Tom Rush Songwriting Advice

Alrighty! Here is some advice I received from an OG in the singer/songwriter scene. After being stuck in a block for virtually ever I reached out to Tom Rush to try find some inspiration, and after waiting almost a year somehow the stars aligned and he stumbled across my email. So here is his response.


I just found this wandering around on my computer. Sorry for the VERY long delay.

I find that songs just happen, at least with me. Of course, they happen a lot more often if I exercise some discipline and sit down at the same time each day, but I seldom do that.

I would suggest not trying to force a song into existence (or a poem or a novel). Try sitting down with some pieces of paper and just writing whatever comes into your head, with no agenda other than to clear some cobwebs. Write, write, write—no thinking allowed, no editing. Once you feel the pen starting to run dry (a figure of speech, not to be taken literally), take a look back at the scribbles and see if there’s anything there that sounds like it might be the seed for a song, keeping in mind there are a lot of very improbably topics for songs out there, that have nonetheless turned into popular works.

If you find a seed, repeat the exercise with that seed in mind and see what floats by. There will be a lot of garbage, and that’s OK as long as you recognize it as garbage. But hopefully there will be some beauty as well. You can feel when the momentum starts to fade and at that point gather the good stuff, however much there is, onto one page and put it aside. Come back to it tomorrow and repeat the process, focusing on the good stuff. I sometimes have three or four songs in various stages of completion at any given moment.

I suggest that you write just for yourself—it takes a lot of pressure off. If you come up with something you like, share it with a friend, but keep in mind that just because they don’t like, it doesn’t mean someone else might not love it.

I also keep my ear out, during this process, for any snippets of melody that might float by and attach themselves to some words. If they do, I’ll record the snippet onto my iPhone. (It’s tempting to think, “Oh, I’ll never forget THAT!” But you will, or at least I will.) I often liken the process to trying to tune in a distant radio station. My theory is that the song already exists and I’m just trying to capture it, a few notes and a phrase at a time.

And don’t worry too much about rhyme, unless you’re writing limericks or a greeting card. With a song, a sort-of-a-rhyme will do just fine, and no-rhyme-at-all is OK, too.

And, mainly, have fun! It will go better if you don’t try so hard.

And now I apologize for a very long reply—sorry if I’ve overwhelmed you!

Tom Rush


Great advice. I’ve been asked before which are my favorite songs I’ve written and my answer is usually “My favorites are the ones that just kind of came to me all at once, but the ones I’m most proud of are the ones that grew out of exercises and process”. And, of course, the biggest advice of all: Have fun. Great words from a wonderful songwriter. Thank you so much for sharing!

This is such a valuable artefact Hugh, thank you so much for sharing with the community! It always fills me with such awe when established songwriters, or masters in any field for that matter, take the time to share the things they have learnt with those of us starting out. In this case it is a powerful reminder that you can’t build a tree, you can only plant seeds and nurture them gradually into existance.


It would be a crime against all humanity if I kept this to myself


Receiving a response like that must have been a really special moment! Thank you for sharing!

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It definitely was! He is one of my all time favourite songwriters as well so it was very special