The Story Behind One of the First Songs Taylor Swift Wrote When She Felt Like an “Outcast” at Age 12

When Taylor Swift was 14, she wrote her first novel—about a shark. A shark had beached on the dock near the home where she spent her summers on the Jersey Shore. Not keen on going into the water after the experience, Swift spent the entire summer writing a book. “I locked myself in the den and wrote a book,” Swift told Vogue in 2012. “When I was 14,” she laughs, “because of a shark.”

Years before the incident at the shore inspired her debut novel, Swift already had a collection of songs she had written since the age of 12. Some of those earlier comprehensions of the fluctuations of youth and the emotions around real-life experiences, at the time, made it onto her 2006 self-titled debut. Together with Liz Rose, Swift also co-wrote the majority of the tracks on Taylor Swift, including her debut hit “Tim McGraw,” which went to No. 6 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, and “Teardrops on My Guitar,” peaking at No. 2.

On the album were three songs Swift also wrote solo—”Should’ve Said So,” and the closing “Our Story,” which was written during her freshman year of high school and went to No. 1 making her the youngest artist (17 at the time) to write and sing a Hot Country Songs No. 1.

The third track Swift penned for the album was one of the earliest she had ever written, when she was 12, “The Outside.”

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Taylor Swift at the Curb Event Center at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, 2006 (Photo by John Shearer/WireImage)

‘On the outside looking in’

Though it was never released as a single from Taylor Swift, “The Outside” was a song close to Swift’s heart, revealing a sense of not belonging and feeling stuck on the outside.

I didn’t know what I would find
When I went lookin’ for a reason
I know I didn’t read between the lines
And baby I’ve got nowhere to go

I tried to take the road less traveled by
But nothing seems to work the first few times, am I right?

[RELATED: The Song Taylor Swift May Have Regretted—and Rewrote 13 Years Later]

“It’s about what I was going through at the time,” said Swift of the song in 2007. “I was a complete outcast at school and never fit in, never felt like I belonged. A lot of times back then when I was 12 or 13, I would write songs about relationships, when I wasn’t in relationships, because I would look at other people and try to observe what they were going through.”

So, how can I ever try to be better?
Nobody ever lets me in
And I can still see you, this ain’t the best view
On the outside looking in
I’ve been a lot of lonely places
I’ve never been on the outside

You saw me there but never knew
That I would give it all up to be
A part of this, a part of you
And now it’s all too late so you see

You could have helped if you had wanted to
But no one notices until it’s too late to do anything

“In the case of ‘The Outside,’ I was writing exactly what I saw,” added Swift. “I was writing from pain. And I’ve always felt so lucky because I’ve never needed an escape like drinking or drugs or anything like that to escape from the bad days. Music has always been that escape for me.”

Swift expanded on why she wrote “The Outside” at 12: “This is one of the first songs I ever wrote, and it talks about the very reason I ever started to write songs. It was when I was 12 years old, and a complete outcast at school. I was a lot different than all the other kids, and I never really knew why. I was taller and sang country music at karaoke bars and festivals on weekends while other girls went to sleepovers. Some days I woke up not knowing if anyone was going to talk to me that day.”

She continued, “I think every person comes to a point in their life when you have a long string of bad days. You can choose to let it drag you down, or you can find ways to rise above it. I came to the conclusion that even though people hadn’t always been there for me, music had. It’s strange to think how different my life would be right now if I had been one of the cool kids.”

Photo: Peter Kramer/Getty Images

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