When I began writing my own songs, I wanted to dazzle everyone with exquisite lyrics and beautiful melodies. I wanted people to be able to connect with my music, and for the lyrics to engage them, linger in their minds, and make them think. Choosing just the right words was all it took. I knew what I wanted to say, so how hard could it be?
Boy, was I naïve. Lyric writing soon became a daunting task. I had put too much pressure on having the absolute perfect lyrics that I froze up and went nowhere.
I should have considered the broader picture—that I had lots of options and plenty of time to write. That would have relieved much of the paralyzing pressure preventing me from writing more lyrics.
What are the common stumbling blocks?
1. Trying too hard to get it all done in one sitting. Don’t be in a rush. Even if you were just on a roll, it’s okay to stop if the rest of the words don’t come to you all at once.
Don’t try to force the words because you’ll probably end up with worse than mediocre lyrics. Be patient and give your mind a chance to ruminate over thoughts, feelings, and ideas.
When you return to the song later in the day or over the next few days, you’ll have a fresh perspective and the natural words will just come to you.
2. Thinking too narrowly and literally. Say it’s the end of a phrase and you just need one word to finish it off, but that word has to be the proper syllable count, sound right, and fit within the meaning of the song. That can feel like a lot of pressure to choose the best word, but back up.
Maybe there are more options than you realize. Can the meaning you are trying to convey be shown through non-literal, figurative, metaphorical, or symbolic language?
Can you use a word from a foreign language to get your meaning across? Can you re-word the existing lyrical phrase or insert words earlier?
3. Overlooking the power of pacing. It’s easy to get caught up in the details of choosing the right words to convey a message, but pacing can be a powerful, helpful tool in lyric writing.
If you want the song to have an energetic feel, think about choosing short, punchy words that can be sung rhythmically and quickly. If you want to create a slower, relaxed feel, consider longer words, or short words that have vowels in places that you could hold onto and draw out.
How do you overcome lyric writing challenges?