What Songwriters Say About Writing Lyrics

Stuck for words? Here’s what the pros have had to say about how they write lyrics.

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Though it sounds strange to say, world-class songwriters are not always the best people to turn to to get good songwriting advice. Their high level of musical instinct often makes it difficult for them to describe exactly what they do to produce the magic.

But sometimes, when all else fails, it helps to simply read what other songwriters have to say about their creative process. This is particularly true when it comes to the writing of lyrics. If today is one of those days when it seems that the telephone book makes better reading than your own lyrics, put your pen down, and read what these top-level songwriters say about how they write lyrics.

For each quote, I encourage you to click on the linking article to read the full interview.

Sarah McLaughlinSarah McLaughlin

“I figure the first two lines usually tell the whole story of a song… The first two lines are what comes out first when I’m writing, and they basically tell which direction, for me lyrically, the song is going to go. Sometimes those two lines will sit for months by themselves, until they find a completion to the story, or a completion to the stage that I’m in of trying to work through something, until hopefully I’m somewhere near the other side of it, when I can be a little more objective and write it down. It’s the same with titling the songs. Most of the song titles come from the last word in the second line.”

From “Addicted to Songwriting” website,  by Dan Demain

Paul SimonPaul Simon

“I spend more time writing music than writing words. The music always precedes the words. The words often come from the sound of the music and eventually evolve into coherent thoughts. Or incoherent thoughts. Rhythm plays a crucial part in the lyric-making as well. It’s like a puzzle to find the right words to express what the music is saying.”

From “American Songwriter” website

James TaylorJames Taylor

[In response to the question “Have you discovered anything new about writing lately?]

“I’ve had some things confirmed that I already knew about it: You need to defend empty time. Inspiration for songs can happen in the middle of a lot of other kinds of activity, but to actually bring it home you have to have a place to go off and wait. That’s the nature of writing lyrics.”

From “Performing Songwriter” website (by Lydia Hutchinson)

Hal DavidHal David (From the Bacharach-David songwriting duo)

[In response to the question, “But say [if you were given] a complete melody first… Can you describe your first steps in approaching a lyric?]

“The first step is to listen to the music very closely, not so much to learn what the notes are, but to see what the music was saying to you. If you’re a lyric writer, you should hear the music talking to you. That’s what I’d be doing initially… I’d often write dummy lyrics, and I still do that. It helps me retain the melody, and particularly if the melody is a little complex.”

From “Performing Songwriter website (by Lydia Hutchinson)

David BowieDavid Bowie

[Describing his “cut-up’ lyric-writing technique]

“You write down a paragraph or two describing several different subjects, creating a kind of ‘story ingredients’ list, I suppose, and then cut the sentences into four or five-word sections; mix ’em up and reconnect them.

“You can get some pretty interesting idea combinations like this,” he said. “You can use them as is or, if you have a craven need to not lose control, bounce off these ideas and write whole new sections.”

From “Songwriting: The Hit Formula” website

______________Gary Ewer

Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics.  (And you’ll receive a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.“)

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  1. Pingback: Here’s another boring blog post for you | Write on the World

  2. These are great thought-provoking ideas from some pretty amazing song writers. I take your point about world-class songwriters (geniuses) not being the best people for us mere mortals to seek advice from. But these tips seem applicable to all of us.

  3. Reading all the above they are all saying basically the same thing,

    Sleep On It,__GIve It Time To Gell,__ Great Words mean Nothing
    Without Great Music
    Make Sure The Music Fits The Emotion of The Words
    Its Not About Writing, It’s About Re Writing _ Avoid Old Over Used
    Cliche Lines, __ Find The Best Writing Method That Suits You
    And ___ Dont Rush TO Demo The Song Before It’s Finished
    And Finally ___Study The HIts Of Yesteryear and Today

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