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.

Great books on songwriting

1. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

Amazon Summary:

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.

My Take:

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

Amazon Summary:

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.

My Take:

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

Amazon Summary:

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

My Take:

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.

Great books on songwriting

4. Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott

Amazon Summary:

“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.'”

My Take:

A beautifully written book for all creatives that is, at turns, inspiring and encouraging.

5. Letters To A Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

Amazon Summary:

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.

My Take:

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.

Good Luck!

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15 responses to “My Five Favorite Books For Songwriters”

  1. Zak Tibstra says:

    Cliff, thanks for the recommendations! Would be great if you could add links to these titles on Amazon to save folks some copy and paste work. Thanks!

  2. Jeffrey. J. Duplechain says:

    Great advice. Will definitely get these books and read.

  3. Sarah B says:

    I love these books, which all happen to be in my library!! Nice to be reminded to go back and read them again!

  4. Rick Erhart says:

    Gosh I love the way your blogs guide and encourage.

  5. Michael D. Shaffer says:

    Hello Cliff,
    Your list is fantastic and I definitely look into these books.

    Do you ever feel like any material that you are indulging in influences your writing ?

  6. Cliff,

    I met you at the NSAI Song Camp last summer.

    One of the biggest take aways if not THE take away was the impact from your discussions and presentation. I realized that my love for songwriting was real and on target. With more diligence and work on the craft, and sprinkled with some direction I can get there. So much of what you say resonates deep. Thanks Dude! Was hoping to catch you at Tin Pan -so just a minor delay…Stay healthy. Us striving writers need you!

  7. Paul maclean says:

    Just love this site. It’s packed with all the right info. Wonderful!

  8. Valerie Hemmings says:

    Hi Cliff
    I have been writing and making demos, but my problem is getting the right people to sing my songs and getting them out in the world. What would you advise if I’m not a professional singer?

  9. Cliff says:

    Hi Valerie,

    Your situation is more common than you’d think. Hiring a professional studio (and, of course, singer) is the best way to create a recording that will not only inspire you to pitch your songs but also impress the industry decision-makers with your professionalism. I’d recommend starting there.

    Hope that helps!


  10. Fred Lancia says:

    Thanks for the recommendations. Much appreciated!

  11. Kevin Weichel says:

    Great piece! I am a reader and find more talent in books than videos. Thank you for your recommendations! I’d like to add another for the binge readers!!
    The Elements of Song Craft (Music… https://www.amazon.com/dp/1493047655?ref=ppx_pop_mob_ap_share

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