Gracie van Brunt is an intern here at Powderfinger Promotions and attends Berklee College of Music as a singer-songwriter
We all have moments where we can’t come up with anything to write about -or at least anything interesting. Moments like these make us feel like our brains our made of grammatical mush like that of a newborn baby who can’t speak yet. But fear not and don’t let this block keep you from writing your best work yet! Here are 8 tips on songwriting from some of the best songwriters of all time as well as some of our current and past artists!
1. Carve Out Time for Yourself to Write:
“I’m not very disciplined, so my management schedule writing time for me” -Sia (“Pretty Hurts”-Beyonce, “Diamonds” -Rihanna, “Titanium” -David Guetta)
We all know that writing can be tedious and tiring sometimes and it’s okay to feel this way, but writing is like any skill. The more time you put into it, the better you will become, and the better you become, the more opportunity you have to try new things with your writing. Carve out time for yourself to write, even if it’s just for an hour a week or 3 hours every week. One thing that helps is something called “Object Writing”; pick an object to write about, whatever you want, and write about that object for 10 minutes straight. This type of technique is most effective right when you wake up in the morning because you have no preconcieved notions of the day yet and nothing etched into your mind yet to influence you.
2. Don’t Reject Anything at First:
“Usually it’s good to try something before you say no to it” -Umphrey’s McGee (“Cut the Cable”, “Plunger”)
Everyone has those moments while writing where they think what they’ve written is stupid or pointless. It is so tempting to throw these ideas into the garbage, but don’t just yet! Those ideas might be useful to another piece of work later on, or might just turn into something worth writing about! Save all of your writings, no matter how much you dislike them. You never know when they will come in handy!
3. Get Influences from Other Writers:
“I copied Johnson’s words down on scraps of paper so I could more closely examine the lyrics and patterns, the construction of his old-style lines and the free association that he used….” -Bob Dylan (“Mr. Tamborine Man”, “The Times They Are a Changin'”)
Sitting down to write anything, whether it be an essay, a song, or a story, can be difficult if you have nothing to go off of and no idea of how to begin. Try collecting some influences from some of your favorite writers! See how they write and what their process is and surely you will gain some tips on how to start whatever you want to express on paper.
4. Stick With It:
“But to be realistic a body just has to stick with it. If you really believe that’s true talent and that’s all you know and want to do, you’ll find a way to do it.” -Dolly Parton (“Jolene”, “I Will Always Love You” -Whitney Houston, “Do You Know” -Jessica Simpson)
If you get frustrated with an idea or a song phrase, don’t let that hinder you. If you believe in your idea, stick with it, don’t give up! Especially if it could be the next Jessica Simpson hit!
5. Find Someone to Collaborate With:
“A good cowriter will tell you when you’re about to leave the house without any pants on. Here’s how Waits describes his relationship with his wife and cowriter, Kathleen Brennan: “We sharpen each other like knives.” -Tom Waits (“Closing Time, “Hell Broke Luce”)
Sometimes another person’s input on something you’re stuck on can really get the ball moving again. Everyone sees things from different perspectives, so if you’re stuck on an idea that you believe could be better, try going to someone for advice or collaborating!
6. Fix Little Problems Later:
“What I’d do now – and I was just saying this up in Liverpool to some of my ‘songwriter students’ – is that if you ever get a block, just steamroll through it and fix it later.” -Paul McCartney (“Let It Be”, “Eleanor Rigby”)
Once you have started, or if you have an idea you absolutely need to write down, keep writing until you have everything that was in your mind on paper. Don’t worry about little problems in your writing when you are just getting all of your ideas down on paper. Once you have finished writing a rough draft of a song or essay, then you can allow yourself to go back and fix problems that were bugging you. Jack Keroac wrote the rough draft of his famous novel “On The Road” by doing what he calls “marathon writing”, where he sat at his desk for two weeks straight, typing out all of the ideas in his head onto paper.
7. Write in a Quiet Place:
“I feel overly-stimulated on the road, so I tend to write from home” -Sara Bareilles (“Love Song”, “Brave”)
If you get distracted by being in crowded, loud spaces, create a space for yourself to reflect and focus. It’s hard to effectively write if you have people screaming in your ear at all times, or if someone is trying to tell you a million things at once.
8. Follow the Feeling:
“It comes down to the feeling you have when you’re writing, not the topic you’re writing about. Creatively, that’s the key to getting on a tangent that leads you somewhere good.” -Matt Nathanson (“Come on Get Higher”, “Faster”)
Writing can sometimes be like writing in a personal journal. If what you’re writing feels good to you, then go with it. Let out your emotions while you’re writing and whatever emotional topic comes out of that writing, go off of that topic and the feeling you had as you were writing about it.