How Do I Write Lyrics?


Writing lyrics is one of the trickiest parts of songwriting. Musicians are not necessarily native poets or writers, but great lyric writers are masters of wordplay. And yet, lyrics are something entirely different that poetry or the written word, inseparable from the music and distinct as the same time. They are a paradox — at times the most noticeable part of the song, and at times completely ignored. Bad lyrics are not just boring… they can be cringe-worthy. Great lyrics are transcendent. Here are some hacks to help you write better lyrics.

Lyric Hacks

ONE WORD AT A TIME – Part of the challenge of lyric writing is knowing where to start, so pick a word. Whether it’s “love” or “llamas”, the single word you start with will start pointing you down a path. What does that one word mean to you? What memories or imagery does it evoke? Perhaps it makes you think of a colloquialism or catch phrase. Write whatever comes to mind, and if you get stuck again, think of another word that might find itself related in some way to the lyrics you’ve already written.
MAD LIBS – Take a song with lyrics you love, and turn it into a Mad Lib. Underline every major noun and adjective, then write the lyrics on a separate sheet of paper, leaving the underlined words as blank spaces. Start filling in your own words to personalize the lyrics. You probably won’t end up using your Mad Lib word for word, but it’s a great jumping-off point to get some phrases going. Remember, lyrics rarely flow from start to finish, they’re more like Legos — building one section on top of the other, constantly tearing pieces down and building the structure up again.
EXPAND YOUR RHYMES – Your lyrics don’t have to rhyme, but the majority do. But your lyrics will sound cheesy if your rhyme scheme is too simple and nursery-like. Try rhyming inside phrases (known as “internal rhyming”). Eminem’s lyrics are chock full of internal rhyming, but once you start listening for it, you’ll hear it everywhere. For example: “you gotta lose yourself in the music, the moment, you own it, you better never let it go” has three rhyming phrases in a single line. Internal rhyming makes rhymes flow more smoothly. Another way to expand your rhymes is through trial and error. Reference a rhyming dictionary and try every word possible until something clicks.

Reading Hacks


Writing Better Lyrics by Pat Pattison

This is pretty much the Bible of lyric writing, and is required reading in many professional courses on songwriting. Through lots of examples and clearly explained concepts, it’s hard to read this book and not automatically get better.

(photo CC-BY Carl Milner)