10 Songwriting Tips from Bruce Springsteen: “Anything That Starts Intellectually Usually Sucks”

They call him “The Boss” for good reason. He’s an authority. He knows what’s what when it comes to songs. For evidence, look no further than “Dancing in the Dark” or “Born in the U.S.A.” Indeed, he’s Bruce Springsteen.

Videos by American Songwriter

So, who better than he to learn from from? We’ve looked far and wide (on YouTube) and culled 10 crucial songwriting tips from The Boss. Yes, 10 ideas that he prescribes for any songwriting—and, really, any artist.

[RELATED: The 5 Songs in Bruce Springsteen’s Catalog with the Most Iconic Lyrics]

1. “That’s writing for you. You don’t know how and what shape and when different pieces of work are going to come along. You write what comes out of you. And that’s the best that you have to offer at a given moment. That moment when you take something that’s just in the air and suddenly you make it physical. That exact moment is quite indescribable. But when it happens, it’s such a wonderful thing.”

2. “It’s like a garden. You seed it with experience and time. And then you wait. And you don’t know how long you’re going to have to wait. Unfortunately, creativity does not work like the seasons do. If I knew I was going to get a batch of songs every winter, I’d be a lot happier every summer. But you seed it and eventually something—there’s an incident of an event or something in life sort of sets it off and they come.”

3. “If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a metaphor, you’ll catch a title, you’ll catch a line and the songs start to lead the way. Sometimes I start with music, sometimes—more often you have a line or if you pick the guitar up and you’re lucky if you get a title. If you get a good title, you’re on your way. If I can write a song and make that title work, I’m good.”

4. “Sometimes you pick the guitar up and [the song] comes out of your mouth. I write when the writing is there and when I’m sort of inspired. And I don’t worry about not writing. It’s simply not predictable. And you’ve got to get used to withstanding that anxiety.”

5. “You always feel like that after you’ve written a good song, you go, ‘Oh, I hope that’s not the last one.’ But I’ve gotten used to that being part of the natural state of writer’s consciousness. Even after all the craft that you’ve learned, you just don’t know how you do it. And so you go, ‘I know it will come along some point, I don’t know how or when.'”

6. “I’m comfortable with the anxiety. It’s sort of like—you start your car and it runs. Oh great! An album comes out. You start your car, it runs for half an hour, it breaks down. It doesn’t run for two weeks. Start it again—rrr, rrrr, rrr, rrr. Nothing. Records are made like that. I’ve written six songs that I think are really record-worthy and then spent a year trying to write six more.”

7. “I don’t operate from deciding first. I operate from an internal hunger and my decisions come from there. Anything that starts intellectually usually sucks. I almost always depend on some inner life sending a message to my brain to get active and to employ the mechanics that I’ve learned and the craft I’ve learned over the years. But it always comes out of the heart and soul first.”

8. “I have one leg being the creator and I have another one that’s the audience. And they’re there simultaneously. And if I come up with something that’s moving I think I feel the same response even while I’m creating it that the audience is going to feel.”

9. “One and one makes three. In music, if it makes two, you’ve failed, my friend. If you’re painting and all you got is the paint and the canvas, you’ve failed. You’ve got to find that third thing that is truly coming up from inside of you.”

10. “You have to zero in on the truth of those particular emotions. So, every song has a piece of you in it. A spiritual truth, emotional truth. You have to draw up from inside of your essence. If you don’t reach down and touch that thing, then you’re just not going to have any time to say and it’s not going to feel like it has life and breath in it.”

Check out more from Springsteen below.

(Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival)

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