Songwriting Inspiration Tips - Part 1

Songwriting Inspiration Tips - Part 1

When you’re suffering from writer’s block, the solution can come in many forms, including de-stressing, self-care, external influence, or some sort of inspiration. For the songwriter, two types of inspiration can help: internal or external (sometimes both!)

Internal Inspiration

Internal inspiration takes the view that everything you need, you already have inside you. Especially with something as personal as songwriting, the topics you write about are somewhere hiding in your mind or heart.

To purge these ideas you can try a few exercises…

Meditate: Find a quiet space, relax, and focus on either your breathing, a question, or an image. Then let the inspiration come to you. Many books, articles and blogs have been written on this subject so if you get stuck you can find out what's worked for others and give it a try. Even fifteen minutes of meditation can produce great results. The goal is to just quiet the noise around you enough to allow new ideas to flow out of you. Have paper and a pen nearby to jot ideas after your meditation session.

Journal or write: Getting your wild thoughts out on paper can be very freeing. Grab a journal or some paper and write! Write out what you are feeling or thinking. If the feelings are about someone else write them a letter (you don't have to ever give it to them). Don't censor yourself, just let it flow. Then when you've gotten it all out, go back over it and highlight words or phrases that hit you. This could be the beginning of a new song.

Choose a topic and mindmap: Similar to journaling is the process of mindmapping. Grab a sheet of paper and in the center write one word or topic and circle it. Now write down every word or phrase that comes to mind when you think of that word. It doesn't have to make sense and don't put any restrictions on yourself. Here is an example of a fun little mindmap I threw together on the topic of "Summer": 

External Inspiration

External inspiration is a bit easier because there are many more available options . When you surround yourself with people and really pay attention, song topics are all around you.
If you find yourself sitting at home staring at a blank paper, put your pen down and get out into the world! Be curious, listen intently and don’t worry about eavesdropping. If a couple or group of people are talking in public, it’s free rein for your ears.

Here are some other ways to get inspired:

Take a walk: Changing your environment can shake up your brain to think about new ideas. You can take a stroll through your neighborhood, go to the park, walk around the city, nature walk, or hike. You can even just take a drive around town to change your scenery. Focus on the little things around you, the way you feel, and what's on your mind.

Listen to other songs: Break out your music collection and listen to a few of your favorites. Note what you like about each song, get specific. Ask yourself how you could make it better or how you could say it differently. Can you add a twist? Or maybe the lyrics will spark a new thought or idea for you to write about.

Read a book:  Not only does reading have a calming affect on the mind, it can also open up the imagination. It can be anything from fiction, self-help, sci-fi, or even a comic book. Anything to get the brain moving and thinking can help.

Host a group idea session: If you're struggling with ideas I'm sure others are as well. Consider hosting an idea session with other songwriters in the area. Have a few snacks and a large white board or poster board. You can either just have a general brainstorming thrown down or choose a specific topic to focus on. This should be a fun activity so don't get bogged down with the details.

Preventative Measures

Like the old addage, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away" so it goes for writing ....except you don't have to eat apples or visit a doctor. Just write something every day to train your brain. Write lyrics, short stories, letters, blogs, poems, or even just doodle some words. This stimulates the right side of your brain which is associated to creativity. Here are a few more ideas to prevent writer's block from getting in your way:

Keep a song journal: Have a dedicated journal that you carry with you everywhere. When an idea strikes you, write it down. Get in the habit of writing it down right away as it may slip your mind later. This is especially true right around bed time when your mind is settling down to rest and various thoughts come to mind. Keep the journal near to jot down your ideas. If you are more of a digital person you can even use a notepad option on your phone.

Mini recorder: Similar to a song journal you may want to carry around a mini voice recorder. When a melody, lyric or beat crosses your mind, record it! You can even record it to your phone or leave yourself a voicemail.

Weekly topic: Choose one topic every week and throughout that week write down any ideas that come to mind. For example, if the topic is tacos, you may think about the toppings as you grocery shop, or you may eat at Taco Bell that week and notice the people around you. You may even cook your own tacos and notice what feelings you have in the process of building your Mexican feast. This is a silly topic but you can see how many thoughts can come up around one single idea. 

This is just a small sample of the many inspiration ideas available to break through the writer's block wall. Read Part II for more Songwriting Inspiration Tips

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Hannah Williams
Posted by Hannah Williams on Jul 15 2012 3:30 AM
Good stuff Allison!!! :)
Posted by Revenant on Jul 15 2012 5:20 AM
This especially is a topic near and dear to me, as I've been writing songs for a LONG time. One thing I always do is to carry a small notebook and pen with me all the time. You never know when you are going to see or hear something that sets the stage for something cool. And sometimes it's nothing short of a gift. As an example of that, I was on a city bus once going to meet my daughter. A man and woman sitting a couple of seats in front of me were talking and I could hear the conversation, about a teenage girl who had confided to the woman that she was pregnant, didn't know how to tell her parents and was dumped by the high school jock when she told him. All I did was write down what they were saying and re-arrange it a little and I had Babies Making Babies! I even got the title from them! I've gotten ideas from billboards, talk radio and even soundbites of conversation snippets that I heard in passing! As Allison said in her great post, you train your brain. If you work at it a while, you find yourself able to write on demand.:)
Posted by Revenant on Jul 15 2012 5:47 AM
Here's a really good exercise, too. Listen to someone else's song and imagine a story about it. After listening to Mr.Bojangles, I came up with this: Another night Another stage Another show Seems I've lived my life out of a suitcase on the road. Playing rock and roll Just me and my guitar I may never be a star But I've come too far to turn back now. Had me a wife Had me some kids Haven't heard from them in years because of what I did. My letters all come back to me unopened and unread. I know I'll never be a star but I've come too far to turn back now. I wasn't trying to copy Mr.Bojangles. I was trying to imagine a story ABOUT Mr.Bojangles. In the original song, he was a dancer. I re-imagined him as a guitar player, alienated from his wife and kids because of birthdays and who knows what else he missed because of being a road dog. I imagined him as middle aged, living in hotel rooms with no possessions but his guitar and a car(there's a rhyme for you!), playing little dive clubs and street fairs. You can imagine a story behind Motown tunes, Beatles songs.....pick a song and imagine a place, a person or a feeling about it. Do a little free association about what you begin to imagine. If the song takes an unexpected turn in a different direction from what you originally imagined, LET IT! You may find 2-3 songs coming out of imagining something about ONE song! :D:D
Allison S
Posted by Allison S on Jul 16 2012 5:25 PM
Rhythm Mission - Excellent idea! I really like what you came up with too. Storytelling lyrics are great because it makes it more personal. And generally many people can relate to what you are saying. Great job!
Lisa Marie Sharp
Posted by Lisa Marie Sharp on Jul 17 2012 11:50 PM
Allison, How did you know I have writer's block right now??:laugh:You came just in time to get me on track! Lisa Marie Sharp-Austin, TX
Posted by Revenant on Jul 18 2012 1:05 AM
Most of the musicians I know who write complain to me that they aren't too prolific, and wonder how I can write several tunes a week. As I see it, the answer is simple. I've trained my brain as a songwriting tool and they haven't. Inspiration is great but too many writers wait to be "inspired" - by a new romance or a painful breakup, for example. One guy I knew was always actively CREATING conflicts with his band, girlfriend, boss, family, bartender - pretty much anyone he came in contact with. His theory was that conflict created inspiration which then created art. I disagree with that. I can be perfectly happy and still create a space inside my imagination to write about a painful breakup. I have a great boss at my job. That didn't stop me from writing this lyric about the boss from hell: Got bill collectors calling Ain't my life the pits? I hate my job and hate my boss He treats me just like shit But I'll be strong and I'll hang on and make it through the day because Happiness is only a lite beer away. That song happened because a friend of mine had just flown into town and wanted some songs for a demo. She had nothing but the hook Happiness Is Only A Lite Beer Away that she had overheard in the airport. By the time I got to her condo 45 minutes later, I had the entire song written for her! You train your brain and before you know it, like Carole King or Smokey Robinson, you're finding song ideas EVERYWHERE!:D
Ric Harris
Posted by Ric Harris on Jul 18 2012 7:29 PM
The best way to write is to treat it as a profession, not a matter of inspiration. Inspiration, when it happens, works; however, you will be wasting a lot of time waiting for it to appear, regardless of what is done to encourage it. What does songwriting as a profession mean? Here are some possibilities: 1) Read the newspaper or watch the news, choose one of the stories they present, and write a song about it. Don't stop until you have something written down. 2) Write down the start of a chorus that has a rhyme scheme, regardless of the subject matter, and hit the save button on the computer. Come back to it a few days later and add a verse. Hit save. Come back a few days, etc. You will end up with something that works. In simple terms, don't treat it as an art form. Treat it as a profession.
Posted by Revenant on Jul 19 2012 1:20 AM
My sentiments exactly. Art is really more perspiration than inspiration. Like anything else, the more you do it, the better you get at it. Taking ideas from the news is always a great idea. Politicians, actors and yes, other musicians say the darndest things! I have a good start on a song I began today on my way home from work. I saw Steven Tyler's bit about leaving American Idol and thought, there has to be a song in that. And here it is: Leaving American Idol Kinda got out of the habit of playing Rock And Roll Before she boils my rabbit, I got to go, go go! Ya heard it from me first A day before J.Lo Chorus: I'm leaving American Idol Going back to my Rock And Roll Scream Leaving American Idol Living the American Dream Leaving American Idol Ya know, I made up my mind Leaving American....leaving American Leaving American Idol behind! Before they hire a ringer And I lose my gig as a singer Got to get back, get back to the band before the situation gets too far outa hand. No more National Anthems for me Gonna be footloose and fancy free (Repeat Chorus) I miss diving off the stage And I miss Joe Perry's rage I'm still a Toxic Twin Gonna kick in the door and strut right back in 'Cause I still got what it takes Gonna sing the song with the funky funky breaks! (Repeat Chorus) Note how this song takes several news items about Steven Tyler and weaves them together!:D
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