Let’s be real, there are a TON of songwriting tips out there. And depending on where you visit, they’re mostly a mixed bag.
With this list, I wanted to give you all of my best tips from 10 years as a working songwriter in Nashville. (If we haven’t met yet, hi, my name is Sarah Spencer and here’s my story)
Take what works for you, and try some new things! These tips are to help you write and finish your songs. Use them how you see fit.
So grab the free ebook below and benefit from a literal decade of indie songwriter trial and error, experience, education, and application.
Need new songwriting tips? I got you!
Below are 50 songwriting tips for all the different phases of the songwriting process. Inside the free ebook, there are 30 more.
Table of Contents:
In this article, you’ll find,
- Tips for starting a song
- Overcoming writer’s block
- Finding new song ideas
- Finishing songs
- Staying inspired to write
And in the ebook:
I want you to feel like you have everything you need to jump every possible hurdle and get to writing your best songs, like, right freaking now.
You’ve got this, love.
Let’s get to the songwriting tips!
Ok, so you have some ideas floating around in your notebooks and in your head. But how do you start to turn those ideas into actual songs? Here are some great songwriting tips on starting that song:
Songwriting Tips for Starting a Song
1. Got the idea? Freewrite on it.
Freewriting helps you get the most milage out of an idea. It also helps you get more familiar with the idea, like what’s interesting about it (and what’s not). This will give you loads of raw material you can use to for all the different sections of your song. Grab your favorite notebook (here’s mine) and let the words flow.
2. Light a candle.
Smells are powerful triggers for memories and emotions. (Science!) Light a candle, some incense, or plug in your diffuser and close your eyes. Where does it take you? Write down your memories and feelings note-taking style. This is one of my favorite scents for getting creative.
3. Create your songwriting space.
Having a dedicated space for writing will help you get excited to write. Set up a spare room, or spare corner, with your desk, instrument, and a comfy place to sit. Decorate it in a way that inspires you!
4. Set aside time to write.
Life is full of obligations, distractions, and plans. It can often feel like creative time to write is your last priority. Instead of waiting for free time to appear, set aside some sacred time in your life that’s reserved just for you to write. (and another tip: don’t call it “free time,” call it “writing time!”)
5. Create a songwriting schedule.
If you feel like you’re just too busy to simply set aside the time to write, consult your calendar closely. Where can you schedule in an hour or so to work on a song? When you schedule writing appointments with yourself then write it town in your calendar, you’re much more likely to actually write. Here’s a post on how to find an hour every day for writing.
6. Remove the pressure.
Starting any new piece of artwork can be scary. Wether you’re staring at a blank page or a blank canvas, you may feel paralyzed. Realize this: you’ll write plenty of songs in your lifetime. Some will be awesome. Some will suck. That’s ok. Write them all. There is no necessity for every song you write to be monumental. No one’s looking over your shoulder. You’re allowed to write what you want and to have fun doing it.
7. Use songwriting prompts as a quick way to start a song.
Song prompts are a great way to get the wheels turning when you’re out of ideas. Check out The Beautiful Book of Songwriting Prompts for some inspiration, sign up for our 30 Songs Prompts email series, or join Song Club for a fresh new song prompt each week and a place to share you songs among friends!
8. Quit playing the comparison game.
It’s the worst game ever. Seriously! Quit comparing yourself to others, love! It does you no good. The comparison game only hurts you, breaks down your love of writing, and actually stops you from writing before you even start. Keep your inner dialog kind. Treat yourself with the same encouragement and kindness you’d give to your best friend.
9. Have goals to work toward.
Sometimes it’s really freaking hard to start writing when we don’t know why we’re writing. Have a goal in mind for your songs. Goals give us milestones to meet along the way. Something like, “I’m going to finish 1 song this week.” or “I’m going to re-write my old song tonight so I have a version two of it that’s even better than version one.” You may even want to record an album or get on stage. Set goals so you get there! Here’s a post on how to set goals that you’ll actually reach. (With a downloadable to keep you accountable!).
10. Put butt in chair.
Sometimes, sister, you just gotta make yourself do it. No more excuses. Put that booty in the chair and push yourself to start writing out some words. You’ve got this!
Songwriting tips for kicking writer’s block:
Ugh, the miserable illness that pains all songwriters. No one is exempt, we all get it! Writer’s block affects us all from time to time, so here are my best songwriting tips for battling it:
11. Go take a walk in nature.
Nature has a special connection with our metal health. Research shows that walking in nature reduces anxiety, eases depression, and lifts mood. It can even affect the way you view time: while in nature, you feel a sense of awe, as though time is expanding, rather than closing in on you. This is a massive help in removing the constricting feeling around writer’s block.
12. Try a mind map.
Mind maps are a quick way to access visual and sensory rich language. They can also take your song in a new direction if you’re feeling stuck. Here’s our post all about mind maps and how to make one for your next song.
13. Go distract yourself with something completely different.
If your writer’s block is immediate (rather than a long term case), step away from your guitar and go do something else entirely. Go walk your dog, run an errand, do a load of laundry, hit the gym. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it’s not songwriting. The song will simmer in the background, while you’re focused on something different. When you take your mind off the immediate task at hand for 30 or so minutes, you can sometimes distract your brain just long enough for it to come up with something amazing.
14. Write a garbage verse.
Seriously. If you’re stuck on your second verse (the dreaded second verse curse. It’s a thing.) just write something so you can move on and finish out the rest of the song. Even if the verse totally sucks, get something down that works for the short them. Then sleep on it, come back to the song, and make it better in the re-write. Here’s a great post on how to re-write your songs so they’re even better.
15. Write something every day, even if it’s not a song.
This is AMAZING preventative maintenance for writer’s block. Start a journal and write something every day! You’re less likely to develop writer’s block with this daily practice. You’ll also have tons of raw material you can turn into songs when you’re fresh outta ideas. Here’s why journaling for songwriters is such a powerful exercise.
16. Go see a show.
If writer’s block has held you captive for some time, get out of your own head and go see a show. Go see multiple shows! Buy tickets to see one of your favorite songwriters, bands, or artists. Or better yet, go see someone you’ve never seen before. It is inspiring to see the songwriting decisions others are making and it can jumpstart your own creativity.
17. Join the 5 in 5 Song Challenge.
I built this challenge specifically for songwriters struggling with writer’s block. If you’ve been blocked for a long time, or if you really struggle with your negative inner critic, I would love to see you inside of the group. We write 5 songs in 5 days to songwriting prompts. You’ll make a ton of friends and kick the block the the end of the week! You can sign up for the next challenge here.
18. Try co-writing.
Often times writer’s block occurs when we’re stuck in a rut with our own approach to songwriting. If you feel like you’ve been writing the same songs over and over again for too long, try co-writing with a friend. Co-writing is a great way to see what others are doing and take your songs in a direction you’ve never tried before. If you don’t know any other songwriters already, here’s how to find cowriters in your area. (hint: you can find cowriters inside Song Club and the 5 in 5 Song Challenge!)
19. Learn how to look for songs in the world around you.
Being inspired by the world is a skill you can hone. Sometimes inspiration will hit you like lightening, but the rest of the time, we need to learn how to find it. SongFancy’s course on songwriting will show you exactly how to live life creatively “on” so you never get stuck on a song again. Check out Living an Inspired Life for more info and how to enroll.
20. Play your song for a friend.
If you’ve got really bad writer’s block on a particular song, play what you have for a songwriter friend. Ask them what they think it’s about and where they think it might go. Outside insight can be a valuable way to find new ideas for a song in progress. Keep in mind however, not all feedback is created equal, and tell your friend that you’re looking for constructive criticism.
Songwriting tips on Finding New Ideas for Songs:
Does this sound familiar: You feel like some days, you have TONS to say. You’re writing new songs ideas down left and right! And other days, you feel like everything’s been done and none of your ideas are any good, if you even have ideas at all. Here are some new and unconventional songwriting tips for finding new song ideas:
21. Read about current events.
Stay up to date on what’s happening in the world around you. Listen to podcasts, frequent news websites, watch your local Facebook pages. Stay up to date on current events. I often find moving stories to write about from skimming the headlines. Disclaimer though: Do not doom scroll, k? Love you :)
22. Find direction in pitch sheets.
A pitch sheet is a listing of projects that need songs. Kind of like old school classified ads, an artist or producer will put a listing out for the type of material they’re looking for, and songwriters have an opportunity to submit their songs. Pitch sheets are great places to look for song ideas. What’s being requested? Uptempos about girl power? Ballads about high school breakups? Find your next great idea inside a pitch sheet.
23. Write your family’s song. Your family heritage.
Personally, I find family histories very inspiring and I know I’m not the only one who does. Do you have an interesting family member that you could write a song about? A legendary ancestor? Write a song for them, about them, or from their perspective.
24. Write your “introduction to you” song.
A lot of artists have “intro” type songs on their debut records. These songs are lyrically about the artist. Some examples are Ingred Andress’ Ladylike, or Morgan Wallen’s The Way I Talk. Tell your story in your own intro song. Who are you?
25. Start a hook book.
Hook based writing is a great way to write conceptually strong songs. Start a hook book and you’ll never run out of songs to write? What’s a hook book? in short, it’s a collection of titles, or hooks, that frame a song’s concept. Here’s more info on hook based songwriting and how start your very own hook book.
26. Collect melodies in a voice recorder app.
Anytime a melody comes to you, record it. Don’t say “Ah, I’ll record it later. I’ll remember it!” because trust me, you won’t. Use your phone’s voice recorder app or one of the apps in this post. Get that melody down so you can write a song with it later!
27. Listen to what others are saying around you.
Eavesdrop on conversations around you. Yup, you read that right. Listen in on what other’s are saying. There’s always a story to tell in every conversation around you. Take note when that little lyrical gold nugget.
28. Start a journal.
I’m a HUGE proponent of songwriters making a habit out of daily journaling. There’s so much good stuff you can dig up when you journal. Plus, it’s amazing for maintaining good mental health. Here’s how songwriters can get started journaling, as well as some journaling prompts to get you going.
29. Write songs for special occasions.
Weddings. Funerals. Anniversaries. Babies being born. Graduations. Birthdays. There are tons of events happening in your life and the lives of those you love at so many points throughout the year. Write a song inspired by these events and the people involved.
30. Look for Pinterest quotes.
Pinterest is a literal goldmine for song ideas. My favorite is Pinterest’s collection of quotes. You can find lots of good hooks for your hook book in quotes. Here’s my personal collection of quotes I find the most inspiring. (SongFancy has a lot of good stuff on our Pinterest!)
Songwriting Tips on Finishing Songs:
Have a bunch of half finished songs lying around? That’s ok, we all do. Maybe it’s fear thats stopping you, or procrastination, or if you just don’t know where to take your tunes. Here’s how to finish up those half baked songs that are waiting in your notebooks:
31. Set a timer and sprint.
There’s nothing like a good timer to light a fire under your ass! Give yourself a set period of time to work in. This can help you speed up and focus on finishing that song. Alexa, set a timer for 20 minutes.
32. Swap your first and second verse.
Sometimes, this very simple tip can make a world of difference. I find that some songs don’t really start to take shape until we’ve written enough to get to the second verse. The song has an identity at that point. So try putting that second verse first and write a new second verse. Does it give the song a stronger sense of identity or a better storyline? You might find this helps you write the rest of the song with ease.
33. Check your storyline and see if you can improve it.
Do all of your sections say basically the same thing? Are you giving the listener new information with each stanza? Are you telling a story, or does the story lose steam halfway through? Consider writing the story that is the most interesting rather than the most factually correct. Does it make your song better?
34. Set aside time for a “finishing day.”
If you have a collection of half-written songs that have been haunting you for some time now, then pick a day to finish them all at once. Sit down and focus on the finishing. Don’t start anything new until you have all those songs tied up!
35. Give yourself a deadline show to perform a new song.
Are you a performing songwriter? Then give yourself a show that you want to finish your song by, so you can play it at the show! Deadlines are a wonderful way to hold ourselves accountable to finishing our songs.
36. Tell someone you’ll send them the song.
Another great way to stay accountable for finishing a song is to tell someone you’ll show it to them. Have them hold you to it! Nothing like accountability to keep us honest.
37. Submit it to a contest
A contest can be a great motivator to finish a song you have a lot of faith in, but that you may have been holding back on. Make it a goal to finish the song and submit it to a contest. American Songwriter’s monthly lyric contest is a great place to start, since they have it every month and you don’t have to write any music or make a recording.
38. Ask yourself if the song is on track.
Are you having trouble finishing the song because you’re not sure what it’s about? Spend some time freewriting and determine if your song is still on track with the original idea. If not, adjust course and re-write the parts that need to be readdressed.
39. Leave it alone or fall in love with it again.
Maybe you feel like you’re dragging your feet on finishing a specific song because you’re fallen out of love with it. You’ve come to a crossroads with songs like that: You can either choose to move forward and push yourself to finish it (this may help ignite the spark again), or you can put it aside and choose to move on. Either answer is fine, as long as you’re being true to yourself.
A good reason not to put a song aside: It’s for a contest, it’s going to be submitted somewhere, you have a demo session scheduled, or it’s cathartic, it’s honest, it’s something you need to say but you’re scared to say it. That’s a song that should be given your all!
40. Refer to “Songwriting Tips fo Starting a Song” for more tips on finishing your songs.
Scroll up and check out tips 1-10 (especially number 10) at the top of this post. There are TONS of great exercises up there that you can use to finish songs, too! Picking up where you left off on an old song is a lot like starting a new one.
Songwriting tips on Staying Inspired to Write:
A lot of songwriting happens between songs. Staying inspired has a lot to do with self-care. Because you can’t be expected to be writing all the time if there are other areas of your life that are being neglected. Let’s talk about how you can stay inspired, happy, and healthy!
41. Create margin in your life.
Listen, girl. You can’t do it all. You may be absolutely filled to the brim with commitments. If you’re feeling spread too thin to take on even one more thing, take a good hard look at what you can let go of. Every one needs white space. Start curating your calendar and know when to say “no.”
42. Find what you need to stay creatively fulfilled.
Do you need a regular gym routine to feel good? Do it. Do you need the occasional Netflix-binge-in-yoga-pants-with-wine night to maintain your sanity? Make it happen. Learn what you need to stay happy and fulfilled, and make sure you give yourself that time. Fill your joy bucket!
43. Get a cute notebook!
Seriously, buy that fancy bougie ass notebook that you love! Because if you have a notebook that you love, you’ll be so much more likely to actually write in it. Go ahead, treat yo’ self to a nice notebook (and maybe a cute pen to go with it). It’s called self-care. Here’s a list of my fave notebooks for songwriting and journaling. Which ones call to you?
44. Dissect songs from other artists and writers.
Is there a songwriter that you absolutely love and look up to? Listen to all of her songs and look at them very closely. How does she transition from section to section? What are her melodies like? How many syllables are in each line of each verse? When you take apart the songs you love, you can start to see under the hood and learn so much that inspires you.
45. Go see your favorite artists play a show.
Again with treating yourself—treat yourself to a show! Go see someone play that you absolutely adore. You don’t have to even write the same kind of music as them. Just go see a band you love and let loose. It will remind you why you love making music!
46. Get outside and be active!
We already know that nature can do wonders for creativity. And we also know that exercising creates happy little neurotransmitters in our brains. And science proves that combining nature AND activity is basically a super-activity for creativity boosting. Make a habit of getting outside and do some burpees in the sunshine. ☀️
47. Get enough sleep.
Girl, I know you’re constantly running from commitment to commitment, and the thing that usually suffers the most is your sleep. Or maybe you’re wracked with anxiety these days and sleep is hard to come by. Learn some basic rituals for good sleep habits and take care of yourself. Sleep helps you stay happy, healthy, and enjoying life.
48. Make some musical friends.
There’s nothing like a friend who’s also a songwriter who 100% totally and completely gets it. Go find her. Make friends with her. Trust me, your life will be so much better knowing someone like her who is creative in all the same ways you are. There’s nothing like a creative friend to talk to and get you through the ups and downs of a life making art. Looking for friends like that? You can start to find them in places like Song Club, the 5 in 5 Song Challenge Group, Music Biz Besties, or the Women Crush Music Collective.
49. Join a songwriting community.
Continue inspiring and educating yourself with a membership to a songwriting community. We even have our very own community here at SongFancy, called Song Club. Song Club is all about bringing together songwriters to help us write more, share our songs, and grow our catalogs together. Come join the club!
50. Have hobbies.
No joke. Have hobbies that are unrelated to songwriting. When you’re feeling less-than in the songwriting department, have another hobby you can turn to for joy and as a creative outlet. A few of my faves lately are oil painting, bird watching, rock hounding and fossil hunting.
Get 30 more songwriting tips on melodies and more.
80 Songwriting Tips eBook: Sign up below to download it today 🥰
Get a downloadable copy of all these songwriting tips plus 30 additional tips in my ebook. When you sign up with the form below, you’ll be emailed the link to the book immediately.
From there, download it, print it, and keep it handy! Have it nearby for when you need it. It’s perfect to keep in your guitar case or tucked into a notebook!