11 Great Tips for Writing Better Lyrics
Have you ever sat down to write a song, spent hours putting the perfect words in the right spots, only to find that the finished product isn’t as great as you thought? Of course you have; it happens to every songwriter! Writing great lyrics isn’t easy, but with some practice and a few helpful tips, you can be well on your way to writing better lyrics.
If you feel like your lyrical abilities have been lacking, try out some of these great tips for writing better lyrics.
1. Write, Write, and Write Some More
As a musician (and a human being) I’m sure you’ve heard the expression “practice makes perfect.” Well, it applies to writing lyrics too. No matter which other tips on this list you choose to employ, you’re not going to succeed as a lyricist without practice.
The absolute best way to write better lyrics is to keep writing. Write as much as possible. Even if you only have enough time to write a couple lines per day, that’s enough to keep pushing your skills.
Your lyrics don’t always have to be perfect. Heck, you don’t even need a fully formed idea! As long as you put pen to paper on a regular basis, you’ll be writing better lyrics in no time.
2. Listen to Other Songwriters
Every musician has artists who inspire them. It’s probably why you got into music in the first place! Well, just like you can learn an instrument by copying the masters, you can learn to write better lyrics by listening to other songwriters as well.
Create a playlist of songs with lyrics that move you. Listen to them carefully, with a keen “ear” on the lyrics. What makes the lyrics so powerful for you? Write down the parts you like and try to incorporate some of the same ideas in your own writing.
You can also learn a lot from songs you don’t like. As annoying as it might sound, you should also create a playlist of songs you don’t like lyrically and seriously listen to it. Write down specifically what you don’t like about the lyrics. Are they too repetitive? Not descriptive enough?
Whatever it is that annoys you about a song, keep it in mind as you write your own lyrics. Now you know what to avoid and can become a better songwriter.
3. Be Picky — and Patient
Not all lyrical ideas are winners. In fact, most lyrical ideas aren’t winners. To write better lyrics, you need to be able to turn away the bad ideas, even if they came from you.
If something you wrote doesn’t sound amazing, cross it out and try again—and again, and again. Keep going until you consider your lyrics great.
This doesn’t mean you should beat yourself up over “bad” ideas. Bad ideas are the cornerstone of songwriting! Write down ALL your ideas—the good, the bad, and the ugly—and keep weeding them down until only the great ideas remain.
You will find them; it just takes a little patience and persistence.
4. Use a Thesaurus…
You can just say you’re “happy,” but that’s plain and boring. Instead, you can write better lyrics by using a thesaurus to find other words that might invoke other emotions or paint a better lyrical picture for your audience.
For example, instead of “happy,” check out these awesome alternatives:
See how each one gives off a different feeling? If you put it into a picture, “happy” might be a smiley face, but “overjoyed” is someone heartily laughing, and “ecstatic” is someone jumping up and down! On the other hand, “peaceful” and “content” are more mellow versions of “happy.”
Using alternatives for basic words can add more depth and meaning to your lyrics, helping you paint a more complete picture for listeners. A large vocabulary gives you more options for writing better lyrics.
5. … But Keep It Simple
While it might be helpful to use a thesaurus to write better lyrics, it’s important not to go overboard and make your songs too complex.
For example, “jubilant” might be a synonym for “happy,” but it’s not a word that most people are familiar with. Unless you’re writing a Christmas song (which often use “jubilant”), it’s best to stick with simple, familiar words.
If people can’t keep up with your word choices or complex phrasing, it doesn’t matter how great your ideas or metaphors are, they’re never going to be great lyrics. When it comes to songwriting, always best to keep it simple.
You can always make up for simple lyrics by writing an awesome melody. “I will always love you” aren’t complicated lyrics. But when Whitney Houston belts it over a dramatic melody, it becomes one of the most powerful musical phrases in history!
6. Write Conversationally
Lyrics aren’t meant to use proper grammar, pronunciation, or even full sentences. They’re meant to be a conversation between the singer and the audience. That means, you should write lyrics like you’d talk. There aren’t any official rules, so feel free to use all the “ums,” “yeahs,” and slang terms you want—whatever fits your song.
The best way to make sure your lyrics are conversational is to say them aloud once you’ve got them on paper. Better yet, sing them! It’ll give you an idea if they sound like how a normal person would talk or if they sound overly stuffy and forced.
7. Be Descriptive
Adjectives are your friend. You can reveal a lot of information or add emotion to your lyrics with one simple word, so be descriptive.
For example, you could say that someone is wearing a dress. That works fine, but what if you used some adjectives?
A tattered dress shows that the character might be going through some rough times. A clean, pressed dress shows that they work hard to look good. Even something as simple as “red dress” helps listeners paint a more vivid mental picture and makes your lyrics much more interesting.
8. Show Off Your Personality
Anyone can write lyrics that are conversational, simple, and descriptive. So, how can you stand out from the pack? By showing off your personality.
Your personality is what makes you unique as a songwriter. Even among the other millions of songwriters, you’re the only you! Inject a healthy dose of personality into every lyric you write.
Do you have a fondness for certain words? Throw them in there! Are there any fun expressions you use on a daily basis? Even if they don’t use proper grammar or even pronunciations, those silly expressions will make your lyrics unique and, therefore, great.
9. Lyrics Aren’t Poems
They might share many similarities, but lyrics and poems aren’t the same thing. Poems typically follow strict structures and rhyme schemes, and many poets love to use complicated and hard-to-pronounce words.
While many songwriters like to use rhyme to enhance their lyrics, it’s not a requirement. In fact, there are no rules for writing lyrics! And, as we discussed earlier, complicated words only make it harder for people to understand your lyrics.
If you want to write better lyrics, don’t think of them as poems. Write lyrics as lyrics.
10. Know Your Genre
I know I said songwriting doesn’t have rules, but there are certain things you should be aware of if you’re writing in a specific genre.
For example, pop, rock, and hip-hop songs don’t have to rhyme. It’s just the nature of the genre. Nobody cares. But if you’re writing a musical destined for the stage, your listeners might be a little more sensitive about rhyme schemes.
Similarly, people who listen to country songs like clear, simple lyrics, while rock songs can be more metaphorical and complex.
Every genre has unique “rules” that most songs follow. Learn what listeners of your genre expect from lyrics and try to follow the guidelines.
11. Your First Draft Isn’t Perfect — Go Back and Rewrite
You’re not going to hit perfection on your first draft—or maybe even your second or third draft for that matter. Even if you feel like you’ve written some killer lyrics, go back and revisit them after some time. You might realize something isn’t quite as clear as you thought it was, or you might have some new ideas to add.
Your songs aren’t set in stone. Keep revisiting and rewriting your old lyrics to make them better. The more you work on your lyrics, the better they’ll become.
Start Writing Better Lyrics
Writing lyrics is no easy task—as you’re well aware. While these tips will help you on your way to becoming a better lyricist, nothing beats good old-fashioned practice. Just keep writing! Even if you think your lyrics are terrible, keep writing, editing, and weeding out the bad until eventually, you’ll have incredible lyrics you’ll be proud to share.