On Songwriting: Write What You Don’t Know

Everyone says to write what you know. There’s a lot of truth to that advice. You’ll have more confidence and authority, plus you’ll be pulling from a deeper well. But even if you write about what you know, you’re not going to know everything.

Yesterday I was trying to write a song about boats. I’ve spent a lot of my life on boats. Worked in them, driven them, paddled them, fished in them. But even so, as I was writing I realized I didn’t know some of the terminology or technical language.

At that point I could have said to myself, “Well, I don’t want to be a boat poser, so I guess I’ll stop writing about it.” But instead I went where I always go: Wikipedia. I read about boats for a while, jotting down terms and other words I thought could be handy.

You can do this, too. You’re not cheating. You’re not posing. Think of it like gardening. Maybe you know zilch about it. But you’ve certainly eaten fruits and vegetables.

And you’ve played in the dirt before.