7 Books Every Songwriter Should Read (Revised August, 2023)

by Clay Mills
Aug 2, 2023

Writing and reading lessens our isolation and prods our imagination. Music makes our souls dance, and great art leaves an impression that lasts for centuries.

Over my 25 years as a professional songwriter, I’ve read just about every book on creativity I could get my hands on. Still, I’m convinced I will never fully understand this magical, mythical experience of creative inspiration. But, these songwriting books have helped me tap into my creative energy along my writing journey. Some of these recommended songwriting books directly involve songwriting while the others will spark and refine your creative process as a songwriter.

On Writing, by Stephen King

An inspirational and authentic view of an artist’s journey. Upon reading this book, I was instantly struck by how much novelists and songwriters have in common. On Writing very well could have been titled: On Songwriting. Kings’s biography outlines the work, dedication, disappointment, and joy of an artist’s life. It’s part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time. On Writing offers a practical view of the writer’s craft. Although it doesn’t fall into the category of songwriting books, King’s advice is a real-life guide for anyone thinking of choosing a creative career.


 Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

Think you have a creative artist inside? Writer Anne Lamott’s quirky and honest voice will help you find your true passion and voice. Bird by Bird is  a complete guide on how to write, and even more importantly, how to manage a writer’s life. Chapters deal with a range of topics from “Getting Started,’ with “Short Assignments” through “Shitty First Drafts” to “How Do You Know When You’re Done?” Lamott encourages, instructs, and inspires us to reach new creative heights. She offers advice on writing groups, writer’s block, and publishing. Brutally honest, she is happens to be one of the funniest people alive. If you have ever wondered what it takes to be a writer, this book is for you.


 The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield

What’s stopping you from doing what you truly long to do? This book helps you understand the naysayer within. Then, break through the internal barriers that every artist faces. It’s a real and practical guide for succeeding in any creative arena from writer to entrepreneur. Get ready for some truth bombs.

Mastering Melody Writing

A Songwriter’s Guide To Hookier Songs with Pattern, Repetition, and Arc

By Clay Mills, Bill O’Hanlon

This melody handbook is a new essential. Write memorable melodies in any genre using pattern, repetition, and arc. Create songs that artists want to sing and audiences will remember. Write lyrics that are more musical. Eliminate getting stuck and complete songs faster. Feel confident in any writing or co-writing situation. Turn good melodies into great melodies. This is the book I wish had been around when I started as a writer. It would have shaved years off my journey from aspiring writer to hit songwriter.

You’ll be introduced to the PRA melody method: Pattern, Repetition, and Arc. You don’t have to wait to get inspired. This songwriting book utilizes personal stories, easy-to-understand method explanations, classic and modern song examples, “Put It into Practice” exercises. It also has a free interactive companion website. Co-written with bestselling author Bill O’Hanlon (Do One Thing Different).

artists way- book-songtown

The Artist’s Way  by Julia Cameron

This book has been making its way through artistic circles for a couple of decades. Whether you are a musician, poet, or painter, this book will help you discover and develop the true artist within. This is not a nuts and bolts, tell-you-how-to-do-it, book. It’s all about self-discovery and finding your true artistic path in life.

Letter-to-a-Young-Poet, book

Letters to a Young Poet, by Rainer Maria Rilke

A beautiful collection of 10 letters written by Bohemian-Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke to Franz Xaver Kappus, a 19-year-old officer cadet at the Theresian Military Academy. In these letters, Rilke advises Kappus on deciding between pursuing his dream of a literary career or choosing a career in the Austro-Hungarian Army. A classic in any category.

Song Building: Mastering Lyric Writing

by Marty Dodson and Bill O’Hanlon

A comprehensive, insightful overview of successful lyric writing by 6-time #1 hit songwriter Marty Dodson. A must-read for any musician or songwriter embarking on a career involving writing songs. This songwriting book also appeals to the seasoned writer who wants to improve their craft level and speed throughout the writing process.

4 Additional Songwriting Books For A Deeper Dive

The Creative Act: A Way of Being

By Rick Rubin

This newcomer to the creative book scene is just stellar. The Creative Act is a beautiful and generous study that illuminates the path of the artist as a road we all can follow. Anne Lamotte who wrote another book on my list, described this this NY Time’s Best Seller perfectly… “A gorgeous and inspiring work of art on creation, creativity, the work of the artist. It will gladden the hearts of writers and artists everywhere, and get them working again with a new sense of meaning and direction. A stunning accomplishment.” —Anne Lamott

Tunesmith by Jimmy Webb

#1—Jimmy Webb. #2—This book is considered a “bible among musicians.” #3—If you want inspiration and some nuts and bolts on songwriting, this is a must-read. Tunesmith includes anecdotes, meditation, advice, as well as song construction and a “glimpse into the professional music world.” A true songwriting book by a legend.

The Songwriter’s Guide To Mastering Co-Writing

by Clay Mills, Marty Dodson, and Bill O’ Hanlon

From the great musical duos of John Lennon/Paul McCartney to Elton John/Bernie Taupin, co-writing has long been an important skill for songwriters. Surprisingly, there are very few pro songwriting books on this subject!  The Songwriter’s Guide To Mastering Co-Writing will help you identify your strengths as a collaborator and elevate your writing by creating the perfect co-writing combinations. Eliminate your writing weaknesses and increase your chances of songwriting success!

Saved By A Song- Mary GauthierSongTown

Saved By A Song

by Mary Gauthier

Maybe you’ve always loved music and connected with different songs. It’s as if they follow you through your life, in fact, they are both a lifeline and redemptive. Now, you want to write songs. If this sounds like you, then Mary Gauthier’s journey will resonate throughout Saved By A Song. This is story is “part-memoir and philosophy of art, part nuts and bolts of songwriting.” 

Clay Mills

Clay Mills

Clay Mills is a 16-time ASCAP hit songwriter, producer, and performer. He is the co-founder of SongTown and has 2 Grammy nominations for “Beautiful Mess” by Diamond Rio and “Heaven Heartache” by Trisha Yearwood. Clay is also the co-author of Mastering Melody Writing and The Songwriter’s Guide To Mastering Co-writing.


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