Writing good lyrics is a difficult craft to master, and with every generation of brilliant lyricists, it seems to become harder to follow in the footsteps of the greats. But every great lyricist started somewhere – and becoming a good lyricist, like any other craft, is the result of study and lots of practice. Here are five steps to writing better lyrics.
Read and Write Poetry
Poetry is the midway point between prose and lyricism, and reading poetry may help you become a better – and perhaps more sensitive – lyricist. Study various forms of poetry and become familiar with different types of poems, rhyming schemes, and common themes. Read Keats, read Plath and Dickinson, read Poe and Shakespeare.
While you may not find yourself becoming a poetry enthusiast, you may discover that certain kinds of poetry stir you to an emotional reaction. Pay close attention to what it is that you enjoy, and practice writing poems of the same type – and then, apply these same influences to lyrics. You might also consider setting certain poems to music, which can also be a good exercise in really digesting how words and music join together.
Be Thematically Consistent
Most musicians have a set of themes from which they operate, from the joy of love and friendship to the darkness of grief or mental illness. Think carefully about what sort of music speaks the most to you – do you love bright and airy pop lyrics, or the heaviness of metal and goth lyrics? Whatever resonates the most with you musically is likely the sort of lyrics you’ll wind up writing.
Make a list of themes that you want to be present in your lyrics, and in tandem with your poetry exercises, introduce those themes into your poetic work. Experiment with different themes in different styles of poetry and see what you like best. Writing lyrics is somewhat academic in nature, but it is a deeply emotional process like most creative pursuits. Experimenting will help you find what’s most natural to you – and will make your lyrics much more powerful.
Don’t Repeat Yourself
While your lyrical work may be joined by one or several central themes, avoid repeating yourself too much in your lyrics – both within individual songs and across the body of your work. Repetition and real creativity are opposites. Putting serious thought into what you want to say and how you want to say it will result in lyrics that really reach your listener.
Both the words and the music of a song should create a mental or emotional response in the listener. Over time and with practice, your lyrical work will evolve, resulting in deeper and more complex responses in your audience. But repeating yourself will only bore them, so avoid it if you can!
Don’t Sound Like Everyone Else
As the saying goes, “it’s all been done before,” and there’s truth to that statement. But a truly creative lyricist can put a very different spin on what’s come before them, and will find new ways of expressing similar or even identical ideas as musicians and poets they love. If something you write sounds too much like something you’ve heard or read, you don’t necessarily need to scrap it; it may just need additional development. This might seem a little draconian at first, but don’t give up on it – with time this process will become a lot easier, and you’ll write well-developed lyrics without needing to put a lot of intensive thought into it every time.
Use a Thesaurus
If you really love using rhyme schemes in your lyrics, a thesaurus will be your best friend. Use it to find synonyms to a word or feeling you’re working to evoke in your lyrics. Not only will using a thesaurus help you write better lyrics, it will increase your vocabulary and reading comprehension as well.
Whole libraries of books are written on the art of the lyric, and lyricism has become an academic field of study in its own right. But you don’t need to attend classes to become a solid lyricist – independent study and practice are more than adequate to learn and master this wonderful craft.