Writing Better Lyrics in Your Songs
Lyric writing is often romanticized by songwriters.
Some believe that unless you live your life, collect memories and let the words come to you in moments of bursting inspiration, your songs won’t come out true.
Experienced songwriters don’t sit around and wait for those moments, because they know better: learning how to play a musical instrument requires plenty of practice. The same is true for the skill of writing lyrics.
In my years of writing, co-writing and teaching songwriting to others, I’ve compiled a list of strategies for how to write lyrics that seem to stand the test of time, regardless of skill-level and genre.
Writing lyrics is often the hardest part of songwriting. But it turns out, there is a way to prevent writer’s block, after all! Read on for the best tips about how to write good lyrics.
What makes great songwriting?
Music is often in the ear of the beholder. Some people like pop, others like rock. Some like jazz, others classical. But there’s one thing that great songs have in common, and that’s great lyrics.
Writing better lyrics isn’t just about emotion—although that is a big part of it.
It’s also about understanding the parts of a song and how they fit together. It’s about having an open mind, both to new experiences and to feedback (or criticism!) of your lyrics. And it’s about growing and learning, no matter who you are.
How can I improve my songwriting?
You may think that great songwriters are just born talented, but that isn’t necessarily true.
Musicians who write great songs have something to say, and they’re able to say it in a way that speaks to others.
They’re also committed to revise, revise and revise again, until the song shines like a polished diamond.
It truly takes daily time and practice to become a good songwriter.
Let’s get started with these ten lyric writing tips.
1. Keep a lyrics journal
If you’re on a mission to learn how to make your lyrics better, the biggest favor you can do for yourself is to start a songwriting routine: keep a lyrics journal, and carry it with you everywhere you go.
If you’re on a mission to learn how to make your lyrics better, the biggest favor you can do for yourself is to keep a lyrics journal.
Sometimes, even writing down your most mundane thoughts in prose form can help you put together lines you would have never thought of otherwise.
2. Write down anything and everything
Nobody has to witness your thought process, not even in co-write sessions. Face the facts: unless you just start the song, you might be staring down at your paper and playing with your pen for a long time instead of writing lyrics.
Writer’s block usually stems from creativity-related insecurities, and many songwriters believe that it’s just a phase. In reality, it’s no different than spiralling down when you’re in a bad place.
As is the case in most situations, confronting your feelings and ideas head on is the most productive way to handle it.
3. Free write and highlight
Free writing is such a great exercise to get your creative juices flowing. Some of your best lines might come from free writes, and fit into your songs as perfectly as puzzle pieces.
You can select anything from a special memento like a necklace to an emotion like melancholy or joy to focus on each time you sit down to brainstorm in this manner.
Usually, picking a very specific item or theme will help you come up with unique ideas each and every time. Try this as a daily or weekly exercise, and give yourself 20-30 minutes to see what comes out!
When you’re done, read what you put on paper, and highlight your favorite sentences. Those are the gems that will be the key to how to write good lyrics.
4. Get a rhyme dictionary
Rhyme dictionaries can be immensely helpful when you’re searching for the words to continue a rhyme scheme in your song.
Reaching for a rhyme dictionary when you’re writing lyrics instead of trying to figure it all out on your own in moments like these can lead to some happy surprises too!
Writer’s block usually stems from creativity-related insecurities.
Sometimes, the initial word you want to end your line with, even though it doesn’t quite fit in your verse, can be replaced with a better rhyming choice that will give a whole new meaning to your story.
5. Map out your song structure once you have a section to work with
Determining your song structure ahead of time can help you see the bigger picture from the get-go.
You have the lyrics for a potential Chorus in your hands? Start thinking about what comes before and after it.
Do you think it’s going to be a Verse / Chorus / Verse / Chorus / Bridge / Chorus type of song?
How many measures do you think you’ll spend on each section? Write it down, and fill in the blanks!
You don’t have to stick to all the decisions you make—this is just another practical method to streamline your process for writing better lyrics.
6. Pick a theme, story or scene to focus on
Staying focused on a cohesive theme is one of the biggest challenges for lyric writers.
Staying focused on a cohesive theme is one of the biggest challenges for lyric writers.
Once you have one section figured out, you should contemplate its main message and think about how else you can expand on it, instead of introducing a new story or a new theme in the other sections.
7. Let your Chorus, Hook or Refrain do the work
There’s a reason why Chorus sections tend to repeat, often word for word. The Chorus is where the summary or the conclusion of the story and the main message of the song is expressed.
Even if you feel the need to say more, learning how to write good lyrics means learning to take a short and sweet approach.
Remember: in any genre, the repetitive lines in every song are supposed to be the most memorable and catchy. In a lot of situations, even two or three lines repeating throughout the Chorus may be just the thing you need.
Here’s an example of how Selena Gomez uses this strategy in the Chorus sections of her new single, “Lose You To Love Me”. The title of the song is so concise and well-thought-out that it deserves its proper moment to shine.
When you listen to the song as a whole, you still get the opportunity to find clues about what transpired between these two lovers in the Verse, Pre Chorus and Bridge sections. But the Chorus just highlights the theme of the song without trying too hard.
8. Paint a picture with your words
Literary devices such as imagery, simile and metaphor aren’t just for Folk and Country writers.
Sometimes, you can sum up what you want to say in a few lines and may not know where else to go from there.
If you’re writing about a memory, you can use imagery to explain the details of it. Is it about a warm day on the beach? Tell your listener how the ocean smelled that day, or how the warmth of the sunlight made you feel.
Or, if you’re a more abstract writer, you can vividly describe your emotions via devices such as analogy and metaphor.
Want some inspiration for how to write good lyrics? Look no further than Sia’s collaboration with David Guetta, “Titanium“. The song gets its title from the chorus that’s built around a very unique and iconic metaphor: “I am titanium.”
You can even reference a well-known fictional character in bits and pieces and build your song around it, like Rihanna does in “Consideration”.
She opens the song with the lines “I came fluttering in from Neverland / Time can never stop me, no, no, no, no”, referencing J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan series, and even takes it one step further by juxtaposing that very notion she put forward with the line “Why you ain’t ever let me grow?”
9. Make it your own
Adding a line or two that’s unique to your life story will not only add dimension to your songs, but also take writing lyrics to a level where no one else can touch your songs.
Kacey Musgraves sings, “Grandma cried when I pierced my nose” in “Slow Burn”, and no one else can ever write such a line because it’s a part of her own life story.
When incorporated seamlessly, these kinds of snippets can become the most appealing and precious parts of your songs.
10. Take the number of syllables into account
Many artists who wonder how to write good lyrics find that they’re more inclined to write them in prose and have a hard time when it comes to putting them into a song structure.
If this is the case for you, taking the number of syllables into account might be just the constraint you need to create more singable lines.
Start thinking like a lyric writer instead of a prose writer.
Now, this doesn’t mean all the lines in your song have to contain the same number of syllables, of course; it just means that you can follow a formulaic approach.
For example, if you listen back to Rihanna’s “Consideration”, you’ll notice that the Chorus lyrics can be broken down into a lyrical formula that looks like this:
Chorus (8 measures)
Line 1: 8 syllables
Line 2: 7 syllables
Line 3: 8 syllables
Line 4: 7 syllables
If you choose to follow a similar strategy, remember—you can edit where necessary and break the formula when it feels right.
This is just another way to fill in the blanks instead of staring at a blank piece of paper when you should be writing lyrics.
Even if some of the lines you’ll come up with turn out to be placeholders it’ll still be great practice to start thinking like a lyric writer instead of a prose writer.
Break your routine to write better lyrics
Even if you have a few strategies that never fail you, unless you challenge yourself, you’ll run the risk of repeating yourself.
Refreshing your perspective can help you tap into a whole new pool of creativity that you didn’t even know was there.
Want to jumpstart your creativity and learn how to write good lyrics? Join the LANDR community to connect with other artists for tips, tricks and tutorials.
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