April 15, 2022
Lyrics are a bane for some musicians – for others they seem to come quickly and easily. But it’s not just God-given talent that makes good lyrics come quickly. There are a few tried and true techniques for speeding up the journey from nothing to something good. Here are our top 5 tips for writing better lyrics faster.
Writing is a skill, and like any other skill, it can get sluggish and rusty if it’s not consistently used. So instead of waiting for inspiration to strike or for a studio session to be looming, get in a pattern of writing every day, or nearly every day. This doesn’t mean you have to finish songs daily; it just means continually practicing the craft and going through the motion of writing things. This could mean morning brainstorm sessions, evening songwriter jams, or making a habit of writing in a notebook at lunch.
While you’re at it, carry a notebook around all the time and jot down any idea that happens to come into your head. This will give you more fodder to draw from when you want to craft a song and will make sure you don’t lose the best ideas in the moment.
Pro Tip: As you’re brainstorming, you’ll know in your gut which lines are awesome. Instead of digging through everything later, circle or highlight the lines that pop out so you can find them easily later.
The best way to slow the writing process down or grind it to a halt is to be too critical too early. Instead of deciding that a lyric is bad or trying to edit while you’re writing, let yourself flow. If you’re in a brainstorming session, turn the critic off altogether and don’t bother to edit anything. These sessions are strictly for practicing the skill of writing and keeping your flow open. Some writers even write stream of consciousness pages and throw them away.
Similarly, if you’re writing an actual song, go ahead and finish it, regardless of whether you think it’s bad or good. Get to the end, and even set it to music. Then you can go back and edit. As long as you don’t get too attached, it should no problem to change out a word or rearrange something. This is a good time to seek feedback.
Pro Tip: It can be helpful to leave a song be for a few days or weeks. Finish the song, set it down, and move on. Later, get feedback or edit with a critical eye. This will give you enough separation to be unbiased – which doesn’t mean being critical. It also means recognizing the great stuff that your inner critic wasn’t letting you see before.
Sometimes it can make lyric writing faster and more creative if you don’t sit at the piano or guitar and write lyric and melody together. If that’s your habit, try separating the two sometimes. Take a notebook and write lyric sets. This can help you find different phrases, rhythmic structures, and ideas that may not come when your brain is doing two things at once. Plus, if you’ve been doing it a while, your musical style can lock you into a lyrical style. Writing lyrics in a notebook will tap into just your style of writing words and could very well make you discover something new musically when you try to find a melody to go with the new lyrics.
Pro Tip: You can also write lyrics while listening to another song. In this case, it helps to leave them aside for a long time – weeks and weeks – to totally forget the melody and rhythm of the original song, so you don’t accidentally plagiarize it. Or write very different music and smoosh the two together.
Brainstorming is the time to forget all rules and write with no limits. But what’s not often admitted is that brainstorming sessions don’t often lead to completed songs on their own. So, in addition to brainstorming, try limiting yourself. Challenge yourself to write a specific genre, formula, or song structure.
For example, you could decide that you will now write a verse, chorus, verse chorus, bridge, chorus song about a red bird in a tree. You can use this technique as an exercise, or you can also use it to quickly create full songs you intend to use. The point here is to remove as many questions as possible before you start.
Pro Tip(s): Get the prompt from someone else sometimes and try limiting the writing timeframe – i.e.: “give me a subject. I’ll write an AABA song from start to finish while you’re on the treadmill.” Remember the point is to stay on task and don’t get bogged down. Like brainstorming sessions, you shouldn’t edit these until later.
Our last tip is the least esoteric. Using a thesaurus and rhyming dictionary does two things: it helps you write more unique lyrics, and it helps speed up the process. Rather than trying to think up all the words you can think that rhyme with something, skip the trouble and look it up. Similarly, rather than getting stuck in trying to be creative and find cooler words that you can’t think of – just look it up.
You can use these tools in editing to spice up a song, but you can also just have them open on a computer while you’re writing out a song. Just remember not to get bogged down. Grab the first alternative word that strikes your fancy – you can always change it later.
Writing lyrics needn’t be all that hard, especially if you let go of the idea that you have limited good ideas. The overarching piece of advice here is let it flow.
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