Improve Your Lyric Writing
Improve your lyric writing by developing your songwriting skills, learning new techniques, and naturally building a songwriter’s tool kit.
Table of Contents
Lyric writing comes from the heart, but not the heart alone.
We use our minds to express what we feel, to convey what we mean. Writing lyrics uses several aspects of our mind, not just our feelings. For example:
- Observation and Objectivity
Develop Your Songwriting Skills
You can develop your lyric writing skills, and learn new techniques and new ways to express yourself. As you learn you naturally build a tool kit that you use to communicate with listeners. Some lyricists and songwriters believe that formalizing both the building and the use of a songwriter’s tool kit somehow lessens the authenticity of the lyrics created, but this is naive and short-sighted.
Why? Well for a start lyricists already employ lots of skills that they learned in a formal manner, not least of which is reading and writing. Certainly, you can create a lyric that is never written down, but let’s face it, it’s not a common approach for commercial lyrics. You will also have learned something about the basics of the language and its constructs such as vocabulary and punctuation. In the case of poetry or lyrics, you will also have learned something about rhyme and structure, although for many new lyricists these skills are due more to exposure than formal learning.
The point is, that we all use skills that we learned formally all the time. It is we, the writers, who decide how and when to use those skills. So why is it that some writers feel that approaching songwriting in a formal way, and actually learning to improve their skills, somehow contaminates their lyrics in a detrimental way?
For example: if you knew half the words you currently do, your writing is bound to be constrained by your lack of knowledge. They are likely to be less effective and less eloquent.
Exercise: try and write a song without using the letter “e”. The premise is that you don’t even know that letter exists. The resulting song may be able to communicate meaning to the listener, but it is likely to sound clumsy and awkward.
So, to improve our songwriting we have to be open to learning and build upon those skills which we already have. Sounds obvious.
A formal writing process enhances our ability to express what we mean, in the best way. It can make use of methods and approaches designed to stop writing block or to overcome it if you do find yourself stuck. It can clarify what we are trying to say, to ourselves, and the writers, and therefore make it clearer to the listener.
In order to improve our own writing, we need to hone our mental skills. As part of this, we also need to improve the way we learn.
So what knowledge do you need to know about in order to improve your lyric writing?
- The standard song forms (song structures)
- Rhyming schemes and other lyrical mechanisms
- A language that enables you to effectively discuss songwriting
How can you develop creativity?
There are lots of ways to encourage your creativity, but I think that interacting with other writers is a key component. Also, pay attention to your own environment. Make it a pleasant writing experience, so take some time to remove distractions.
Observation and Objectivity
Be aware of the world. Take notes of your ideas, and things of interest. You need to be able to change your perspective and look at things from a different viewpoint. You need to be able to balance and be aware of your emotional reactions while retaining an objective approach. Improving your observation skills will also help you to spot problems within a lyric or for that matter the bits that are really effective.
You need to apply those skills to your own lyrics. Retaining objectivity with your own lyrics is hard to do, but it is an essential skill in writing songs that work.
You need to be able to decompose a song and understand the mechanisms it employs and how they work within the song. Apply your knowledge and creativity with objectivity.
It’s not enough to merely know that a verse doesn’t work. You have to work out why.
Spend some time working on how you learn. Take notes. Draft some lines. You’ll notice a theme. Writing.
Use a book to keep it all in! Personally, I use two books at any one time. One small notebook I can carry with me for jotting down notes and ideas. I also use a larger A4 notebook for jotting down what I learn, and for finished lyrics. The large book consolidates what I learn. To be honest, I also have a lever arch file that I use for the scraps of paper I jot ideas on when I do not have my notebook with me. When I get back to base I do try to copy those scraps into my small notebook, but I also keep the scraps just in case!
Some writers also use a mobile recorder of some kind to dictate their ideas. They can be a very effective way of work, as long as you then write up what you record. It’s a matter of personal preference, so feel free to try both methods to see what works for you.
A rhyming dictionary, thesaurus, dictionary, small notebook, a large notebook, mobile recording device, and of course the resources available at Songstuff, especially the songwriting boards and our songwriting articles!
Improve Your Lyric Writing Using Critique
Critiquing skills are the most important tool in your songwriter’s toolbox. This is primarily because they promote understanding and they touch on or benefit virtually all aspects of writing a song. Critique allows you to develop your analysis skills, your awareness of how the lyric works, and why some bits don’t. It cements your understanding and ultimately allows you to edit effectively. Longer-term critiquing will allow you to more effectively plan a lyric, resulting in better quality lyrics, which are written faster, and more cohesively and more of your lyrics will make it through to finished songs.
Critiquing the work of others is vital!
Why? Well, to begin with, critiquing your own work does not expose you to new ideas and mechanisms. Critiquing your own work is always colored by your own personal attachments to lines, schemes, forms, and perspectives.
Critiquing the work of others allows you to develop your skills independently of a lot of the baggage you carry when you look at your own songs. It helps both you and the writer understand more about how lyrics and songs work. Obviously, it does also expose you to completely different perspectives and critique is an excellent way for writers to exchange their ideas.
Try new things, and learn from them. Keep notes on what works, and what doesn’t.
Be open to suggestions from others. Explore those suggestions. Understand their viewpoint.
Try to use a formal approach to your writing.
Critique the work of others. Critique to as high a standard as possible. The more you put in, the more you will get out.
Reap the rewards. Use your head as well as your heart.
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