Dolly Parton Once Said She Writes Songs ‘in Just a Few Minutes’

Dolly Parton has written thousands of songs. For the famed country singer, songwriting has always come easy. She was writing music as soon as she could form sentences as a young child. In an interview the “Jolene” singer did in 1967, she was asked about her writing process. The Queen of Country revealed she writes many of her songs “in just a few minutes.”

Dolly Parton on stage at 'The Tonight Show.' She's holding a guitar.
Dolly Parton | Andrew Lipovsky/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

It doesn’t take Dolly Parton very long to write a song

In 1967, a young 21-year-old Dolly Parton was interviewed by Music City News. Her interviewer asked her how long it takes her to write a song.

“That would depend,” she said, as recorded by the book Dolly on Dolly. “Some of my very best songs I’ve written within thirty minutes’ time. And then some songs it takes me [longer]. Really, I can’t really say that I’ve ever taken more than an hour on a song. Usually I can write a song—especially an uptempo song—in just a few minutes. Especially if I have the idea and everything in my mind.”

Though Parton could get the first draft of a song down within only a few minutes, she did often go back and make edits.

“Now, I can write a song in fifteen minutes and complete it,” she said. “But then I start sayin’ it back over and everything and I’ll hear a lot of things I don’t think would be good in there. So I go back and change lines and ideas.”

When Dolly Parton was just starting out, she couldn’t read music

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Parton has said through the years that some of her most famous songs have been written on things like receipts and old hotel notepads. Back in 1967, she rarely used a recorder.

“Usually I’ll just write,” she said. “I’ll write the chords or the words, but usually, after I sing a song a couple of times, I’ll remember how it goes.”

When asked if she can read music, the “9 to 5” singer said: “No, I can’t.”

“But I write all my tunes and my words and everything,” she said. “Now I can read a little music, but not enough to brag about. Not enough to really work with.”

When inspiration strikes

Parton said that she’d often write songs while she was doing other things, like cooking.

“Sometimes I’ll be writin’ a song and I’ll be cookin’ or I’ll be doin’ this or that and I’ll just be thinkin’ while I’m doin’ it and I just write when I think of a good line,” she said. “I just think before I write it down.”

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Songs would also come to Parton in her dreams. Generally, the night is an inspiring time for the Queen of Country.

“Sometimes—I think most everybody does this—I dream of songs,” she said. “I dream of writin’ songs. Sometimes I can remember ’em the next mornin’ and then sometimes I can’t. Usually I get a lot of good ideas in the night. I guess it’s ’cause it’s so quiet. I’ll get up and write ’em down and maybe finish them the next morning. And then maybe I’ll just stay up and write ’em. It depends on how knocked-out I am! [Laughs] So my ideas just come from different places. I get inspired from different things.”