I spent decades of my life not writing songs. I have been writing since I was a child: short stories, poetry, philosophy… but not songs. As obsessed as I was with music, there was always something intimidating about the very best songwriters, as if they were somehow mythical, of a status which I could never reach.
But, after meeting and pairing up with Fred Austin, an acoustic guitarist with a bluegrass and country background, for local Open Mic Nites, I somehow found my way through the looking glass. Suddenly I was granted access into that realm. Becoming a lyricist is not what it seems though. It is a subtle process that sneaks up on you slowly.
So, how do you write song lyrics? My answers may surprise you. To be a songwriter you do not need:
- Songwriting courses or a magic formula
- An English degree (or even perfect grammar)
- To play an instrument or sing perfectly (a voice recording app on your phone is enough)
You, too, can write song lyrics if you…
Find an Oasis
In order to write song lyrics it helps, first and foremost, to create a space for creating. Ideally, this would be a quiet room, or at least a corner of a room, for getting comfortable. But this could be many different things. For some, this could be a dedicated ‘studio’. I like having a studio space, but I am most creative in the bathtub or my closet. It doesn’t have to be ‘neat’ because, let’s face it, creative people usually have messy desks. Or if you prefer to write outdoors, pick a spot and make it as inviting as possible
You are going to be accessing some very delicate feelings within yourself, so you need to feel safe and free in your environment.
Make the space beckon to your inner lyricist. Put some lamps or string lights in the space. Light candles or use oil scents. Put up pictures of inspiring people or places. Make sure you have a comfortable place to sit, and sit there with your notebook or electronic device.
Learn to Relax
For some this can mean opening a window, going for a quick run, taking a hot bath, or having a glass of wine. How you choose to relax will depend upon the time of day and who you may be with while you are writing. The point is that if you are uptight, you probably won’t be very creative.
One thing I do not recommend is eating a lot of decadent food to relax. This will take the blood flow from your brain to your stomach. And caffeine is a slippery slope because, although it may help you generate a flow of ideas, it may leave you too anxious and self-critical to give them a chance.
The point is that in order to write song lyrics, you need to get into the zone where you allow your ideas to come without judgment, naturally and seamlessly.
Let the River Flow
This may be the hardest part. It’s more of a spiritual/emotional process than anything. Here’s where the true answer lies for the question, “How do I write song lyrics?” You create song lyrics by accessing the creative fire. This is where you will find your raw and honest voice. This is where you access your deepest emotions, both good and bad. This is where your memories solidify into artistic expression.
This part, unfortunately, cannot be taught. There is no songwriting course that can teach it and there is no ‘trick’ to it. You have to be willing to let the raw, rhyming honesty of your soul flow from your head onto the screen or paper. That is how you write song lyrics.
Allow a stream of ideas to come. Anything. Put it down. Don’t stop and reread it. Don’t stop to edit it. Keep moving, and don’t judge. This is called a ‘stream of consciousness’. Give yourself a time frame, start with 15 minutes, and allow unadulterated, unchecked thoughts and emotions to stream out of you. If you feel the need to rhyme, that’s fine, but it’s not necessary. You can change the phrasing later.
As you progress, try to dig deeper. Let your mind wander to things that feel important. The state of the world. Things you regret. Things you couldn’t live without. If you had 2 1/2 minutes to live, what would you want to express? What would you be afraid would die with you, having never been said?
Once you have gained access to the ‘content’, you have to be brave enough to share it. If you are anything like me, you will hate it after you write it. You will think it must be stupid, it was too dumb to even bother writing down. But you have to shut all that down and share it anyway. First, share with a trusted friend or partner. Get it out.
This part of the process will immediately and naturally trigger the editing phase. By taking your raw thoughts and sharing them with another, you will feel the urge to improve upon it. You will think of new phrases to replace the less desirable ones and the song will take shape on its own.
Find the Others
Whether you can sing or play instruments is irrelevant, because you can find musicians. They are out there, frequenting Open Mic Nites, doing gigs, sharing on social media. You are definitely not the only dreamer. Go find the others and connect.
Beyond that, you will find your audience. That is the best part. Those who connect with your voice. Your fans. They are what it’s all about. Then all of that painful bravery finds resolution as you finally come to terms with the fact that you are, indeed, a songwriter.
Go Write Some Song Lyrics
There is no magic bullet to songwriting. No one can do the process for you. No one else can make you believe in yourself enough to give yourself a chance. Writers of all kinds know that the writing process is often terrifying. It is exposure of our innermost being.
Courage is never the absence of fear. It is the ability to feel the fear and act anyway, and courage alone creates the ability to write song lyrics. How do I write song lyrics? I believe in myself, and continue forward, even though I am petrified.
Be brave. Be a badass. Go write some song lyrics!