These articles will address a few different challenges songwriters come across:
-if you have been a musician for a while or even written instrumental songs before, but feel lost in terms of how to start writing lyrics
-if you want to start songwriting by working on lyrics first
and here’s the interesting one:
-if you have writer’s block as a lyricist, regardless of experience
The solution is the same in all cases so that’s what I’ll be covering here.
This is Part 1, and our objective is:
Exercise Creative Flow
Seems simple but boy is this is a deep topic!
To give you the jist of the concept, the way to start any kind of creative writing is to do exercises to first just open up what many people call the “right brain”, your imaginative side, by itself, and let yourself be wildly creative, and turn off your “left brain” that works more on judging, nitpicking or analyzing anything you write. There are a couple many ways to do this, however I will start by showing an exercise called object writing, and some cool variations on it.
So let’s get into the exercise!
The basic instruction of Object Writing is:
Pick an object, set a timer for 10 minutes and write about it using lots of sensory detail.
As with many skills in life, being successful on this exercise depends so much on HOW you do it.
Before we do anything, let’s start with a sample of an object write I’ve done so you can learn first by your own observation, and then I’ll explain how to do it in further detail. Remember this is a writing exercise, not a final product, in fact it’s one of the most RAW forms of creative writing I’ve ever posted online!
Could you read my chicken scratch? If you tried to make out the whole thing, you must be pretty passionate about songwriting! 🙂
So let me elaborate on some things here. A lot of these details may get kind of complex so I would recommend reading this over several times to really let these ideas sink in.
I personally believe, from my own experience, that there is a creative benefit to writing pen on paper, compared to typing. I think the medium is more deeply rooted into our biology and psychology and is closer to how we are naturally designed to express ourselves. So while you can still come up with brilliant material on electronic mediums, I do believe you will be at an advantage if you do this exercise on pen and paper. Also since handwriting takes a bit longer than typing it aids with the next aspect which is the ability to get into a flow of writing non stop.
- Non-stop writing
I highly recommend writing non-stop on this exercise because it gives you no time to judge yourself and this is what I do personally to get the strongest creative flow going. The only time I personally stop is if I have a really nice word on the tip of my tongue and I just have to wait a few seconds to remember it. Other than that I literally do not stop writing. I don’t erase anything either, I may cross out or fix a grammar error or something caused by writing so fast, but I don’t erase any THOUGHTS i’ve expressed.
Try to do this exercise every day. Pat Pattison recommends to do it first thing in the morning, but in my opinion I think it’s okay to experiment with whatever times you want as long as are consistent about doing it regularly.
I understand no one is perfect and you find yourself skipping a day here and there. But I personally notice that if I skip a day or two my writing will start getting worse, almost undoing the progress of the previous day or so, so that should be good motivation to be consistent with this. I’m sure you will notice the same thing yourself as this is just human nature. Creative writing is like a muscle, if you don’t use it, you lose it. Another thing I notice with this exercise is that you may have to be doing it consistently for over a month in order for it to become second nature and really feel a marked improvement on it, so be patient and stick with it. Don’t give up even if it seems like your writing isn’t getting better yet. In my experience this was definitely a skill where progress seemed nearly invisible in the short term, but I also noticed that once I started doing this exercise consistently, when it came to actually writing lyrics, I came up with good material much quicker.
- Explore as many senses as you can
You want to try to remember to use all the five senses, if you can get them to make sense, that is. Let’s be real, not every topic lends itself to a lot of smell and taste description! But wait, 5 senses only? Nope. That’s only the START! Try to use even MORE because more do exist! Don’t be afraid to bring your mind into the realm of crazy dimensions you may not even understand yet, as well as exploring metaphor or simile, writing from the perspective of the object itself or someone or something other than you, anything that you could use to add descriptive power and give your writing a more multi-dimensional feel. One of my personal philosophies is to replace the idea of a sense of “touch” with a “feeling” sense…because you can also feel things you can’t touch…you can feel your heart pounding in your chest, you can feel your breathing tighten up, you can feel like something’s about to happen, you can feel all kinds of emotions, you can feel like don’t know which way is down or up, you can feel like time is slowing down or speeding up. Try to explore your full sensory depth with these exercises.
Also be careful not to just sound like you are describing something like you’re a narrator on Animal Planet or something. When you read back your object write it should sound kind of like lyrical material, not material for a term paper, so pay special attention to your tone and make sure it is headed in a poetic or musical direction. Actively listening to a lot of great lyricists will help you build of sense of the right tone for lyric writing which is a very important point we will cover later, but the one note I’d like to make now is that it is something you need to learn organically by being exposed to it a lot.
Also for this exercise, do not restrict yourself to full sentences. Try mixing fragments with sentences. You should just write in whatever form you feel like.
6. Using Rhyme to Generate Ideas
This is a little trick I like to use sometimes, it comes a bit from a freestyle rapping kind of feel. The simple idea is that trying to rhyme your thoughts together can encourage more creativity in your stream of consciousness.
This is a really nice technique if you feel like your brain is starting to shut off and you seem to be writing on autopilot, you can STILL be creative simply by starting thinking of rhyming phrases together to direct your next thought. If you chose to use this approach, think about the same freedom you used in your sentence structure and use it in your rhyming structure, don’t get locked into one rhyme scheme.
By the way, don’t be harsh on yourself if you don’t achieve any of these goals or use all of the techniques mentioned, because remember our goal is to use this exercise to explore creativity, not to judge how good our writing is. Any of these ideas I have provided are for the sole intent to INCREASE your creativity. If any of them make you less creative, don’t use them!
- Exercise variations
You can replace the object with concepts, themes, places, adjectives, whatever you want, or even using a song topic you want to make a song for and use this exercise as you avenue to generate ideas.
The starting word doesn’t have to be an object as the only real point of it is to give you a starting point to spark the creative flow. You may decide you want to stay on topic to that word or you may feel like it’s taking you in a new direction so but the point is wherever your mind goes, your mind follows. I often veer off topic of the original word and come back whenever I feel like it.
- Alternate approach
Forget everything! Try no structure and just write completely freely with ZERO limits.
Perhaps you don’t like ANY of this structure, or maybe you are simple kind of mind and all these details are confusing you. Nothing wrong with that. You can also tap into your creativity by taking a completely free approach. Write pages of free write creative material and just don’t judge it while you write. Just make sure you are actually writing and that you are writing a lot before deciding to get frustrated with yourself.
9. Underlining your best ideas
At a later time, after doing these object writes, you can read them back and underline the favorite ideas you came up with, that you feel could make good lines in a lyric. This is the only part of the process that involves your judging/analyzing mindset.
And now everything you’ve underlined can be used as the beginning spark of a new song, and you’ll find much of it can be combined together all into the same song.
Okay, so you’re wondering, what’s the main point here? Why am I doing all this crazy creative stuff?
Here’s the answer:
Inspiration comes from writing.
People are always talking about not being able to find inspiration, especially in a time of writer’s block.
The fact is inspiration comes from everywhere but you need to write a lot FIRST to start finding it. You will notice that when you do lots of free writing, subconscious influences start coming in, such as something a friend said to you yesterday. Things that seem like it would have nothing to do with lyric writing, but will shows up when you just write and don’t judge yourself. You WANT these influences to naturally come into your writing like that.
I’m focusing so much on flow and creativity here because judging your writing as good or bad is something that must happen later and this is the key to getting out of writer’s block and building confidence in your writing. You have to literally not give a damn about what you are writing and just write. If you write enough, the law of probability will guarantee that there are some great ideas in there. You can always strengthen your ability to judge good lyrics from bad lyrics later, and if you have written enough material, you will already have material to judge. If you judge yourself first before you start writing, you don’t give your creativity an opportunity to flow smoothly and you’ll have zero chance at good ideas.
I want you to think of lyrics as being a process where you write 5 pages of shit, just utter nonsense first, like you literally don’t care how good it is and you’re just try to be as creative as you can. And THEN you go back and pick out the random golden lines that happened to come out and funnel those into a new, polished lyric.
So remember, create first, judge later. Later on, in time, you will develop the skill to judge your writing as you create it and not ruin your creative flow, giving space for each part of the brain to work without them stepping on each other. But I cannot emphasize enough, the creative flow should come first in the process.
Also you should never ever feel like you have to hide anything. Keep your lyrics private at first and express yourself 100% as you want to as if no one will ever read your lyrics because chances are they won’t come across the unfinished product if it’s just in a notebook sitting in your bedroom or kept in the notes of your phone. After you express yourself fully in writing more and more it will start to feel more normal and you will feel more comfortable with other people reading your raw work, especially since your skills will have improved as well. So that will come in time, but the last thing you want to be as a lyric writer is scared of your own ideas.
In the eyes of the creative mind, all ideas are beautiful, and they will flow infinitely in your writing. The more revisit that creative state of mind every day, the faster your greatest lyrics will arrive.
Have a splendid time writing your heart out. 🙂