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Yclept Writing and Swinging Bats: Build Up Those Songwriting Muscles
By Bill Pere - 02/15/2011 - 04:41 PM EST

One of the greatest tools you can use to help build up your songwriting skills is yclept writing – funny name, but very powerful.   You see examples of yclept writing in many books of poetry, literature or wordplay.   Broadly speaking, yclept writing is the imposition of some type of artificial constraint on the form of what you write, over and above the normal constraints of a poem, lyric, short story, etc.

For example, in a Shakespearean sonnet, the normal constraints of that form are: three quatrains and a terminal couplet in iambic pentameter with the rhyme pattern abab cdcd efef gg.  Within that format, you can write about anything with any words you wish.   However, if you said you wanted to write a Shakespearean sonnet using just "e" as the only vowel, you would be adding an additional  constraint over and above the norm, and now have an yclept writing exercise.

You can find poems and stories with all kinds of criteria to limit the form or word-choice: using only one vowel; not using a particular letter or vowel (a lipogram);  using only 2-syllable words;  Having the first letter of each sentence spell out a message (acrostic);  no word can contain any of the letters in the preceding word (heteroliteral);  ysing every letter of the alphabet (pangram);  and many more.  There are no limits as to what constraints to apply – that is totally up to you.

(For two great references on this topic with lots of interesting examples and discussion see "Palindromes and Anagrams", Howard W. Bergerson, Dover Publications ISBN 0486206645   and "Word Recreations", A. Ross Eckler, Dover Publications, ISBN 0486238547 )

The question you probably have right now is "Why in the world would you want to take something as difficult as songwriting and make it harder by adding a restriction that doesn't have to be there?" 

When I was a young boy in the Bronx, I'd go to baseball games with my Dad at Yankee Stadium, the Polo Grounds, and Ebbets Field.  I'd always watch the

'on-deck' batter – the one kneeling in the circle waiting to come up next.  They would usually be swinging two or three bats to warm up.   I asked my Dad, "Why in the world would they want to make something as difficult as swinging a heavy bat harder by adding more bats, when they don’t have to?"   My Dad explained, "By swinging the extra weight, it makes it feel that much easier when they step up to do the real thing with just one bat".

Yclept writing does not have to result in a good song (although it can - See David Shulman's amazing 1936 sonnet "Washington Crosssing the Delaware" ).   Yclept writing is primarily for exercise, so that when you apply yourself to craft a "real" song, it will seem that much easier.  It makes juggling and managing all those parameters seem much less energy-intensive when you've experienced the feeling of yclept writing.

Try writing a simple paragraph – about anything you want, but never using the letter "e".  That may not sound too difficult but give it a try.   You'll feel the extra effort it takes.  You can set your own challenges for yourself – and that's exactly what an yclept exercise is.  Just as Olympic athletes push themselves to greater effort and performance, so can you.

EXAMPLE:  Write a short free-verse poem  (any format you want, any words you want, no rhyme required. ) to the title  "The Bride Gets Cold Feet While Secretly Longing for the Best Man".  Probably not too hard.  So add a constraint and try it.  Here's what I came up with:

A bitter cold drifts everywhere.

Frost gathers here.

I just know last minute nuptials open perilous questions.

Reality seeps through, under very worrisome X-rated yearnings, zealously.

To challenge myself, I imposed the constraint of using exactly 26 words, each word starting with the next letter of the alphabet (a,c,b,d…etc)   The above result may not be great poetry, but the satisfaction of successfully meeting the challenge is rewarding.  This took 94 seconds to do.   If I had tried it twenty years ago, it would have taken much longer.   Swinging the extra bats truly builds up the mental songwriting muscles.

A popular use of yclept writing is in palindromes (words or sentences that read the same backwards and forwards)  e.g., "Red rum, sir, is murder";  or one of the best: "A man, a plan, a canal, Panama!"  These types of exercises force you to really look at the structure of words and in developing that ability, you hone your skill at generating sonic activity and fresh word combinations.

Besides just exercise, can this have any actual application for real songwriting?  The answer is absolutely yes!  When I was a teenager, first experimenting with songwriting, I wrote a song for a girl, such that the first letter of the third word in each line spelled out "I Love You.", and the tag of the song said:

Look at the first letter in the third word of each line

And you'll see why I'm glad that you are mine

I always remembered the sense of accomplishment in meeting that challenge

(and the big smile on the girl's face…).  More recently, I was working with some kids who had various reading and auditory learning differences, such as dyslexia.  I wanted to write a serious song that might look at things from the perspective of such a child, and tell a story with emotional impact, with the message that God will answer the prayers of a child.  I decided to embed pairs of anagrams and palindromic words (same backwards or forwards e.g., top/pot) in the lyric to simulate an aural dyslexic effect.  This is the technique of creating phonetic ping-points through sonic-reversal, as discussed in "Songcrafters' Coloring Book".

So the challenge that lay before me was to tell a meaningful story, incorporate a dyslexic child, prayer, the act of reading, have God (and thus a doG)  involved, and use specific types of words, all while maintaining a consistent verse/chorus structure and some degree of rhyme-scheme.  Suffice it to say, it was one of the most difficult songwriting tasks I've undertaken, but, it came out to be one of my best songs.  I threw away dozens of pairs of words for every one that I could use but over the course of several days, the song emerged. 

The lyrics are presented here below with the special word-pairs italicized.  There are 29 pairs of palindromes and anagram words.  The song is cited by best-selling author Anu Garg on his website   "doG" was called by hit writer Sheila Davis "a lyrical "tour-de-force", and has been used for many special events involving special education, and programs on spirituality and the power of prayer.   (The video, with the anagrams animated, is at )

doG  words and music by Bill Pere

A child is born and as he grows he sees the world through different eyes

They call him dumb, his name is mud, he cannot read, he does not know why...

Words reverse, then reflip, theypilfer shapes this loser cannot resolve

He has no friends but hopes for a life where love will evolve..


Coming home from school he feels a pull that draws him toward a side street

Dim amid  the shadows stands a dog, a homeless stray

He givesa yell into thealleyat the  dog, as the words spill from his lips

Both drawn onward, like two sisterships, a pull they just can't resist


         Each life tells a tale, but who among us can say

         Whose hand is directing this play?

         Each scene is scripted with care,

         When a child says a prayer...


They run the whole way home, he pets the dog as they bound upon his doorstep

He forgets how all the kids call him a fool, act so aloof, he's happy now.

A boy and a dog felt leftout,   now each has a friend

But this story is only beginning, this play's not reached its end


The dog runs down the hallway, gives a yawn, leads the boy up to the bookcase;

The boy feels a warm tingle in his flesh,  takes a book from the shelf.

This syndrome that makes palindromes is something now he knows he must fight

He seeks a switch, a  lever  that will let him revel in light...


         Each life tells a tale, but who among us can say

         Whose hand is directing this play?

         Each scene is scripted with care,

         When a child says a prayer..


He opens up the book and for a long time, he does not emita sound

He does not gapeat the page, it has no gaps, he does not drown  in words

He calls into the kitchen to his Mom, "Now I won, I understand!

Something's guiding my eyes on a path, like an invisible hand..."


His mother stops the cooking, drops the pots to see what it was  he saw

Her child sits with his dog, his best pal, a book in his lap...

She  keeps peeking at the page he is reading, to see if he is right..

It says "In the beginning, there was darkness, then there was light..."


         Each life tells a tale, but who among us can say

         Whose hand is directing this play?

         Each scene is scripted with care,

         When a child says a prayer...


© 2009 BillPere  KidThink Music

Yclept writing – swing  those extra bats, and you'll get a hit.!

For more, visit


Bill Pere was named one of the "Top 50 Innovators, Groundbreakers and Guiding Lights of the Music Industry"  by Music Connection Magazine.  With more than 30 years in the music business, as a recording artist, award winning songwriter, performer, and educator  Bill is well known  for his superbly crafted  lyrics, with lasting impact.   Bill has released 16 CD's , and is President of the Connecticut Songwriters Association.  Bill is an Official Connecticut State Troubadour, and is the Founder and Executive Director of the LUNCH Ensemble (   Twice named Connecticut Songwriter of the Year,  Bill  is a qualified MBTI practitioner, a member of  MENC,  and as Director of the Connecticut Songwriting Academy he helps develop young talent in songwriting,  performing, and learning about the music business.  Bill's song analyses and critiques are considered  among the best in the industry.

 © Copyright 2010  Bill Pere.  All Rights Reserved.  This article may not be reproduced in any way without permission of the author.  For  workshops,  consultation, performances,  or other songwriter services,  contact Bill via his web sites, at,, and

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