I personally find that writing good lyrics is one of the hardest things to get right when songwriting. It is something you could forever edit and change only to go back to the original lyrics because they sounded less complicated and more to the point. Writing lyrics is a very personal part of the songwriting process. You have to let your feelings out of whatever box you’ve got them locked up in.
Here are some pro tips that have really helped me write better lyrics.
1) Use a rhyming dictionary.
Using a rhyming dictionary can be really helpful when you are trying to find something meaningful to rhyme and flow with what you have already written and just seem to be hitting dead-ends. Carrying one of these with you to a writing session can really take the frustration out of trying to find that one impactful word you are looking for when trying to complete a verse, chorus, etc. I also find that it not only helps makes the whole process easier, but it can help you choose words and phrases that you wouldn’t usually find yourself using, making your overall writing sound more well-rounded and professional. Try this out for yourself. You won’t be disappointed. You can pick these up from Amazon or any good book store.
2) Tell a story.
At the beginning of my songwriting career, I found that when it came to writing lyrics, I would start off with a couple of lines about a certain topic or situation, and then, by the second verse, I would be writing about something so off-topic that my song no longer made sense. I would find myself just trying to make the song rhyme, without any thought for a real storyline.
My tip for making sure this doesn’t happen to you would be: to focus on the topic or situation you are writing about, and really tell the story from the start, moving through to the end as the song goes on. If you were to read a book from your favorite author and the first chapter was about a hobbit who lived in a magical world with dragons and potions, etc. but then the second chapter was about woodwork or plumbing, you would be very confused and possibly lose interest in the book altogether. I think the best way to make sure that this doesn’t happen to you is by writing down or recording your ideas until you develop a strong concept, phrase or evocative theme for a song. Once you have that idea you can build upon it and tell a solid story, rather than jumping around all over the show without any real structure. Keep focused on the story that you are writing and build it up, rewrite, revisit the song, and keep tweaking it until you’re confident you have something unique, memorable and special to you.
3) Don’t be too repetitive.
Try to be mindful about the words you are using. I have heard so many songs where people are using the words like, ‘if’, ‘and’, ‘but’, ‘you’, etc. so many times that it almost becomes annoying. It’s just… sloppy. It’s like talking to someone that has a habit of saying, “do you know what I mean?” after every sentence. It gets tiresome really fast.
Obviously, this doesn’t apply to every song. Sometimes using a well-considered, repetitive word or phrase actually makes your song more catchy and memorable. For example, in the Shaggy song, It Wasn’t Me, the same line is used over and over again as part of a call-and-response effect in the chorus. It works really well because it has become the hook and the most memorable part of the song.
What I am trying to say is that a repetitive phrase can work well if done correctly. Just try not to use the same words thoughtlessly as filler material because you have run out of ideas or inspiration. The listener will see right through it and the song will never take off the way you intended it to. You want the listener to sing along, not turn it off because it’s annoying (or worse, boring) them.
4) Practice, practice, practice.
Like anything you actually want to get better at, practice writing lyrics every day. Make sure you focus on the development of the lyrical narrative, and the way your lyrics rhyme and are conveyed melodically. Over time this will become second-nature. The lyrics will just roll off your tongue instead of leaving you feeling frustrated or lost within the process. (I’ve been there. It sucks)
I sometimes listen back to my old songs. They didn’t rhyme. They had no real structure. And they were just very messy and unorganized. But listening to them after such a long time really did open my eyes to how good regular practice can change you so much in such a short amount of time.
My tip here would be: practice, practice, practice. Your writing skills will start to improve without you even realizing or really seeing the changes. Make sure each practice session is structured. Build a routine. Start by getting some ideas down, then build the story from those ideas. Use a rhyming dictionary to find different words and phrases, play with the way the words work together. Read a dictionary for the words that you’re not sure on to make certain the meaning is correct. Before you know it, you’ll be a poet, which (segue segue segue) brings me to my last tip.
I find that writing poetry without music is one of the absolute best ways to learn how to put words, sentences, and phrases together. It is an art that will really open you up to a world of writing better lyrics. You will develop your own signature way of writing. You will know exactly what works and what doesn’t. There’s really no right or wrong way to write poetry, but well, the more you know…
I would personally recommend leaning towards the rhyming kinds of poetry, so you really start to get your words and sentences flowing beautifully, with meaning and plenty of feeling.
Try these pro tips out for yourself. Add them to your daily writing sessions, and remember, the more you practice, the better you will become.