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3 Things to Consider When Writing a Song Lyric

Updated: Jul 15



I’ll admit. My creative writing ideas do come at random times.


Like when I’m loading the dishwasher.


Folding towels.


Or cleaning the toilet.


But, there is discipline in the writing process itself even when the ideas come rushing in at odd moments.


It’s not always a eureka moment when spitting out a song. It actually does take technique to write a good song.


I have always believed these little “gifts” of ideas that nature bestows upon the creative are always fragments of something we have experienced in our lives.


It could be a direct experience, or an indirect experience through reading a story or watching a film. It could have been a memory from years ago. It could have been an event from yesterday or an hour ago.


And, that’s the beauty of the art one can create because it is within us.


So how do we put them to good use?


In songwriting, specifically, there is definitely structure and a systematic approach that can be used.


Just like writing an article or a novel, knowing how to approach it and utilizing the common tools in the process can help get you started in writing song lyrics.


Here are 3 things to consider when writing a song, and I will talk specifically to the lyric writing aspect.


1. YOUR STORY



We all have stories to tell. Real, relatable stories because it involves human emotions.


Heartbreak.

Joy.

Travel.

Loss.


Anything that we experience daily can be used as stories.


Every song must tell a story for it to be an effective song. How broad or narrow the story is, that will be up to you to decide.


In finding a story, first think about the emotion. Then you can identify a character you want to explore with this emotion.


For example, with my song Pink Walls, I knew I wanted to write about the emotion of having sad memories of a traumatic experience. Then, I looked at a child growing up with domestic violence in the home.


In the Greatest Gift, I wanted to write about the emotion of gratitude for music teachers. Then, I looked at the characters of teachers and explored their passion for their teaching and the impact they have on their students’ lives.


In my recent single, Sandcastle, I wanted to write about the heartbreak emotion of knowing someone you love only stays for the best parts but gives you up at your worst. Then, I looked at the character of a female partner being left behind in the relationship.

So knowing your story is very important when writing a song lyric. Once you have that, your next step is to …


2. LAY IT OUT



Just like writing essays with a clear intro, body and conclusive paragraph, good songwriting requires a similar structured approach.


This helps organize how you want to build your story. The one challenge perhaps, as opposed to an essay or an article is that you’ve now got to be poetic as well in your writing.


While writing poetry and song may often seem like they have shared elements, there is one big difference in the writing structure.


I came across an interview conducted by Paul Zollo with songwriter, Patti Smith, and she said,

Poetry is a solitary process. Songs are for the people. When I’m writing a song, I imagine performing it. I imagine giving it. It’s a different aspect of communication…  —  Patti Smith

In this sense, poetry writing has more freedom in writing form. It is the opposite with songwriting, which requires careful crafting of the form, because there is another aspect that will need to be added in — the music.


A good approach to writing song lyrics is to section the story into three “boxes” as a framework for the story.


These boxes serve as a stepping stone into how to write the verses and choruses.


Also, we must consider which “box” is going to be the most impactful message?


Typically it would be the last box. If you think about it, that’s what you’re building up to in the story, some sort if climax; an impactful message.


It helps to understand the various song structures as sometimes songs can be different in their placements of choruses or use of bridges, pre-choruses, refrains, etc. But for the purposes of this post, we’ll stick to just the basic pop song “verse-chorus-bridge-chorus” structure.


For example, if I’m writing about dancing and falling in love; I would frame it up to look something like this:


Box 1: I’m at a bar, there’s good music, I want to dance but I’m too shy

Box 2: Then I see this handsome guy, he approaches to ask if I’d like to dance with him

Box 3: We take to the floor and dance and there’s romance in the air


It doesn’t have to be fancy words, as the goal is for it to function as a starting point to lay out your narrative when you write the verses and figure out what you want to say in the chorus; which typically is the most impactful part of the song.


This will also help you decide if you want to write in 1st, 2nd or 3rd person narrative.


Once you’ve framed up your story, you can proceed to …


3. BRAINSTORM KEYWORDS


Now, pick 10 keywords you’re going to start figuring out rhymes for.


These keywords should relate to the subject, scene or object in your story.


For each keyword, you’re going to find at least 5-10 more words that rhyme with it.


Some words may be suitable to use, some may not. At this point it doesn’t matter, as long as you brainstorm and write it all down.


This will greatly help you kickstart the writing of the lyrics itself.


Sometimes, but not always, you can get stuck half way.


When this happens, you can try an activity called “object writing.”


You’ll be surprised how much creative phrases you can conjure with a 10-minute timer, a pen and a page of your notebook!


The key with object writing is to free-flow write. So don’t spend time correcting grammar or wonder if it makes sense.


Your goal is to write without judgement for 10 minutes, then go back and read it again.


Trust me, you will find lots of hidden gems this way that you can use in your songwriting!


 

Did you like this article? If yes, I'd love to hear your thoughts!


I would be happy to share more in a Songwriting Workshop for songwriters of all levels in January 2025.


Would this be something that interests you? If yes, please submit a vote on topics you feel would benefit you in the workshop. Thank you!


I'd love to hear what interests you!

  • Songwriting Tips & Learning (lyrics + music)

  • Social Media & Marketing Tips (for releasing a song)

  • Both!


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