Getting Down with the Beatles

Stuck in a creative rut? Collapsing under the weight of seemingly endless papers? Or are you simply wondering how music can relate to writing? Here’s what you can learn from one of the best (song)writing duos of all time, former Beatles John Lennon and Paul McCartney.


When given a writing assignment, allow yourself some space for reflection, if you have the luxury. It took John Lennon several weeks to draft I am the Walrus before he found his muse.

“I had just these two lines on the typewriter,” he said,” and then about two weeks later I ran through and wrote another two lines, and then when I saw something after about four lines I just knocked the rest of it off. Then I had the whole verse or verse and a half and then sang it.”

Even for world-renowned writers, sometimes inspiration will hit when you least expect it. Keep an open mind.

Bounce ideas off of someone! Your roommate, your professor, your friends… you never know what someone else has to contribute. John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote songs together for over ten years, and they’d tell one another when something worked and when it needed to be changed. John said once that Paul’s musicality really impacted his own songwriting, and in return, John helped Paul lyrically:

“[Paul would] say, ‘Well, why don’t you change that there? You’ve done that note 50 times in the song.’ You know, I’ll grab a note and ram it home. Then again, I’d be the one to figure out where to go with a song… a story that Paul would start.”

And Paul still works with John: the bassist recently said that when he finds himself with writers’ block, he tries to imagine what John Lennon would do:

“If I’m at a point where I go, ‘I’m not sure about this,’ I’ll throw it across the room to John. He’ll say, ‘You can’t go there, man.’ And I’ll say, ‘You’re quite right. How about this?’ ‘Yeah, that’s better.’ We’ll have a conversation. I don’t want to lose that.”

So have a discussion—even with someone imaginary—whose opinion you respect.

Look to your prior work in your discipline for inspiration and encouragement.

“It’s funny,” John once said, “because while we’re recording we’re all aware and listening to our old records and we say, we’ll do one like The Word– make it like that – it never does turn out like that, but we’re always comparing and talking about the old albums – just checking up, what is it? like swatting up for the exam – just listening to everything.”

It’s important to review your past papers—you might get a sense of accomplishment in addition to some new ideas.

Accept that sometimes, some papers will be less interesting than others, and you might not feel proud of them. John Lennon experienced the same with particular songs:

“Good Morning, Good Morning, I was never proud of it. I just knocked it off to do a song.”

There will always be other papers. Just do your best!

John said,

“In the early days, we’d take things out for being banal, clichés, even chords we wouldn’t use because we thought they were clichés… going right back to the basics [has been a great release for all of us.] Like on Revolution I’m playing the guitar and I haven’t improved since I was last playing. But I dug it. It sounds the way I wanted it to sound.”

Have confidence in what you know. Don’t try to beef up your writing with unnecessary clichés or complex words that you wouldn’t normally use. That’s not to say you shouldn’t try to improve, but sometimes the best writing comes from you and you alone.

This is perhaps most important. John once said of The Beatles early days, “We knew what we wanted to be, but we didn’t know how to do it, in the studio. We didn’t have the knowledge or experience.” It sounds cliché, but it takes time to write well. Keep trying. The Writing Center has got your back. \m/


Read More: Paul McCartney Still Gets Songwriting Advice From John Lennon 

Read more: John Lennon interview at Rolling Stone


Sarah C, peer tutor