The best non-songwriting books for songwriters

Who am I?

People come to songwriting from all different directions. Some have wanted to do this since they were little kids. Some like to make their parents mad. Some are wildly talented but crippled with doubt. All I can say is that no matter which way you’re facing, I think I can help you. I say this because I’ve been teaching college-level songwriting for years now, and every semester I have students who want to meet with me for office hours. They’re all repeat customers and I’ve noticed that many of them ask repeat questions. The point of my book, Music, Lyrics, and Life, is to try to address those repeat questions because chances are good that you have them, too. 

I wrote...

Music, Lyrics, and Life: A Field Guide for the Advancing Songwriter

By Mike Errico,

Book cover of Music, Lyrics, and Life: A Field Guide for the Advancing Songwriter

What is my book about?

Music, Lyrics, and Life is the songwriting class you always wish you'd taken, taught by the professor you always wish you'd had. With humor and empathy, acclaimed singer-songwriter Mike Errico has inspired students on campuses including Yale, Wesleyan, Berklee, and NYU's Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music.

Alongside his own lessons, Errico investigates larger questions of creativity with a wide range of innovative thinkers: astrophysicist Janna Levin explains the importance of repetition; renowned painter John Currin praises the constraints of form; bestselling author George Saunders unpacks the power of authenticity; and more. No matter where you are on your songwriting journey, Music, Lyrics, and Life will help you build a creative world that's both intrinsic to who you are, and undeniable to whoever is listening.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of A Field Guide to Getting Lost

Why did I love this book?

Feeling lost as a writer—or as a person? Good! Instead of having an anxiety attack, it helps to reimagine that feeling as a kind of diving board into the deep end of transformation. Solnit: “Love, wisdom, grace, inspiration—how do you go about finding these things that are in some ways about extending the boundaries of the self into unknown territory, about becoming someone else?” Which is all a fancy way of saying: It’s our job to be lost. Solnit inspired the line in my book, “If you suddenly feel like you’re walking in the dark, then you’re in the right room.” 

By Rebecca Solnit,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Field Guide to Getting Lost as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this investigation into loss, losing and being lost, Rebecca Solnit explores the challenges of living with uncertainty. A Field Guide to Getting Lost takes in subjects as eclectic as memory and mapmaking, Hitchcock movies and Renaissance painting.

Beautifully written, this book combines memoir, history and philosophy, shedding glittering new light on the way we live now.

The Writing Life

By Annie Dillard,

Book cover of The Writing Life

Why did I love this book?

Read this and tell me if you think it’s funny: “Write as if you were dying. At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case. What would you begin writing if you knew you would die soon? What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?” If you just burst out laughing, you may be a writer. This book is full of gems like that, and I laughed out loud in the way one might while driving off a cliff. You know, in the good way? 

By Annie Dillard,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Writing Life as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"For nonwriters, it is a glimpse into the trials and satisfactions of a life spent with words. For writers, it is a warm, rambling, conversation with a stimulating and extraordinarily talented colleague." — Chicago Tribune

From Pulitzer Prize-winning Annie Dillard, a collection that illuminates the dedication and daring that characterizes a writer's life.

In these short essays, Annie Dillard—the author of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and An American Childhood—illuminates the dedication, absurdity, and daring that characterize the existence of a writer. A moving account of Dillard’s own experiences while writing her works, The Writing Life offers deep insight into one…

Book cover of Several Short Sentences about Writing

Why did I love this book?

Do not come to this book in search of warm hugs about the beauty of the process. True to the title, Klinkenborg (best name ever?) offsets each of his sentences like an epic poem in verse. The epic he describes is how epically bad your writing is, and—hopefully—how to improve. He returns to the word "notice" over and over, and that's really it. You're blowing sentences by not noticing what the sentence itself is doing. You're over-emphasizing "meaning" at the expense of the vehicle that delivers it. I sense there's a kind man in there, somewhere, who's working a side of the street he feels has been neglected by years of misguided education. But here, he's dedicated to the larger cause of clean, clear sentences. Not hugs.

By Verlyn Klinkenborg,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Several Short Sentences about Writing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An indispensable and distinctive book that will help anyone who wants to write, write better, or have a clearer understanding of what it means for them to be writing, from widely admired writer and teacher Verlyn Klinkenborg.
Klinkenborg believes that most of our received wisdom about how writing works is not only wrong but an obstacle to our ability to write. In Several Short Sentences About Writing, he sets out to help us unlearn that “wisdom”—about genius, about creativity, about writer’s block, topic sentences, and outline—and understand that writing is just as much about thinking, noticing, and learning what it…

Book cover of On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous

Why did I love this book?

This book has some breathtaking imagery—and some of the most raw, unsettling scenes I’ve ever read through my fingers (“no, no...don’t please don’t...”). It’s the combination that, to me, elevates an equally compelling plot (no spoilers) and places the whole reading experience somewhere between poetry and prose. It reminded me of George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo, where you feel form has exploded, and all you have to hold onto is the writer and the words themselves. That strikes me as a very musical experience. 

By Ocean Vuong,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An instant New York Times Bestseller!

Longlisted for the 2019 National Book Award for Fiction, the Carnegie Medal in Fiction, the 2019 Aspen Words Literacy Prize, and the PEN/Hemingway Debut Novel Award

Shortlisted for the 2019 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize

Winner of the 2019 New England Book Award for Fiction!

Named one of the most anticipated books of 2019 by Vulture, Entertainment Weekly, Buzzfeed, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe,, Huffington Post, The A.V. Club, Nylon, The Week, The Rumpus, The Millions, The Guardian, Publishers Weekly, and more.

"A lyrical work of self-discovery that's shockingly intimate and insistently…

Book cover of Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures

Why did I love this book?

A series of poetry lectures not intended for publication, they combine to form an astounding journey into language and art. You don’t need to be a poet to love the casual way she delivers bomb after bomb, and to wish you’d been her student. I guess this is as close as I’ll get, and it’s taken a long time (I’m still not done) because I can just sit on a phrase or a page for an entire subway ride. Definitely would have failed her class, but having the lectures written out is like getting an extension without needing to grovel for it.

By Mary Ruefle,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Madness, Rack, and Honey as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is one of the wisest books I've read in years...--New York Times Book Review No writer I know of comes close to even trying to articulate the weird magic of poetry as Ruefle does. She acknowledges and celebrates in the odd mystery and mysticism of the act--the fact that poetry must both guard and reveal, hint at and pull back...Also, and maybe most crucially, Ruefle's work is never once stuffy or overdone: she writes this stuff with a level of seriousness-as-play that's vital and welcome, that doesn't make writing poetry sound anything but wild, strange, life-enlargening fun. -The Kenyon…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in writer's block, cultural heritage, and nature?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about writer's block, cultural heritage, and nature.

Writer's Block Explore 23 books about writer's block
Cultural Heritage Explore 13 books about cultural heritage
Nature Explore 140 books about nature