Journaling for Songwriters: The Best Exercise for Beginning Songwriters

Journaling for Beginning Songwriters: The Songwriter’s Ultimate Secret Weapon on SongFancy.com

Journaling for songwriters is a game changer.

Story time!

Buckle up, it’s a little bit long, but I promise it’s to illustrate a point.

I want to show you exactly why journaling is such an incredible shortcut for songwriters. Seriously, it’s like a songwriting cheat code.

So to show you what I mean, we’re gonna go waayy back in time to little bebe Sarah:

Since I was eleven years old, writing was the number one way I could make sense of the world.

Especially when I was a teenager, when it seemed like everything was complex and people were deep and heavy. Every day came with a new challenge in how to navigate my friendships (and boyfriends – oh man, I do not miss dating).

It was when I started putting my words to melodies that music became the perfect outlet for me to make sense of the world.

I would come home from class, sit at my piano or guitar, and plink around, letting the notes feel their way into emotions. Stories emerged from the hum of a wire string.

Whatever came out, came out: And I let it.

What I wrote was always a reflection of what my inner life was trying to organize. Often, the music I was writing “knew” what was going on before I did.

For me, writing music is a lot like keeping a diary.

Fast forward to today.

These days, I’m writing a lot less for myself and a lot more for other people. And with other people.

That means my “sit down and let’s see what melodies are inside the piano” strategy has had to shift quite a bit to ensure that the artist I’m writing with is getting a song they’re over-the-moon excited about.

And this is not a dis – I absolutely love writing with artists. It’s one of the most rewarding things I get to do as a songwriter. To be trusted to help tell someone’s story is not a task I take lightly.

Journaling for Songwriters: The Songwriter’s Ultimate Secret Weapon on SongFancy.com

Ok, one more hop in time: 

Earlier this year, I started to work on writing and recording an EP.

My first EP since 2014. And before, it was 2010.

That’s a loooong time to be writing exclusively for yourself again.

In fact, if I’m going to be honest here:

I’m sorely out of practice when it comes to writing for myself.

What’s going on in my life that I could write about? What’s interesting? What’s authentic? What do I even want to say? WHO AM I?

Enter: journaling.

Before starting my EP, I made it a new years resolution that if I was going to write an authentic, interesting, and lyrically rich EP, then I needed to do some journaling. Because I needed to do some digging.

And boy has it worked like a charm.

I’ve been keeping a journal since January of this year and it’s lead to some of the most honest and important music I have written so far.

Through all of this, I truly feel like I’ve stumbled across a secret trick that no one’s talking about enough. Journaling is such an incredible tool for songwriters, why aren’t we all doing it??

I know how journaling has helped me become a better songwriter. Here’s how it can help you (and what science says about it):

Here are the straight up benefits of journaling for songwriters:

1. Journaling helps you write more authentic songs

And authenticity resonates with listeners. Just ask Taylor Swift:

“The more it seems like a journal entry the better,” said Swift. “The more it seems like an open letter the better. The more true and honest and real it gets the better. Where you’re naming the places you went and the time it happened and all the things about a relationship.”
Bill Conger, SongwritingUniverse.com

Journal entries naturally include these rich details, like people, places, and times. They’re a wonderful catalyst for recording this type of information – the exact kind of information you can use to write vivid songs. This is your raw material!

2. Journaling gets you in touch with yourself

Specifically the parts of you that you don’t even know about yet. You’ll be amazed what emotional blockages can be broken by the simple act of writing down your own thoughts. Sometimes, making something that’s been an internal thought or burden and making it physically external releases it from you. It can be an incredibly therapeutic practice, even if all your entries never make it into songs. But if they do, talk about authentic!

Journaling for Songwriters: The Best Exercise for Beginning Songwriters on SongFancy.com

3. Journaling helps you become a better person

Journaling helps us process emotions. And that can lead us to some breakthrough thinking, which can change the way we walk through life. Journaling can also lead to some pretty amazing physical benefits, too like reduced risk of heart failure – whaaaa? More on that here in Psychology Today.

4. Journaling gets you used to your own voice

The act of writing in your own voice gives your voice power.

Getting comfortable with writing in your voice will help you gain a new found confidence in it. This is a great skill to grow as you start writing songs, because you’ll need a good, healthy dose of confidence to deal with your inner critic, outer critics, and more.

5. Journaling tones up your writer’s brain.

Writing is a lot like going to the gym. You need to do it consistently to see gains! So even if you’re not writing a full song every single day, writing something will help keep those songwriter muscles in shape. Journaling specifically is a great practice to keep you writing something every day, because you can write as little or as much as you like. You don’t have to write more and more to see gains. You can write  sentence or fill out 10 pages of words – it all counts toward toning your writing muscles, as long as you’re doing it consistently.

How beginning songwriters can use journaling

If you’re just starting out writing songs, I suggest trying a journaling strategy that a lot of songwriters use:

Write something every day.

I know, it sounds like a big time commitment. But I promise it’s actually not. And it’s a huge way to see giant growth in your songwriting.

The rules are simple: Write something every day. It doesn’t have to be a song, and it doesn’t have to be diary entry. But it can be either, or something else entirely. Just write something.

Write a song if you’re compelled to.

Write half a song.

Write two lines.

Write down how your day went.

Write what you’re feeling at this moment.

Write a memory. Write a story you heard. Write a list of random words that rhyme.

But write something. (To Do lists don’t count, my lovely Type A friends!)

You don’t have to be writing fully finished songs every day. Seriously! If you’re just getting started, remove the pressure to write a song every day.

Play around with what you feel compelled to write, but just write something every single day.

An example of journaling for songwriters - just write something every day!

What if you don’t feel inspired to write every single day? Like, not even one line?

Girl, it’s part of the discipline.

Continuing with our gym metaphor:

Some days you will just not want to go to the gym. You will be so tired, so bored, so discouraged, so over it. 

But those are the days you most need to go. Because those are the days when it’s easiest to let yourself fall off the wagon.

Writing is similar. Some days you will just not be feeling it. You’ll say, “What the hell is the point of writing even two lines in my journal today?”

The point is:

  • you’re cementing the habit
  • you’re proving to yourself that you can do it
  • you’re in it for the long run and you know growth takes discipline and time

Make it a goal to write something every day.

It’s not easy to start a daily habit. To kickstart your new practice of writing songs, I want you to try the following:

Getting started with your new journaling habit

1. Buy a brand new notebook

Get one that you absolutely love.

Make sure it’s the size you want, that it’s cute, that it’s bound the way you like. Feel the paper. Lined or dotted or blank? Maybe it even smells good. Get yourself a new notebook that you love. It has to inspire you.

Buy a new journal that calls you to write in it. This way, you’ll look forward to writing in it!

2. Find the time of day that you can commit to

Write in your journal when you feel is best for you, but do it every day.

Some people prefer to write first thing in the morning, when their minds are closer to sleep. (Pat Pattison is a big proponent of this)

Some prefer to write in the evening, to process their day. (this is usually when I’m primed to be creative)

What should songwriters journal about?

Anything and everything! The key is to write something. Even if it’s short. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Pick 1 thing that happened today that you’re grateful for and write about it
  • Write about your current mood
  • Write about a tiny detail from your day
  • A person you met or saw or talked to today

Write honestly and with abandon.

Don’t censor yourself. Don’t worry about misspelled words, things you cross out, messy handwriting. Embrace it! This is your beautiful, one-of-a-kind mind at work.

Your journal is yours. You never have to share it with anyone, EVER, unless you decide to. Awesome, right?

Journaling is one part fun and two parts crazy

Once you start, it’s hard to stop.

At least it’s been that way for me!

I’ve learned so much about myself through the act of writing down my thoughts, that I keep my journal with me at all times. (I’m looking at it right now, sitting in my open backpack at this coffee shop)

It’s on my desk, right beside me while I’m working. I write down inspiring notes from podcasts, thoughts as they come to me, questions I have.

It’s also where I’ve cried, pen shaking, and written words that were the hardest. The way I feel about myself sometimes. The way I am and the way I wish I was. Bad influences, heartbreak. Things I’m scared to tell real people but have to get off my chest.

Journaling for Beginning Songwriters: The Songwriter’s Ultimate Secret Weapon on SongFancy.com

Keeping a journal is guaranteed to make you feel all the things. 

And thats ok.

Feeling things is what makes the most honest songs.

And honest songs are great songs. They move the world.

And the next time you sit down to write a song, your journal will be there with all the honest, raw material you need when you can’t find the words.

It feels good to get what’s inside of you outside of you. To write it out in real words on paper. Then, to put those words and emotions into a song and sing them. It’s unlike anything else.

If you’re going through a hard time, or a hard relationship, try writing it out.

Write a song for that person. Write them a letter, and turn it into a song. Tell them what you wish you could say. Stand up for yourself. Confess. Rescue. Ask, beg, pry. Yell and scream. You can do it all in your journal and certaliny in songs.

Remember, just like with a journal, it’s up to you what you want to share with the world.

You can write a song and sit on it forever. You can write something you’ll give to someone else as a gift. You can write something now and decide what to do with it later. These words are yours and it’s up to you what you do with them.

While I encourage you to share your material, in the end, this is your art. You get the final say on what you share with the world. The writing? That’s all yours.

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Sarah Spencer

Sarah Spencer is an award winning singer/songwriter based in Nashville, TN.

Born in the Sunshine State, Sarah Spencer writes vibrant, shining americana/pop music. She works in Nashville TN as a singer/songwriter, as well as a UX designer for a marketing firm.

Follow Sarah on Spotify to get her latest releases.

You can jump on her email list at SarahSpencer.com or purchase her debut EP, "Freshman Year" on iTunes.