Throughout her career, Dolly Parton has written thousands of songs. She sings from the perspective of men, women, and children alike, in all sorts of different situations and walks of life. But how much of a Dolly Parton song is based in truth, from something in her real life? According to the singer, not all that often. While she does have songs that are directly inspired by events that really happened to her (like “Coat of Many Colors,” for instance), she has her “big imagination” to thank for her seemingly endless discography.
Where Dolly Parton finds inspiration for her songs
Parton has been singing and making up songs since she was 6 years old. Her first song was about a corncob doll named Tasseltop her mother made her. It went: “Little tiny Tasseltop, you’re the only friend I’ve got. Hope you never go away. I want you to always stay.”
While Parton does write “from [her] own heart” and experiences, she also uses her “big imagination” to come up with ideas for songs.
“When I was young, we didn’t go to the movies, so I just created my own stories,” she wrote in her book, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics. “It’s kind of embedded in me to make up songs and stories. I’d read something in a book or hear something and think, ‘What would happen next? What kind of story would that turn out to be?’ And ever since I was a small child, I have had the gift to rhyme things.”
Another way Parton has always found inspiration is by walking through a graveyard. She’d see all the different names on the tombstones and invent stories about their lives.
Dolly Parton can write songs ‘anywhere, anytime, any place’
In her book, Parton writes that she often gets asked about her writing process — does she need a specific place or special conditions? In short: Nope!
“I can write anywhere, anytime, any place,” she wrote. “I don’t have to be in any particular environment. Noise or anything else around me can’t stop me. On my tour bus, on an airplane, in the bathtub, or just about anywhere, the writing comes all the time.”
That being said, Parton does have a favorite writing set-up.
“My preference is to take time off to do nothing but write,” she wrote. “But that’s a luxury I don’t have much anymore. I used to have more time to do that, to go off by myself. I love to sit around for hours, alone with a good cup of coffee, and just do my thing.”
Entering the ‘God space’
To Parton, writing is a holy experience. Some songwriters get in the zone; Parton gets in her ‘God space.’
“I call it my spiritual zone,” she wrote. “I feel like I’m closest to God when I write. I have to leave myself open for the songs to come in or go out. But God doesn’t hand you everything. You have to do the work. Still, every once in a while, something special happens. A great line will just come to me, and I’ll go, ‘Hey, thank you, Lord. I know I didn’t think of that.'”