This past October, Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy released a book on songwriting called How to Write One Song: Loving the Things We Create and How They Love Us Back. The book is Tweedy’s attempt at offering a step-by-step approach to the abstract art of songwriting, laced with little nuggets of Wilco and Jeff Tweedy facts that makes a fun, easy read for anybody interested in Jeff Tweedy the songwriter, or the art of songwriting itself.
Tweedy explains that his goal with this book, as the title suggests, is to teach readers how to just one song, meaning that by the time you finish reading it you should be able to have written said song, if you choose to abide by the processes laid out in the book. Personally, I read this on an airplane and I was more interested in Tweedy’s personality than being a songwriter. I didn’t write a song, but based on what I read Jeff’s guide is a practical one and a decent blueprint for songwriting.
To lay out songwriting process, Tweedy broke How to Write One Song up into four distinct parts, each representing a different stage of the process.
The first part is all about reasons why songwriting is fulfilling and worthwhile, and how Jeff thinks that anybody can be a songwriter, including you, the reader. Jeff keeps coming back to this idea of being able to disappear, remove his ego from the equation and come up with something worthwhile. To reach a childlike state where you’re so focused on the art that you hardly notice time passing around you. He refers to these moments as some of the most personally fulfilling moments of his life and explains that it’s the reason why he loves being a songwriter.
The second part explains some clever exercises for coming up with words and phrases to be used in a song. He offers some of these in a way that allows you to sit there with a pen and paper and follow along while Jeff walks you through the process, and also throws in a few references to Wilco songs and his solo stuff that give some of the backstory to his own songwriting process. It’s cool to learn the actual methods that Jeff uses to write songs and come up with creative words and phrases. Some of it truly is random, it seems, at least to some extent.
Part three offers some quick suggestions on where to find inspiration and ideas for songs. Here Jeff reveals more of his creative process, and explains how you can manufacture some inspiration by giving yourself time constraints, taking breaks, etc. He also reveals that he wrote the song “You & I” in ten minutes while waiting in a hotel room with his bags packed for the tour bus to arrive, which I found to be pretty interesting, considering that it’s one of Wilco’s most popular songs.
Jeff ties the whole thing together in the final section by discussing again the fulfilling nature of creativity, and what you can do with your music after you’ve written your one song, plus a few more suggestions for overcoming writer’s block. Which, as Jeff mentions early in the book, he doesn’t necessarily believe in, and calls it an excuse for not doing what you really want to do.
Overall, I’d give How to Write One Song by Jeff Tweedy an 8.5/10. It was a quick read, and I was able to get through it in just a few hours. Part of this was because Jeff had me so hooked that I couldn’t stop reading it. His advice on songwriting can really be applied, for the most part, to any kind of creative medium, and I would recommend it to any kind of creative person. Especially the Wilco fans out there.