What is a Hook Book and How to Start One

What the heck is a hook book?

A hook book, or hookbook, is a collection of “hooks” or titles that you have collected all in one easy to reference place. Sometimes, writers add notes and half-written lyrical thoughts beside their hooks to help flesh out an idea. Essentially, a hook book can be a list in a notebook, a long-running note in your phone, a shoebox of ideas written on little pieces of paper, or something similar. Typically, they’re easily accessible when you’re out and about, so you can always write down hooks as you think of them throughout the day.

Why they’re freaking awesome:

Oh, so many reasons! First of all, you won’t forget any great song titles or hooks, because you keep track of them in your hook book. It’s a great feeling when you write down a hook that you feel mildly ok about, and come back to it in a week and realize it’s actually gold.

Hook books also help you track your progress as a songwriter. You can see over time how your ideas grow and change and get better and you add more and more hooks to your hook book.

You can bring hook books to co-writes and always have new ideas to toss into the room.

A hook book is fantastic way to make sure you never run out of ideas to write about. Sitting in front of your guitar or piano waiting for inspiration to strike? Pull out your hook book and pick a hook to write from!

How a hook book will help you become a better songwriter:

My favorite reason to have a hook book is this: Thinking in terms of hook-based songwriting really helps you learn how to write songs with the beginning-middle-and-end all figured out already.

What do I mean? Some hooks are a collection of interesting sounding words, but you don’t necessarily know what the song is going to be about. But some hooks imply a story right away. “Live Like You Were Dying” gives you a sense of what this song is going to be about before you hear it. “The House That Built Me” is another one.

That isn’t to say that “random words that sound cool together” isn’t a strategy for a great hook – “Strawberry Wine” implies no story right off the bat and it won Song Of The Year at the CMA’s in 1997! I’m sure you’re familiar with the legendary status of this song.

But for beginning writers, knowing exactly how your song is going to start and end takes away a lot of hesitation and potential road blocks. You know, the things that keep you from writing! A hook book is an excellent way to start writing with a hook-based mindset.

How to start a hook book:

Option 1: Analog

1. Get a notebook you love

  • Can have lines, dots, or a grid. You can even go the bullet journal route, if you so like.
  • Pick a size notebook you can travel with. Will it fit in your purse? Backpack? Pocket?
  • Try to get a book that will lay flat. No curling up covers when you’re trying to write in it!
  • Pick a color or cover illustration you love and are inspired by!
  • Here’s my list of notebooks I love!

2. Write out all your title ideas on new lines, in list form

  • Start writing out your hooks in list form
  • Number them if you like (but know that as you write songs, you’ll be crossing them off, so it’s not an accurate way to keep track of how many hooks you have)
  • If you like to write notes, give yourself space to do so:
    • Either split your pages into 2 columns, hooks on the left, notes on the right, or
    • Write all your hooks on the left page, and notes on the right side.
    • Or however works the best for you :) just keep it organized and easy to reference
  • Cross off hooks as you finish songs, but ONLY AS YOU FINISH! Crossing off a hook before the song is done will only de-motivate you to finish it.

Option 2: Digital

1. Download a list-making or organizational app you love! Here are some of my favorites and suggestions from other SongFancy readers:

  • Wunderlist
    My app of choice! Simple easy to use interface, syncs with my phone and computer, and allows me to attach notes to list items. Plus, you get the cutest little ping when you check off an item!
  • Evernote
    Great for gathering up all sorts of inspiration in digital “notebooks” – photos, snippets of websites, and more. You can create your hook book inside Evernote and access all your other lyrics and inspiration. Also syncs on phone and desktop.
  • Google Keep
    A great way to share collaborative notes with cowriters and it syncs with your Google Drive account. Great for writers who already keep lyrics in their Drives.

2. Make a new list or note and title it “Hook Book”

3. Write down all your hooks in this list.

  • If your app allows you to write notes or attach recordings to list items, you can write in accompanying ideas for your hooks

4. Check them off as you write them. 

  • Again, only check them off if you’re finished! Don’t check it off too early while you’re still working on the song.

 

Going digital or analog is up to you.

But the qualities of a good hook book are:

  • Inspiring
  • Easy to access
  • There when you need it!

Keep your hook book sacred – don’t write other ideas inside it, unless it’s as a note associated with your hook. If you have an idea for a great first line, write it down elsewhere. If it’s a hook, it goes into your hook book. If it isn’t a hook, put it someplace else!


Want to write more songs?

Feeling like you could use a little creative accountability? Save your seat for the next 5 in 5 Song Challenge and write 5 songs in 5 days with a group of SongFancy songwriters!

What is a Hook Book and How to Start One | Songwriting tips and techniques for the contemporary songwriter. | SongFancy.com

Sarah Spencer

Sarah Spencer is an award winning singer/songwriter based in Nashville, TN. Born in the Sunshine State, Sarah Spencer writes vibrant, shining americana/pop music. She works in Nashville TN as a singer/songwriter, as well as a UX designer for a marketing firm. You can listen to her music at SarahSpencer.com or purchase her debut EP, "Freshman Year" on iTunes.