For those of us who love songwriting, we find it frustrating. Sometimes it’s just the worst.
It’s difficult, but practice is what makes us better at spitting rhymes and stringing together melodies.
Professional lyric and songwriters didn’t start there — they, like a lot of us, started as amateurs. So with that in mind, here are four tips on how to become a pro at writing song lyrics.
Study the pros
The greats learned from the greats, and so should you. Study the best of the best, print off their lyrics, break down their phrasing, rhyming, imagery, and storytelling. Use their techniques.
Some pros you could start studying are Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and John Lennon — these guys knew how to put words together in a beautiful way.
It’s time to become a student again and stay one until you’re done writing songs (which should be never).
Copy the pros
Austin Kleon is an artist and author who wrote a book called Steal Like An Artist. The whole idea of the book is to take ideas from others (i.e. the pros), add your own spice, and create something of your own.
For example, if you, just for fun, rewrite “Like A Rolling Stone” by Dylan, you’ll get a better feel for how he structures his words, how he describes things, and his storytelling process. Then jot down what you’ve learned and try using the same methods on your own song.
Be Consistent like the pros
Malcolm Gladwell, a best-selling, deep-thinking author who does meticulous journalistic research, writes in his book Outliers that “ten thousand hours [of practice] is the magic number of greatness.”
He cites Bill Gates, who started coding as a teenager, and The Beatles, who played a extremely high number of gigs before become stars in the States.
The point is, practice songwriting like heck. The more you do it, the better you’ll get. You’re not born amazing, you have to earn it.
Ernest Hemingway writes in his book A Moveable Feast, “The only kind of writing is rewriting.” And, boy, that’s true.
The first thing you put down on paper is not always the best. The first draft is almost never the last. Rewriting your lyrics is part of the songwriting process.
I first wrote a version of this article for iSing Magazine