Songwriters often struggle with not knowing what to write music about. For some readers, lyrics and written material for songs is something that comes naturally, but for others, finding out what to write music about feels like an insurmountable challenge. If you’re a songwriter that can’t find anything to write about, here are four tips to help:
1. Write about the things you don’t want to think about
I know this seems like weird advice, but stay with me. Most of us spend a great deal of time avoiding unpleasant thoughts or things we’d rather not face or accept about ourselves. If you’ve got nothing to write about, it could be because you’re devoting so much energy toward blocking these kind of ideas instead of thinking about what they really mean. There are a lot of ideas to be found for people who choose to face their fears.
2. Try free writing
Songwriters aren’t musicians first and lyric-writers second. The stories in music end up being incredibly meaningful to listeners which means that you should do your best to write meaningful lyrics. Because most songwriters aren’t experienced writers, many don’t know the value of free writing. Free writing is writing continuously without worrying about spelling, grammar, or the content of your written thoughts. It’s an exercise that can help unlock and inspire ideas in a person. All you need is your laptop or a pen and paper and a non-judgemental attitude to do this.
3. If you don’t want to write about your own life, try writing fictional stories
Fictional storytelling is something that proves to be cathartic for many songwriters. Sometimes our own stories are too painful or complicated to tell in our music. If this is you, try writing a fictional story that honors your non-fictional feelings. It doesn’t haven’t to translate perfectly, but fiction is a great vehicle for lyrical ideas to play out when a songwriter doesn’t want to reveal things about their own life or when they simply have nothing real to write about.
4. Give yourself the permission to write about things that don’t make any sense
There’s no big great song rulebook that says everything we write music about has to make sense. If you can’t seem to eek out a song because the lyrics are never good or cohesive enough, try writing lyrics that make no sense or even gibberish. You might hate what you come up with or the exercise might be just what you need to relax and let ideas come to you naturally. Something that’s not talked about enough in music is the process of writing lyrics. Some writers start songs with lyrics, and others sing gibberish over chord progressions until something sensible emerges. I happen to be in the latter category and I find that concepts present themselves when I loosen up enough for them to emerge. Letting go of expectations and being ridiculous or even just singing nonsense over music are things that can show you a way forward when you’re hung up on writing lyrics.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.