No matter who they are, every artist at some point has struggled with writing lyrics. Here are some tips I’ve learned over the years that have helped me with my writing.
6 Tips on Busting Writer’s Block
My left hand is steady on the perfect chord. My right-hand swings down in tempo and just as I open my mouth I realize…I have no words for this masterpiece…Shit.
Lyrics come swiftly to some…okay, that’s not true. Lyrics are really, really hard. Maybe you’re a freak and it flows from your pen like Bill Shakespeare’s nephew, Dick. But you don’t seem like a Dick to me because you’re reading this; so, obviously, you feel like you need some help.
1. When reading these you only read the bullet points like I do.
Ok, really though, I’ll keep them brief…ish
1. Ask someone who knows NOTHING about writing music
I have a theory, everything you need for writing is in your head already. It’s not some fancy word that kind of rhymes with what you said in the last bar. It’s in that beautiful noggin of yours. What you really need is someone to LISTEN. You probably won’t get that with someone who writes their own songs because they know how to speak in their own voice, not yours. This, oddly enough, works because it can quickly weed through the bad ideas and get to what’s important…SIMPLE TRUTHS. For example; when writing a song about heartbreak, it’s a good idea to talk to a friend who has also been through a heartbreak; that way you get a new perspective on a common phenomenon (haha, I like that…common phenomenon).
HELPFUL HINT: It’s all in the approach. If you come in saying, “Help me write a song,” that person will freeze up and become unhelpful. It’s better if you launch into a philosophical discussion on the song topic and then just LISTEN to what they say. We’re all unique and that makes us the same. The reason music is so grasping is because we’ve all “felt it” before. You never know when someone might have a turn of phrase that ignites you
2. Voice Texting
Now, I understand that voice texting can be annoying. When trying to tell my short, southern belle, sweetheart of a mother I won’t be able to make it for Sunday dinner this weekend and instead, my phone thinks I said, “I will cut my wife because I eat dog shit,”…I’m usually annoyed. But just try this out. Open notes on your phone and just talk, talk, talk about anything close to your subject matter. I swear to God that the ghost of Steve Jobs will help you through your lyrics. It is really interesting to see what it thinks you said. Maybe you’re caught up on a word (especially an adjective) and your nearly deaf phone will listen in and inadvertently (unless my bad joke about Steve Jobs’ ghost is true) give you another word with (usually) the same cadence in syllables. It’s a funny little trick and a wonky line saver.
3. Full Measure/Half Measure
Sometimes you just have to take your mind off the stress of writing and the words will come to you. First, give 100% of your attention to progressing your lyrics for a short amount of time. 5-10 minutes usually works. Turn off the phone, lock yourself in a room and just throw out any and all ideas, good and terrible, you have. It’s important to not think in terms of good and bad during the first step of this exercise. Second, go and do something that requires multitasking so you aren’t able to think about the lyrics. After this, come back and sift through what you’ve written, find and drop the bad ideas, and expand on the good ones. You may have to repeat these steps a few times before finding the lyrics but like I said before, the song is up there in your head, you just have to be patient. It’s been said in countless films and it’s true…it’s one of the few things that Hollywood actually gets right.
4. Use your personal “golden hour”
Learn yourself! Maybe your prime time for writing is 4:00 pm during work. It’s not for me. Everyone has a time they rock it. I have noticed I make the most progression right when I wake up and during the drive to work in the mornings. I know a lot of artists who stay up ‘til…well, when a normal person wakes up, to try to get in the zone. There is something about that consciousness/unconsciousness divide that is special. When you’re not in your “golden hour” don’t be so hard on yourself! Be patient and the lyrics will come.
5. Frankenstein songs MWAHAHAHA *cough* (clears throat) …sorry
I saw John Mayer do this once and it was a lot of fun to watch. Take three songs and one line from each. I’m going to go with “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson, “Lyin Eyes” by the Eagles, and Bowie’s “Changes.” The lines of choice are; “Every head turned with eyes that dreamed of being the one,” by Michael; “To comfort an old friend who’s feelin’ down,” by the Eagles; and Bowie’s line, “So I turned myself to face me.” Now we work like a mad scientist and fix it up. From Changes, we’ll use, “So I turned…” Michael will contribute “Every head” and the Eagles will finish us off. Leaving us with, “So I turned every head to comfort an old friend.” It can be really fun to mix and match things and, at the very least, give you a partial sentence to help your song.
Writing is just like any muscle. Except you can’t do steroids for the brain. You can do shrooms but…don’t do shrooms. The thing is the bright spots of inspiration seem to come more often to those that keep that channel open. It’s important to broaden your thinking on this and to write about literally anything. You can journal your stream of consciousness about a dog you saw that day. Personally, I like to write a poem each day. I start with a word that I think sounds interesting. For example, the word “always,” to me, is a beautiful expression. I’ll write down the story my mind creates when I hear the word.
Writing in a journal also helps keep us linked to our past and experiences. Write like nobody will be reading it later. In fact, DO NOT, DO NOT, DO NOT (that’s three times and a triple negative) write for anyone in that damn thing. This will make your writing become fake and it is a waste of time. You’ll write like shit and we’ll all be disappointed in you – also, I love tangents. Anyways, by keeping a record of thoughts, emotions, and actions, we start to build a well of subject matter for future songs.
Remember that most lyrics are laughable when said out of context, so be bold and brave in your lyrical endeavors! Now if you’ll excuse me, my wife laughed and rolled her eyes at me for that last line. I have to go sulk for the next hour in the bathroom and pretend I’m pooping or something.