How Lyrics work – by Carly Simon

The now-defunct online magazine, Doubletake, printed a short but very good article on lyric writing, by Carly Simon, the hugely popular song writer.

Amazingly, at one point she was so discouraged about her apparent lack of success with songwriting, that she decided to give up on that career.  However, on her ferry trip home, a song from George Gershwin kept playing on the jukebox – and she found herself writing a poem in response, asking George how it was for him in his life and work.

As if he could hear me, I asked questions: “Did you buy your house in the country? Did you wait for something that never came? Did you die still waiting for your train?” Every time I asked a question, the refrain “Embrace me, my sweet, embraceable you, embrace me, you irreplaceable you” kept hitting, and as it kept hitting, I repeated it in my letter. It became a quoted chorus in a bed of my questions and observations. At the end of the letter, I vowed to go home and sit at the piano and try to write songs again. “In honor of you, George, in honor of you . . .”

This eventually became her song “In honor of you, George”.  The whole article on songwriting is still here to be read – and worth reading if you write lyrics.  (Thank you, Doubletake, for leaving it online.)

Creative Takeaways

  • If you’re feeling like giving up because no one ‘gets’ you or your art – just keep on going – pushing though discouragement has been an experience for pretty much every achiever (with the possible exception of child prodigies)
  • When you’re stuck and lyrics won’t come – write a response to someone who intrigues you, ask them questions.  This automatically gives you a starting point.

Going back to Carly, one of the recurring questions asked about her was who she wrote her big hit ‘You’re so vain” about?  Here’s the final answer….


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