How To Write Like Taylor Swift and Win
Real talk. Your creativity is not always on point.
That last 10k words you just wrote? Crap. Oh, you have an agent? Still crap. You have an editor? Doesn’t matter.
Okay, well, that’s harsh. It’s probably not all crap and you’re awesome for having an agent or editor or both or whatever.
My point is just because you had creative success once, does not make every subsequent idea of yours a good idea. That’s just not how it works.
Who can I use for an example? Oh, oh, I know!
Taylor is, what? Like a billionaire because she writes all her own music and teenagers (and I) love it? The girl is on her game. We’ve talked about this, haven’t we? Her last album sold over a million albums in the first week, so yeah, I think it’s safe to say she’s doing something right.
But label president, Scott Borchetta, who discovered Taylor Swift, who took a chance on her when no one else would, is quick to point out that Taylor doesn’t always get it right the first time.
But that’s okay.
Her last two albums, which both sold a million copies their opening week, both got stuck in a rut.
Taylor originally wanted to call Speak Now, Enchanted instead. Borchetta says that in the beginning of writing that album, he knew there were a lot of songs that didn’t need to be on it. But he didn’t say anything at first. You know why? Because Taylor is a writer. She writes all the time.
She wrote hundreds of songs and then started self-editing. Borchetta didn’t start giving guidance, until Taylor had written some throw away songs and really started getting into the heart of the album. You’re allowed to write crap. You’re supposed to write crap. You just can’t hang onto it. You can’t think that it’s genius just because you’ve written successful stories in the past. You’re supposed to write thousands of words and dozens of characters that you will cut. John Green has said that his novel Looking For Alaska doesn’t contain a SINGLE ORIGINAL WORD from his first draft.
In his novel The Fault in Our Stars, you know the one, Hazel was originally go to die in a flurry of drug dealer gun fire. No, I’m not making that up. His editor said she couldn’t tell if the ending of his book was a joke or not!
But back to Taylor. How about that hit “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together?” That song wasn’t coming together for Taylor initially. She was struggling with it. Scott was the one who suggested they bring in pop-producer Max Martin and see if he could help make her way cooler than that one guy’s favorite indie records.
In interviews, Taylor has admitted she was nervous. “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” is not a country song, it was a complete departure from what she’d been doing. But she took someone else’s advice, tried something new, and it worked!
You are not a creative genius. You are not always going to get your sound right. You’re not supposed to. You’re supposed to have the sense to take your work to others, to bounce ideas off them. If your beta readers don’t like something, listen to them. If your agent says something isn’t working–the setting, the characters, the voice, whatever–listen. No one will tell you these things to be mean, they tell you these things to make you better, to make you think.
When Scott told Taylor that she shouldn’t call her third album Enchanted, she went for a walk, came back and said, “I want to call it Speak Now.” Because that’s what she felt like she was doing, she’d finally built herself this massive platform where she could tell the world whatever she wanted. She could tell all of her stories. She could speak now. And she did.
If you’re writing a country song and someone says, “Maybe this should be a pop song.” Just try it. Try it. If it’s terrible, then toss it. But you may find that you love it, that it works. There’s no shame in asking for help. Don’t be humiliated when someone tells you that what you’re writing isn’t working. There’s no room for that kind of ego if you really want to succeed, if you really want to develop your craft. Taylor is often viewed as a one woman show because she takes so much public ownership of her work. But don’t be fooled. Taylor is a writer and we all know that when it comes to writing–it takes a village.