Songwriting Challenge Commentary

Songwriting Without Boundaries by Pat Pattison is destined to become a classic. Filled with more than 150 sense-bound prompts to help you commit to routine practice and improve your craft. The book also features wonderful examples from a stable of working writers. As a bonus feature to the book, the contributors discuss their experience working through the challenges, offering you even more insight into how this book can help you improve your songs, and your approach to writing in general.

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Pat Pattison is the writing teacher I’ve been long praying for and his writing exercises are nothing short of revolutionary. I’m almost embarrassed to say that after over a decade of professional creative writing I don’t think I ever fully understood the function and craft of metaphor until diving in to the writing challenges of Songwriting Without Boundaries. With the elegant flair of a wonderfully mad scientist, Pat pulls the best out of artists and empowers us to make the work we’ve always wanted to make. The poetry I’ve produced since investing in Pat’s teaching has been some of the liveliest, most powerful, and most published work of my career so far. His smart, inventive, cut-to-the-chase instruction has been the necessary overhaul for my whole creative life; the very core of my writing practice has been revamped and infused with new, lustrous life-blood. His books sit open on my desk, dog-eared and well worn.

–Caroline Harvey, professional poet, featured on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam

The last time I made four new songs in a month that I liked was a long time ago. Having to work the challenges opens a gate into a garden where I can get pleasure out of using language again. Noticing connections between things is like a beautiful tree in that garden, with abundant fruit.

One more thing; I have always found as a teacher that getting certain students to “get” metaphor was difficult; it sort of seemed like one either has the knack or not. But I feel like Pat’s approach may be one of the best methods of teaching writers to use figurative language I’ve encountered; and in fact, it may be the only one. I can’t wait to use this book in my classes as well as in my own work.

–Bonnie Hayes, Songwriter, (“Have a Heart,” Bonnie Raitt), Teacher, San Francisco, CA

I never realized how restricted and confined my lyrics were until I started doing Pat’s exercises.  The exercises opened the door to a vast expanse of lyrical options that I had rarely tapped into. The depth and interest of my lyric improved greatly even after the first few days of doing the exercises. My brain was forced out of its routine and strengthened new muscles of imagination that will become the new default setting for all my writing to come.  It’s too easy to become complacent in our writing and important for us all to constantly challenge ourselves in the way that Pat has shown us here. The methods he teaches in this book are effective and lasting.

–Greg Becker, Songwriter (Carrie Underwood, Rascal Flatts), Nashville TN

In the middle of working on these challenges i left for a writing/recording trip to Mexico to work on my new record..so i sort of had an immediate test of the effect of these exercises…it was pretty amazing…my writing didn’t “change” per se – it was still me, working in my normal style -but, everything came faster, and more fluidly…some of the ideas almost seemed to fall out fully formed…above all — i think that’s the magic of this book — it preps your brain to be a better you.

–Bleu, Recording Artist, Songwriter, Producer, Los Angeles, CA

Pat’s lessons gave me a voice so many years ago, and many of those tools I still use almost daily. But when I was given a new assignment, I was so intimidated, I almost couldn’t bring myself to try them. Would I be able to meet his expectations? Or mine? Once I dove in I quickly realized that, once again, I was going to be led across the dance floor to where the lights don’t shine, that I would improve in places that I didn’t know I had places.  Pat and his challenges have a way of saying “Psst, come here, back behind these familiar words… I wanna show you something…” And from there, an unknown vista comes into focus and changes your perspective forever.

–Rob Giles – Songwriter, Recording Artist (The Rescues), Los Angeles, CA

Before the challenges, I feared metaphor.  If one crept into my song I probably wouldn’t have known about it.  Pat’s exercises exposed metaphor for what it is – one of the most important and exciting tools a writer can possess.  It flicked a switch in my brain, and suddenly I could see metaphors everywhere! Overnight my songs became more original and memorable because I could express my ideas in a unique way.  I now have the ability to paint pictures with my lyrics, and show rather than tell by using sense bound language.

Writing every day felt great. Even if just for 15-20min, I was doing my job and becoming a better songwriter.  Each challenge built nicely into the next, and before I knew it I was using metaphor, sense bound language, line length AND throwing in rhymes! This is where the magic happens.  It has definitely taken my writing to the next level – and I had fun doing it.  I actually miss it!

–Chanelle Davis – Songwriter, Recording Artist, Melbourne, Australia

Ever since day one of object writing, Pat’s never-ending coaching, wisdom, exercises, and crafting have always provided one of the most important responsibilities as a songwriter: awareness. Awareness of all possibilities, and what can carve deeper into the listener’s mind.

–Ben Romans, Songwriter, Recording Artist, The Click Five, Los Angeles, CA

The object writing challenge for me started out as written fragments of sentiment and awkwardness, which had a habit of splattering untidily as the timer ticked away. As the days passed, my writing settled into strangely cozy corners of storytelling. By the end of the challenge my writing was sitting in the sunshine in a leafy valley, dusted with a frankness uncovered during this wonderful writing practice. I recommend object writing wholeheartedly, to all writers.

–Deborah Quilter, Melbourne, Australia

Oh, I loved these challenges! They wake you up creatively so that you’re viewing the world in terms of metaphor, looking for just the right verb or noun that paints the picture you’ve got in your head.  I found that they were the perfect exercises to do before actually writing a song… kind of like a great mental warm up before the marathon.

I also found that working in meter really started me focusing on strong vs. weak words and playing with duple and triple feel in lyrics. When you add in the power of making sonic connections through rhyme, you really get a great sense of how meter and rhyme can hold a section together. In my opinion, these exercises are a must for every songwriter.

–Susan Cattaneo – Artist, Songwriting Faculty, Berklee College of Music

The object writing challenge is a guaranteed solution to writer’s block! It is a multi-purpose tool that invited me to silence my inner critic and jump into the limitless potential of original sensory images that only exist within me. The progressive nature of the challenge (moving from who, to where, etc) encouraged me to focus on the juicy details in each category in order to paint a picturesque scene that truly invites someone to sit down and listen. The different time lengths in the challenge taught me that those jewels patiently waiting to be found can just as quickly rise to the top if I was writing for 10 minutes or 90 seconds. It is a dependable skill that can be fired up at anytime in the songwriting process. Doing the challenge also resulted in a wellspring of fresh song titles, verses and choruses that I never would have realized without the technique. I would absolutely recommend the process to any songwriter. It is especially motivating completing the challenge within a community of other writers.

–Joy Gora, Longmeadow, MA

Each day I tried Pat’s daily writing challenges I found myself getting into a zone that was freeing as well as challenging me. There was a bit of a fear as I knew I’d be writing under a time pressure and having to rhyme and stay in a meter. I wondered if I could do it. And sometimes I stumbled into major cliché, or found my pen just stopped as I stared off into space. But there were some times where something else took over. To be honest, I hadn’t been writing much on my own lately, mostly co-writing others’ ideas. But the days I delved into the challenge opened something and in a short period of time I had written a handful of songs, alone and with others.  Ideas were flowing, but even more than that, I felt like muscles were loose and I was reaching for better metaphor and deeper imagery than before. I actually pulled a few lines for a new song directly out of some of the challenges.

–Amy Speace, Songwriter, Recording Artist, Nashville TN

Back when I got my first record deal, I still felt insecure about my writing. Confidence can sometimes be the last thing one achieves. When Pat sent me these challenges, I started to dive in and I couldn’t stop! It felt like a healthy drug, the “confidence pill.” The more you do it, the more you want to do. Thank you, Pat. These challenges brought back the focus the fearlessness and happiness that I sometimes forget to have when I’m writing.

–Adriana Duarte – Songwriter, Recording Artist, Warner Music, Portugal

I highly recommend Pat Pattison’s challenges to anyone interested in developing a daily writing practice that works within an inspiring, constructive and practical framework. The rhythmic parameters and word prompts helped me to stretch my songwriting legs in wonderful new ways. Pat’s step-by-step procedure for discovering metaphor is the most innovative, user-friendly approach I’ve ever experienced.  These daily challenges take the mystery out of how great writing works. I’ve learned to let go of age-old barriers, explore my own creative spirit and write fearlessly.

–Sarah Brindell – Songwriting faculty, Berklee College of Music

In all my years writing, the most valuable tool I’ve experienced is changing my writing process regularly.  One day I may write matched couplets, another day I might write without perfect rhyme, another day I may use metaphor to start the wheels spinning, and another I may challenge myself to write the whole song in 20 minutes. The important point is that these processes are as valuable to me as writing a full song. They are the life force behind my creativity.  The challenges in this book are invaluable to the writer who aspires to making writing a career.  Thanks Pat!

–Andrea Stolpe – Artist, Songwriter (Faith Hill), Songwriting faculty, USC

I really enjoyed committing to these exercises.  It was great to discipline myself with an activity that took me out of my comfortable world of balance and predictability, and challenged me to communicate my ideas in different ways.  I learned that I’m capable of new and interesting approaches in my lyric writing, which can only help me craft more compelling songs going forward.

I’d recommend this to any writer who wants to stretch out beyond the boundaries of their craft and bring new dimensionality to their work.  Bravo, Pat!

–Stan Swiniarski – Songwriting faculty, Berklee College of Music

Pat is the best writing coach on planet Earth. It’s true. This book proves it yet again.

–Emily Greene –Songwriter, Recording Artist, NY, NY

Taking part in these exercises forced me to dig deep especially when I didn’t want to. They squeezed out discipline from me that I didn’t even know I had!   They were strength training for my writing muscles.

–Kristin Cifelli – Songwriter, Faculty, Berklee College of Music

Some people see the world through rose-colored glasses. Well Pat’s writing challenge gave me metaphor glasses. After a few days of bending my brain to think think think, I was seeing metaphors everywhere. Everything, a stone, a breeze was tinted with meaning. I would be bagging the groceries and think “Hey, there’s a good idea for a song!” What a trip! Anyway, that’s what it did for me. …oh, and I got to keep the glasses.

–Mo McMorrow, Austin, Texas

Gillian’s examples were over-the-top beautiful. Wow. Having her as some sort of “bar,” really gave me something constructive to reach for.  It was so inspiring to see what years of devoted writing could do for her. She has been developing her voice for years by doing just these sorts of exercises. So, from a philosophical level, the exercises reminded me, in a lovely way, to face myself.

It really got me in the habit of reaching for better verbs right away rather than waiting for rewrites. Also I do think embarking on timed exercises in basic “song form structures” like couplets and common meter, frees you up to explore images and ideas that you might not have if you were ‘trying to write a song’. And because these images are in what could be considered ‘song form structure’, they are more likely to be usable as lyrics later on even if you didn’t start with that in mind.

–Jonelle Vette – Singer-songwriter, Artist, Los Angeles

A trip to any songwriters’ open mic event typically yields a number of vague, abstract songs about states of mind. We’ve heard this sort of thing a hundred times, and that’s the problem: “I’m so sad since you left me… so so sad…” Anyone stuck writing these kinds of introverted songs can benefit from these exercises. Through them a writer learns that a lyric can be emotionally charged in more subtle, indirect, and beautifully evocative ways. The shorter exercises train us to respond quickly to songwriting challenges. This fast action can keep the energy high in any songwriter’s process, whether they’re working with a co-writer or writing alone. I particularly liked the VERY fast exercise about a cliff by the ocean. That’s a very rich sensory environment, and perfect for a thirty-second speedwriting exercise.

–Nicholas Tozier, Jefferson, Maine

I have read, and often re-read, Pat Pattison’s first book on songwriting, and I love it. It’s not just his writing or the advice that he gives, but it’s HOW he gives it. I was a teacher for six years, and the way things are broken down and explained is very important to me.

My writing improved the more I practised object writing. And just from that, I have gained more confidence in my writing, and am much more motivated to work at it and share it with others. The challenge was very beneficial to me. It’s an honor to be a part of the book, even if it’s a small part.

–Tasleem Rajwani, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

I have been writing very sparsely this year, but tried to do the object writing exercises whenever possible. I didn’t always like the object, but I really liked the exercise and found them a nice way to tune in in the midst of life’s distractions. Interestingly, the lyrics for the three songs I have finished this year came very quickly and had more detail than usual. I recommended the exercises to everyone in my two writing groups. Looking forward to the book.

–Susan Anders, Nashville, TN

Object writing has enabled me to get to the core of songs I am working on to clarify or add meaning, and, it gives me options for story lines.  I have used object writing in my other life as a teacher to motivate children to write and have fun with it, while dismissing to irrelevance those inner voices that say what they are doing is no good.

–John O’Shaughnessy, Lake Cathie, Australia

The challenge is the ideal antidote to writer’s block and that stodgy uninspired feeling. For me it was the time for outlandish metaphors (the wilder the better) and cliché avoidance practice (looking for a different angle). I now often do a session around a key theme in a new or “stuck” song, regularly unearthing a sense-based image unique enough to challenge the ear but universal enough to make the point.

–Adam Farr, Granada, Spain

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