Warning: Hacks for Hacks tips may have harmful side effects on your writing career, and should not be used by minors, adults, writers, poets, songwriters, scribes, scriveners, journalists, or anybody.
This week, American icon Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature, becoming the first songwriter to win. But it shouldn’t come as a surprise; Dylan’s songs were poetry in musical form, and his artistic ambition inspired a generation to try to make the world better.
Dylan would probably have lots of good advice to share with writers, were he still alive today. However, his many interviews and the millions of words written about him are treasure troves of wisdom. Though his medium was music, Dylan’s lessons on craft are applicable to writers of all stripes. Here’s Bob Dylan’s most salient advice, in his own words.
On the Creative Process
- “Get outside. Get out into the world, man! You wanna read poetry, look at the stars. Light a candle and write under the new moon. That’s when The Operator comes to whisper the Secret Words to you.”
- “Writing a song is like milking a cow. ” [forty-five seconds of silence before he wanders away, his lapel microphone dragging on the floor behind him]
- “When I start writing a song, I like to put together a real detailed outline first. Then I hand it over to some freelancers I know from the advertising business, and they hash out the chords and the lyrics while I cruise down to the club for a quick nine holes. Much more efficient this way. Production is up 23% this quarter. The market needs product, man. Gotta feed the beast.”
- “No matter how beautiful her voice is, do not dare behold the face of The Operator.”
On Dealing with Writers Block
- “Promise yourself a reward when you’re done. I like to treat myself to some Mickey D’s after I finish up for the day. A Big Mac #1 combo, with a McFlurry for dessert, or maybe one of them strawberry shakes. Man oh man!”
- “Once a month, write a poem in blood. Use your own if you must.”
On Getting out of your Comfort Zone
- “I decided to go electric after I heard ‘Surfin Bird‘ in ’63. I said, ‘Man, that’s the ticket! If I could write a tune like that…’ I’ve spent half a century trying to write the next ‘Surfin Bird.’”
- “Those mystery books are fun. I’d like to write a mystery book sometime, except in mine, the butler really DID do it.”
On Collaborating with Other Artists
- “When I was in the Traveling Wilburys, I used to arm wrestle Jeff Lynne every morning for who got to drive the tour bus. Always loved driving those things. Cars would drive up beside you and do the thing where they want you to honk the horn. Beep beep! What a blast!”
- “B-B-B-BIRD IS THE WORD!”
On his Longevity
- “I have many horcruxes. More than you can imagine. That’s how the Traveling Wilburys started.”
What are your favorite inspirational quotes from Bob Dylan? Or are you one of those Philistines who say he shouldn’t have won? Share your thoughts in the comments section!