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  • Writer's pictureMadeline Benson

Write some lyrics with me!

Have you ever struggled to get started when writing lyrics? Are you fantastic at coming up with melodies and chord progressions, but have a hard time finding the right words? If so, you are not alone - and you’ve come to the right place!

Writing lyrics is hard. It is extremely hard. From my own experience, it can be incredibly difficult to even START writing sometimes. Writing is also one of the most rewarding creative processes, and that feeling when something finally “clicks” is unmatched by anything else. In order to jump-start my own brain and get myself to write on days when I’m finding it difficult, I’ve devised a writing routine that has worked wonderfully for me. And today, I’d like to share it with you!

Follow along with me, and let’s write some lyrics together! Feel free to try each step on your own as we go!

Step 1

To start, I love to begin with a 15 minute free-write. All too often, there are various songs stuck in my head and stressors from the day taking over my brain. Spending 15 minutes just writing whatever comes to mind and getting it all down on paper really helps me think more clearly and get in the right “mindset” for writing.

And when I say “write whatever comes to mind,” I really do mean that! One time, I spent 15 minutes just writing down various Gin Blossoms lyrics because I had listened to their New Miserable Experience album recently and I couldn’t get it out of my head. Another time, I wrote my grocery list. Then there was the time I wrote out all the words to “Hoedown Throwdown.” You get the idea! It doesn’t matter what goes on the page during a free write - all that matters is that you write.

Here’s a photo of one of my journal pages after a free-write… Have fun trying to read it! :P

A journal open to a page full of handwriting.

Step 2

Next, I try to come up with a list of clear ideas to work with. I believe that the best way to write spectacular lyrics is to make sure that everything you write is in service to the main idea or “theme” of the song. Once I decide on a theme, I try to make it as specific and crystal clear as possible. Having a solid thematic idea in mind can be incredibly helpful when it comes to structuring the song and determining where you want the song to “travel.”

This evening, I came up with eight different themes. I’m going to focus on just one: that feeling when you’re unable to be fully present because there’s something weighing on you that you haven’t addressed. I like this idea because it’s a near-universal feeling, and the stakes can be as high or as low as you want. We’ve all put off homework before, for example. Or, on a more serious note, many of us have avoided having difficult conversations throughout our lives. This will be a fun idea to explore.

Step 3

After I’ve decided on my theme, I spend another 15 minutes meditating on the idea and scribbling down whatever comes to mind when I think of it. For instance, if I’m working with the idea of missing someone, I’ll conceptualize that person and experience in my head and write down every single detail I can think of. This process helps me flesh out the idea and start to “live” in the headspace of the song. I’ve also come up with some great lines this way!

For my idea of “being unable to be fully present,” here is a list of questions I will need to answer through this exploration:

  • What is on the protagonist’s mind?

  • What are they avoiding or refusing to address?

  • What’s at stake?

  • What are the consequences?

  • What do they “want?”

Try making your own list of relevant questions to answer! You don’t need to use everything you come up with, but this exercise can help make the character and situation feel stronger and more defined when you go to write lyrics.

Bonus points: One of my favorite ways to develop a song’s “character” is to think about what my protagonist would be writing with. The choice of writing utensils and mediums can say a lot about a person. If your protagonist was writing the song, what would they be writing with? A fountain pen and thick, creamy paper? A fluffy pink gel pen and a spiral bound notebook? A stick of eyeliner and an old map, a la Daisy Jones and the Six? Think about what your character would be using to write, and then if you have those materials handy, try writing with them. See what that experience is like for you!

Step 4

Once I’ve done all of this research and I have a solid idea of what I’m writing about, I move to my computer and/or phone. I like using Word documents or the Notes app on my iPhone to help organize my ideas. My handwriting tends to be incredibly messy, and seeing everything typed out is less overwhelming!

On my computer, I figure out how I want to structure the song, and I also type up any great lines or ideas that came from the free-writing research.

Typically by this point, I’ve done enough research that the song starts to “write itself.” I’ll use the lines I pluck from the free-writes to help me figure out my rhyming scheme (or lack of one). When I have my structure, rhyming scheme, and a solid start down, I can just write!

Here’s my end result!

There’s a shadow at the edge of town / that only I can see

Begging me to come back down / I’ll never be set free

Underneath the moonlit night

the hours have slowly grown

I should tell you that I love you / and then find my way back home

But if I could clear my mind

We could leave it all behind

We could wave tomorrow by

We could even learn to fly

If I could clear my mind

Would you follow me inside

We’ll hold onto the midnight sky

Just you and I

Just you and I

There’s lightning in the dark tonight / it’s raining down on me

Down the road lies all we know / and all that we could be

If I turned around / would you take my hand

I’m tired of all the lies

I’ve finally found a friend who knows / the color of my eyes

If I could clear my mind

We could leave it all behind

We could wave tomorrow by

We could even learn to fly

If I could clear my mind

Would you follow me inside

We’ll hold onto the midnight sky

Just you and I

Just you and I

Just you and I

This is a decent first draft. It’s incredibly mold-able, which is helpful if you’re trying to figure out your lyrics before coming up with your melody. I try to always write at least enough material for a basic verse-bridge-chorus, verse-bridge-chorus structure. Once I have that, I feel comfortable showing my work to a composer or co-writer and going from there. If you have all of your basics down, it’s way more fun to experiment!

And that’s it! This is the routine I follow when I am working on something by myself. If I’m in a room with a fellow artist and we’re working together, the process tends to take on a different shape depending on who I’m working with. I’ll talk about that in a future article!

So, how did it go? Was this fun, or frustrating - or both? Remember, this is just practice, so don’t be too hard on yourself if it didn’t come out exactly like you hoped. The more you write, the easier it will get, and over time, you’ll become a stronger writer!

I had so much fun writing this article for y’all. Thanks for hanging out with me today. See you next time!

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