4 Songwriting Tips from Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift doesn’t often dig into detail about how she writes her music. She throws in a tidbit about her process every once in a while, but the mystery of how she writes such incredible music is still very much intact. Of course, no one may ever be able to write exactly like Swift, but we can follow her example and perhaps get close.

Videos by American Songwriter

Find four stellar bits of songwriting advice from the world-renowned talent, below.

[RELATED: The Meaning Behind Taylor Swift’s Four-Year Late No. 1 Hit “Cruel Summer”]

1. Find your own songwriting voice—or maybe three

During her speech at the Nashville Songwriters Awards in 2022, Swift provided an explanation of the three types of lyrics she writes: “Quill Lyrics, Foundation Pen Lyrics, and Glitter Gel Pen Lyrics.” Each of these categories couldn’t be more different, yet they are also distinctly Swiftian.

“I came up with these categories based on what writing tool I imagine having in my hand when I scribbled it down, figuratively,” she told the audience. “I categorize certain songs of mine in the ‘Quill’ style if the words and phrasings are antiquated…Moving on to Lyricism category #2: Fountain Pen style. I’d say most of my lyrics fall into this category. Fountain pen style means a modern storyline or references, with a poetic twist. Taking a common phrase and flipping its meaning.

“The third category is called Glitter Gel Pen and it lives up to its name in every way,” she continued. “Frivolous, carefree, bouncy, syncopated perfectly to the beat. Glitter Gel Pen lyrics don’t care if you don’t take them seriously because they don’t take themselves seriously.”

If you’d like to hear the distinction for yourselves, check out “My Tears Ricochet” (quill), “Back to December” (fountain pen), and “Hits Different” (glitter gel pen).

2. Keep it uncomplicated

Every songwriter has a starting point. More often than not, that starting point comes when they are young. At the beginning of a writer’s career, everything is uncomplicated. It’s all about finding your voice and leading with your emotions. According to Swift, everyone should try and keep that innocence alive.

“Songwriting is still the same uncomplicated process it was when I was 12 years old writing songs in my room,” she once explained. “A lot of songwriting is things you learn, like structure, cultivating that skill and knowing how to craft a song. But there are mystical, magical moments—inexplicable moments—when an idea that is fully formed just pops into your head.”

3. Be vulnerable

This is advice we’ve picked up from Swift not through her words, but through her actions. Swift has never been afraid to open up. Some of her biggest songs are also her most vulnerable. Few artists have balanced being a hitmaker while also singing their truth as well as Swift has.

One example—though there are many to choose from—is “All Too Well.” Swift spared no detail while writing this track. Swift opened her soul up to her audience and dared to be her most broken. Comb through the lyrics below for inspiration on how to cut deep into your own songwriting.

From when your Brooklyn broke my skin and bones
I’m a soldier who’s returning half her weight
And did the twin flame bruise paint you blue?
Just between us, did the love affair maim you, too?
‘Cause in this city’s barren cold
I still remember the first fall of snow
And how it glistened as it fell
I remember it all too well

4. Get Descriptive

Part of what allows Swift’s music to be so emotional is her attention to detail. While many songwriters scrape the surface of an emotion, she puts a focus on minute aspects of the story. She engages all five senses when she writes. You’ll come away from listening to one of her songs having walked around in her shoes for a while.

“A good songwriter can have you see the flowers in a song,” fellow music icon Keith Urban once said of Swift. “A great songwriter can have you see and feel them. But, a truly gifted songwriter’s songwriter will have you see, feel, and smell those roses in the window. That’s Taylor.”

Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Leave a Reply

Review: Pop Experimentalists Devo Celebrate 50 Years Together