Paul Simon on songwriting

Last week I was lucky enough to catch Paul Simon at First Avenue in Minneapolis. I think that’s what prompted my friend Tom (aka., “The Blogfodder”) to share this gem from The Atlantic:

I’ve blogged before about inspiration and derivation and the creative process …  what to write about, and how.

But in spite of all my meditations about creativity, I still sometimes buy into the common notion that for a few lucky people, art—or music, or writing—just sort of “happens.”

That’s why I loved reading Paul Simon’s thoughts about his songwriting process:

So when I begin, I usually improvise a melody and sing words—and often those words are just clichés. … I may come to a point in the song where I realize I don’t really have to come up with a great line here. I can let the music speak. What I need is a hooky melody. You’re going back and forth, words and music. If they come together—your best words with your best melody—well, that’s something. That’s rare.

Even after 50 years of composing, Paul Simon still has to follow a process, weed out the weak ideas, and work at his craft. And even after 50 years of putting words to music, he says that “If they come together … That’s rare.”

I don’t know whether it’s comforting or depressing to realize that it doesn’t get any easier. But I’m grateful that there are gifted people like Paul Simon who are willing to at least admit that it doesn’t get easier.

Want to know more about the delicate interrelationship between process and creativity? Hear Paul Simon and his friend Chuck Close talk about inspiration, process and frustration.


  1. So much of writing is revision. Ditto any creative process.
    Yes, we tend to forget. Kudos to Paul Simon for the reminder.
    Thanks for sharing this, H.

    • You’re so right, Marcia: Creativity is coming up with an idea. But *refining* that idea is art.

      Nice to hear from you, by the way! Are things warming up at all in your corner of North America?

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