Who hasn’t heard of Taylor Swift. Whether you’re a fan or a hater, no one can deny her impeccable writing skills. While she mostly deals with songs and poetry, you can still learn a lot about writing in general from her.
So if you’re looking for some writing advice, here are 6 things you need to know to become a better writer according to Taylor Swift.
#1. Make sure you have a good story to tell
All of Swift’s songs have their own story to tell. In “Mean”, Swift reminds the listeners that being a bully gets you nowhere in life. Meanwhile, “Clean” likens love to an addiction and how withdrawal can hurt. “Shake It Off” is her telling everyone that she refuses to let what people say affect her.
Her songs are a result of good storytelling that not only has a clear theme or idea, but also weaves in experiences and emotions that everyone can relate to.
Even when writing non-fiction, you need to have an idea. Are you trying to present an argument? Are you proposing a solution? Make sure to have a central idea (otherwise known as a thesis statement) so that your writing can have a foundation and goal to focus on.
#2. Be generous with details
If the thesis is the foundation from which you build your writing, then details are all the little embellishments that truly make for a unique and strong work.
In “All Too Well”, Swift recalls a particularly heartbreaking relationship that emotionally affects her. However, instead of simply telling us she’s heartbroken and spent, she goes to great lengths to describe how she feels. At the feeling of being used and discarded, she writes, “I’m a crumpled up piece of paper”. We not only know she’s heartbroken, we can feel it.
The right amount of details can help make your writing stronger. And this doesn’t just apply to fictional writing. You can add details (albeit a less personal one) even in non-fiction pieces. For instance, in academic writing, it can come in the form of in-depth explanation and real-world examples that can support your thesis and help you build a stronger case.
The application may be different depending on your genre of writing but the basic tenet remains the same — details make for a richer and more enlightening writing piece.
#3. Take inspiration from around you
Not all of Taylor Swift’s songs are about her real life relationships. Inspiration can come from anywhere and when it does, she masterfully turns it into hit songs.
“Mary’s Song (Oh My My My)” was inspired by her next-door neighbours and the story of how they met. “Death By A Thousand Cuts”, a song that compares the breakdown of a relationship to a slow death, was inspired by the Netflix film, Someone Great. “the last great american dynasty” was a song about the woman who used to own her Rhode Island mansion.
As a writer, good observational skills and keen eyes are important. The world is a wondrous place and you should be able to take inspiration from the things you see around you. Not all of us have rich lives filled with crazy stories but thanks to technology, we are now more connected than ever. Take advantage of this connection to rediscover the world and find your inspirations.
#4. Read, read, read and read
Want to be a better writer? Well, you need to read. A lot.
Swift has shared how her writings are influenced by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s works. To her, the best prose are the ones that absorb you into the scene and Fitzgerald’s ability to do this through rich imagery has served as an inspiration for her own vivid and visceral songwriting.
Reading books can also help you discover new perspectives and reconnect with your own emotions. Swift herself wrote “tolerate it” after finishing Rebecca, a 1938 novel about a woman who finds herself stuck in a loveless marriage. The novel gave her a chance to self-reflect and assume the protagonist’s perspective.
Books can also serve as a source of inspiration. One of her earliest hits, “Love Story”, is a reimagination of Shakespeare’s tragedy, Romeo and Juliet. In “the lakes”, she makes a passing reference to Romantic poet, William Wordsworth. Another song sees her quoting Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken.
To be a good writer, you need to read, as it can help you broaden your horizon and discover new ideas and perspectives.
#5. Don’t be afraid to use literary devices
Metaphor, simile, anaphora and hyperbole — these are only some of the many literary devices littered in Swift’s works. They each serve a different purpose but generally, literary devices enhance the quality of the writing.
Swift is a master at metaphorical writing. In “All Too Well”, her heart is a crumpled piece of paper left abandoned. In another song, love is a house with boarded up windows, a flickering chandelier signaling some unresolved feelings. Metaphors allow her to explore the many aspects of love in new and interesting ways. As a result, no one song is the same.
This advice is probably best suited for creative writers but you can still sprinkle some literary devices here and there even in your academic writing.
Open your essay with a strong oxymoron (a contradictory figure of speech) to make a statement (“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”). Or add a poignant but simple aphorism (a concise statement of universal truth) to quickly give the reader a taste of what to expect in your writing (“All is fair in love and war.”). Some writers also include epigraph in their essay by directly quoting other writers at the beginning of their work.
It won’t work all the time. Some papers may require you to be strict and formal and you might not get a chance to use it. Nonetheless, when you do have the chance, make sure to be creative.
#6. Keep to simple sentences and words
While her later albums would see her using big, fancy words like “incandescent” and “calamitous”, Swift’s earlier writings were much simpler. It was straightforward and direct, her story clear. But that doesn’t make it any less impactful or powerful.
In “The Best Day”, she sings about her love for her mother by recalling memories of her childhood. The writing was simple, something a child could write, but the message was clear. No matter how old (“5” or “13”) or clueless (“I don’t know why all the trees change in the fall”) she was, she knew at least one constant thing — her best days were the ones she had with her mother.
What’s important is the message. While complicated sentence structures and big words make you sound fancy, they are not compulsory. After all, the main purpose of writing is to get people to understand and oftentimes, the best way to achieve this is with short and simple writings.
Writing can be a real pain but if you are a college student, it is a necessary part of the college experience. No matter what your degree is, chances are you will have to whip up the occasional essay or two.
So if you ever find yourself stuck in a rut, just ask yourself: “What would Taylor Swift do?”