usher: Letters of Note: Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience
You might already follow Letters of Note on Twitter. And if you don’t, you should.
Sean spends his time curating great letters from history so the rest of us can learn their secrets. This volume, is his first shot at collecting some of his most interesting, inspiring and life-changing discoveries in one place. I won’t give you any spoilers, but there are letters from and to authors, film stars, presidents, artists and plenty of ordinary people too. It’s a hefty tome but full of wonderful surprises. I defy you to get through this book and not feel any more alive – like every artist should.
Of course, none of this is to say being a great songwriter doesn’t mean working hard to understand melody and harmony and prosody and structure and all the rest. It just means that’s only half the picture. It just means it’s your job to work on being a better person as well as a better songwriter.
And the good news is there’s no upper limit. There’s always more to know. There’s always more to grow.
And just like in everything: the more you know and the more you grow, the further you go.
PS – Don’t forget, there are a ton more books I recommend – including plenty that are directly about songwriting – on our Bookshelf. Plus, if you buy any of these by clicking the links it helps support the free content on the site.
Photo by Kimberly Farmer on Unsplash.