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Want to Improve Your Writing Skills? Listen to Bob Dylan

Updated on March 31, 2015

I love Bob Dylan. My love for the man and his music stems from the desire to be part of a decade dedicated to change: the sixties. Dylan's music fueled the flames of this turbulent era in American history, yet his lyrics still speak to us today. Yes, the lyrics of Bob Dylan have the ability to stand the test of time, and this ability is the hallmark of great literature.

Each song penned in Dylan's signature style offers the budding author a lesson in storytelling, the importance of paying attention to detail, and ( in my opinion) the need to maintain one's individuality.


The heart and soul of any Dylan song is its story. Dylan's style is rooted in folk music and folk music is an exercise is storytelling. The history of folk music can be traced back many generations. The lyrics of these songs were often created to preserve legends and to tell the stories of great heroes and heroines of the past. Although the subjects of these songs may have met an untimely fate, the brave (and sometimes not so brave) men and women come to life each time their songs are sung at camp, in the home, or to an audience.

Although he began his career as a folk singer singing in New York clubs and coffeehouses, Dylan soon strayed from traditional folk and crafted his own folk masterpieces. In "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Caroll," Dylan slowly and steadily tells the story of an innocent kitchen worker killed by a wealthy and influential man. In "Who Killed Davy Moore," Dylan looks at the darker side of prize fighting. The two songs are examples of outstanding storytelling; however, at the end of each song the listener must deal with the consequences of the song. The meaning of the song is much greater that the story itself, and this meaning will haunt the listener for a long time to come.

Great literature has this effect. When the author puts pen to paper, he or she has the power to influence the world at large. Upton Sinclair turned the meatpacking industry upside down with his novel The Jungle. Harriet Beecher Stowe's classic novel Uncle Tom's Cabin strengthened the abolitionist movement. Both of these classic novels are excellent reads, but in the end the reader is forced to deal with moral issues. The reader has essentially bonded with the story and formed an emotional connection with its characters. All writers should take note of this technique. Hooking the reader is just not enough. The real goal is personal attachment.

Details, Details, Details

Like any great author, Dylan's style offers both the novice and the experienced writer the opportunity to improve his or her style simply because Dylan is a master of words. In Dylan's world, words are nothing more than building blocks. Words are used as playthings and become the roots of puns, metaphors, similes, hyperbole, and other forms of entertaining wordplay.

Like the artist bringing his or her work to life in oil or watercolor, Dylan brings his work to life with words. Listen to Dylan's song, and your senses will be teased. Your mind will be introduced to various images and often challenged to keep up with the constant stream of imagery that is central to Dylan's style of writing. He constantly changes his method of description and never describes a person, place, or thing in the same manner. The life of the story is in its ability to set a mental stage for the reader; and, in order to set the stage and make the story interesting to the reader, he or she must include vivid details. Details and descriptions should leap off the paper and into the reader's mind. Failure to do so will force the reader to put the book back on the shelf before the reader makes it to the second page.

Be Yourself

One of the qualities that I admire in Bob Dylan is the fact that he is a risk taker. When Dylan exchanged his acoustic guitar for an electric guitar, he expressed his individuality as an artist and made history. Great authors have the ability to push conformity aside and go for the heart. Conformity to a certain style or genre may sell books, but these books are seldom remembered after the fad dies. The book that is remembered, however, is the book that started the fad. Over the years there have been many Dylan imitators, but there is only one Bob Dylan.

Dylan's Best Album

What Is Your Favorite Dylan Album?

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    • sherrituck profile imageAUTHOR

      Sherri Tuck 

      6 years ago from Virginia

      Thank you. I am a huge Dylan fan as well as a Joan Baez fan.

    • sherrituck profile imageAUTHOR

      Sherri Tuck 

      6 years ago from Virginia

      He is an awesome guitar player and the magic really started when he went electric.

    • sherrituck profile imageAUTHOR

      Sherri Tuck 

      6 years ago from Virginia

      Thank you. Dylan has and always will be one of my favorites. He has influenced so many people with his words and his music. His legacy is magical.

    • epigramman profile image


      6 years ago

      ...... yes it's true .... I could've had a shot at being Maria's current husband (although many other men stand in line ahead of me) but she only has her beautiful eyes set on Bob , lucky guy.

    • scrittobene profile image

      Maria D'Alessandro 

      6 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Excellent hub Sherri about my hero Dylan. Yes he is definitely a legend in my Dylan Freak mind. You have done the Master justice here and paid homage as he deserves. Thanks ! - Maria D'Alessandro aka "Dylan Freak". Thanks to you too Epi and birthday wishes are in order for you today.

    • Debby Bruck profile image

      Debby Bruck 

      6 years ago

      Marvelous Sherri! I followed Colin here from FaceBook and enjoyed your take on Bob Dylan's writing talent, musical skill and innovation with a dash of independence. His guitar style developed along with his songs as he matured through the ages.

    • epigramman profile image


      6 years ago

      Good morning Sherri and it's so nice to meet you at lake erie time ontario canada 12:54am

      Both SCRITTOBENE and I completely agree with you on this one.

      SCRITTOBENE who is a fellow hubber is the ultimate Dylan freak and his wannabe wife too, lol, and she makes me look like a novice boy scout lost in the woods without a compass.

      And no doubt there is not a songwriter or poet in the last 45 years who hasn't been influenced by Bob.

      Thank you for your passionate tribute and heartfelt words.

      What are some of your favorite songs by Bob?

      Sending you warm wishes and good energy from Colin and his cats and I just posted this link to my FB page and for Maria too ......

    • epigramman profile image


      6 years ago

      Good morning Sherri

    • sherrituck profile imageAUTHOR

      Sherri Tuck 

      6 years ago from Virginia

      Dylan is one of the greatest minds of the 20th century. He is such a master with words. Thanks for your comment.

    • spartucusjones profile image

      CJ Baker 

      6 years ago from Parts Unknown

      Bob Dylan really is a true poetic genius! I absolutely agree about Dylan being a risk taker. Very few artists have transformed themselves as often as Dylan. Even his failures are compelling. To me Dylan can be summed up by the following quote he made:

      "A person is a success if they get up in the morning and gets to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do.”

    • james555 profile image

      James Mandolare 

      6 years ago from Hudson Falls New York USA

      Bob is the Man! I sing many of his songs and I write my own songs but they just seem to be cheap imitations of Bob's. He's always touring and has been since 1976. I think "Blood on the Tracks" is the best album ever made. Bob said, "Why do you all like that record dso much. The songs on it are so sad." Blood on the Tracks" indeed Mr. Dylan. Dylan's blood on the record. He combines personal imagery, throws in some cosmic star dust, mixes in some weather, trains, and dirt roads. Bakes it in the city streets, and tosses in some other worldly wisdom. And he keeps doing it without losing anything because he does it-as all true artists do-for the poetry and song, not the accolades or adoring crowds. Love you Bob, and thanks for this very wise critique of the Master Songwriter of our time. In a class by himself. I often perform his songs with guitar and song, but lately I've been reciting the lyrics as a dramatically spoken poem. Works just as well.

    • chef-de-jour profile image

      Andrew Spacey 

      6 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

      Thanks for this hub and your interest in one of the true greats of modern songwriting. Young Mr Zimmerman certainly set the folk scene on fire when he emerged from the club scene onto the world stage. People hadn't heard anything like it. His songs still resonate today and will last because as you say they mesh melody with lyric in an awe inspiring way.

      Bob Dylan's lyrics have long been the subject of controversy. Do they stand alone as poetry or are they nothing without song and a vocal accompaniment? I think some of Dylan's lyrics do merit the title poetry and some need melody to make them work. Overall though his use of words is exceptional, unique, masterly. No other solo songwriter has reached his heights, been so mysterious, so profound. And, as you mention, his storytelling is simply unsurpassed.

      Keep it up!

    • sherrituck profile imageAUTHOR

      Sherri Tuck 

      6 years ago from Virginia

      Thank you. I sometimes use Dylan's songs in my English Composition classes. The students seem to enjoy the exercises. It's an new twist on a standard concept.

    • botipton profile image

      Bo Tipton 

      6 years ago from Cecilia, KY

      Now who would of thought of using Bob Dylan to help us learn to be better writers but you did. Lots of information to think about. Great Job Again. Definitely voted up


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