22 February - 2017
Advice for Lyricists: Part One – The Writing Process By: Nikki Halliwell, 3 Comments

Whether it’s writing your first ever song or simply finding inspiration to write the next, a lot of people would agree that it’s the starting that is most difficult. Thankfully, there are many places lyricists can find inspiration and many ways to use it. It’s all about finding your inspiration and making a start.

Literary Techniques

Exposing yourself to language in all of it’s forms whether it’s other lyrics, poetry or novels is important; it’s helpful and rewarding as a writer to expand your vocabulary and your skills. Learning new words or literary techniques can also help to inspire you to write something new.

Certain literary devices can be important for lyricists to know and utilise in their writing. They can affect how your lyrics scan and how the song flows.

For example:

  • Assonance:

Assonance takes place when two or more words close to each other have the same vowel sound e.g. “I must confess that in my quest I felt depressed and restless.” – Thin Lizzy

  • Internal rhyme:

As apposed to ‘end rhymes’, where the last word of a line rhymes with the last word of another line. Internal rhyme is when a word in the middle of the line rhymes with one at the end of a line. Half or slant rhymes are when the words almost rhyme but it is not a perfect rhyme. This often works well within songs because it means you are avoiding contrived and forced rhymes. It is worth making yourself familiar with the different types of rhymes and rhyme schemes considering songs can rely on them so heavily.

Lyricists can use some of the same devices that poets do. Therefore, even though the writing process is different, reading poetry can be useful in learning these techniques.

Wordplay and double meanings are other types of literary techniques that can add another layer to your lyrics. For example, Panic! at the Disco’s ‘Nicotine’ includes the line “Your love’s a f**king drag”, which is a double meaning due to the title (and theming) of the song. Creating these hidden meanings within metaphorical language can assist you to create a theme and a feeling for a song.

Themes

If you’re struggling to come up with ideas or lines for a song it may be useful to first think of a theme. It helps if this theme isn’t too vague (as ‘love’ is a very broad topic and probably wouldn’t get you very far). That said, it doesn’t need to be anything too fixed or literal, the theme can be an image, a word or just a sentence that sums up the meaning of the song.

Again, thinking about the feel of a song can be helpful too. For example, you may want your song to conjure up images of a nightclub (this is where connotation comes in!) You could create a spider diagram (even if it’s a mental one) of relevant words and this may eventually turn into full lines. At this point the lines you come up with don’t need to be particularly poetic; just note down what you want to say in plain language and you can make it sound better later!

You can base metaphorical language around this theme (as mentioned earlier with the Panic! at the Disco song). Or you can just use these ideas as reference so that you don’t stray too far from your original meaning when writing. Having a strong theme can help the audience empathise and can make an overall more powerful song.

If you are a visual person you may want to create a mood board instead of, or alongside, your theme. Visuals and aesthetics can help to stimulate and inspire you to come up with new ideas for the feel or content of your song.

Becoming Analytical

We often do this by accident but as well as simply listening to or reading other work it can help to start analysing this work. You may find this comes quite naturally or you may need to work at it. however as somebody who is interested in writing themselves you will probably find it quite easy to analyse other people’s work.

This will also help you develop your own sense of style within your lyrics. Try to work out why you do or don’t like certain lyrics.

This can also be applied to the music, down to specific techniques used or just the feel of the song. Try to work out how they’ve created this.

Just Press Record

If you aren’t sure where to start or you’re stuck in a rut don’t underestimate your subconscious! It’s amazing what you can come up with on the fly so just press record and start singing.

It may feel uncomfortable for a start and sure, some of it won’t make sense but you may come up with a line totally by accident that you end up using. It’s amazing what you can come up with on the fly!

Setting Goals

Another helpful method is to set yourself ‘songwriting tasks’ – come up with a topic for each week or month and write about that. It doesn’t need to be perfect, it’s just a way of getting you writing if you perhaps haven’t for a while or have never seriously started.

You could get somebody else to come up with these themes or topics if you need more incentive. This is also a good way of writing about something different and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.

Similarly, there is a method called the Seinfeld Strategy, in which the idea is basically to write everyday. You can make yourself a small goal to reach everyday (e.g. write for 15 minutes a day) and every time you do it cross it off. The point isn’t to reach a certain achievement but simply not to break the chain, this builds habit.

A lot of people may think that planning a song is blasphemy; that it destroys the art of it, that things should just happen. But let’s be real, writing is writing and sometimes it doesn’t ‘just happen’ as much as you would like it to. A novelist wouldn’t write a book without planning, why should lyricists be any different? Of course some of it will come to you when you’re in the shower or in bed (it’s never at a good time is it?) but some parts may need to be planned, and that’s okay! This plan can be based around your mood board and/or your theme. It doesn’t have to be solid and you can stray from it and change it as much as you want.

You Gotta Start Somewhere

Finally, the big take away is to just get writing. Try not to let perfectionism or judgement get in the way. You don’t have to write a masterpiece every time you sit down. Practise makes perfect, even if that practise doesn’t amount to a full song each time. If you’re passionate about it keep going! You’ve got to start somewhere. Most, if not all, artists do not start out being brilliant lyricists.

Part 2 covers what you should do once you’ve started writing.