Liberal arts professor Pat Pattison talks about the process of writing Songwriting Without Boundaries: A Lyricist’s Guide to Finding Your Voice, which was released on January 9, 2012.

Scott, my editor at Writer’s Digest books, called: “Hey Pat, your second edition of Writing Better Lyrics is really doing great. Can you do a quick follow-up? We’d love to have another book, kind of a companion to Writing Better Lyrics. Whaddya think?”

“Um, let me get back to you on that.”

“Quick follow-up?” That’s the last thing I wanted—to do something quick and have the folks who own Writing Better Lyrics say, “Eh, it’s OK, but I don’t like it as much as Writing Better Lyrics.”

But I did want to do something, however quick or slow. But what? I’d already dealt with structure in The Essential Guide to Lyric Form and Structure, with rhyme in The Essential Guide to Rhyming, and brainstorming, lyric development, and prosody in Writing Better Lyrics. I wanted to do something that would take me to new places too. That’s one of my hopes in writing a book—to learn something new myself.

Pat Pattison

And I’d take my time. I wanted it to be something people could use—something helpful. Over the last 20 years I’d developed a strong enough readership that I knew I didn’t have to rush to ride the coattails of Writing Better Lyrics 2nd Edition’s success.

Teaching at Berklee provides a goldmine of ideas: the students here are so full of curiosity, so full of questions. They always make me look deeper—take ideas further than I thought I could. So I’d learned a lot of new stuff over the two decades since I’d written the first three books. Plus, I learned a bunch writing four online courses for berkleemusic. So I had several options.

I finally decided to write a book that focused on two of my favorite writing areas: object writing and metaphor. And, I wanted something interactive that would stretch the readers’ writing muscles in ways that would improve not only their lyric writing, but all of their writing. I wanted it to transform the way they see the world—something that sense-bound writing and metaphor can do pretty effectively.

So it would be a book on writing. A book for writers of all kinds: not only songwriters, but also poets, playwrights, novelists, bloggers; anyone who loves the taste of words. I liked the idea a lot.

I decided to create a series of four 14-day challenges—with the readers responding to daily prompts that take them through four types of object writing (the first 14-day challenge); a step by step process for unearthing metaphor (the second 14-day challenge); practice in extending and reversing metaphor (the third 14-day challenge); and doing it all in rhythm and rhyme ((the fourth 14-day challenge).

I got the idea for the challenges from observing how effectively my14-day song-a-day challenges focused and improved my students’ writing. Fourteen days is short enough that it’s manageable, but long enough that it stretches you, forces you to come up with ideas, to just write about something, anything, rather than be paralyzed by needing to find a great idea. In my experience, great ideas are more likely to present themselves while you’re writing than while you’re not. It takes the fear out of writing and puts the fun back in.

I called Scott. “Go,” he said.

So I sent my outline. “Great,” he said. “Go ahead. How soon can you have it?”

“Um, however long it takes to make it good. I want it to have legs.”

“Fine,” he said, in his subdominant.

I set the prompts for each challenge, as well as writing all the necessary descriptions and directions. Then the real fun began.

I wanted every prompt in the book to include two sample responses. I asked a friend in Melbourne to post each of the 42 object writing prompts (one per day) on his site,, and invited my database of seminar attendees from across the globe (about 6,000) to jump in. I got between 30 and 70 responses for each prompt. A lot to choose from.

As the responses came in, I got more and more excited. What fine examples they were! Fun to read. On target. It was a joy to see so much creative, imaginative work. But winnowing down to only two examples per prompt was torture. Day by day I worked on it, until the first challenge was complete.

Then I asked a bunch of my writer friends, including Berklee faculty, to work on the metaphor challenges, challenges two and three. Again, a blizzard of responses. Again, the problem of selecting only two examples from so many great responses. Slowly, both challenges were finished.

The fourth challenge, sense-bound writing and metaphor in rhythm and rhyme, was the most challenging. It included responses from Grammy-winning alumnus Gillian Welch as well as other professional writers and artists from Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. The responses were so good that I began to write commentaries on them to help the reader notice special features, helpful tools they could use. That took even more time.

I could hear the Scott’s fingers drumming in Cincinnati, the headquarters of Writers Digest Books. But again, I wanted it good, not fast.

Finally, I finished it and sent it off to him.

“Wow! This is great!”

“Do you like the commentaries I did for the fourth challenge?”

“I sure do. They add so much!”

“Um, I think I’d like to go back and do commentaries on the examples in the other three challenges.”

Silence. Then, “Let me talk to our lay-out folks.”

While I was waiting for his response, I started. By the time he got back to me I was well underway.

“They said it will delay the timetable, but I convinced them that it was a good idea. Go ahead.” This time, he didn’t ask me to hurry.

A month later, I pressed send.

Scott is very happy.

So am I.


Lesley Mahoney
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