Journaling for songwriters is a game changer. I’m going to make a bold statement here:
Journaling is the best way for all writers of any experience level to access authentic, unique, and abundant material for their music.
I want to show you exactly why journaling is basically a songwriting cheat code by sharing a bit of my story.
Let’s go back in time:
Since I was a kid, writing stories was the number one way I could make sense of the world.
I wrote everything: Short stories, poems, fan fiction, lyrics to my favorite sound tracks. (Hi, Star Wars.)
Writing was medicine, especially when I was a teenager, when everything seemed complex and people were deep and heavy. Each day came with a new challenge in how to navigate my friendships (and boyfriends. Oh man, I do not miss dating).
I wrote through all of it.
It was when I started putting my words to melodies that songwriting 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 wire strings. This may be your experience as a young writer, too.
Whatever came out, came out: And I let it.
What I wrote was always a reflection of what my inner life was trying to make sense of. Creating music helped me process it all.
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: Writing with artists
These days, I’m writing a lot less for myself and a lot more for other people. And a lot more with other people, helping them craft their message into songs they can take on tour and place in their records.
That means my “sit down and let’s see what stories are inside the piano” time has had to shift a bit. Most of the time aI’m writing, I’m thinking about what my artist wants to say, now what I want to say! After all, I want to make sure she is getting a song she’s over-the-moon excited about. 💓
Enter Journaling. I’ve started to work on writing and recording music that I want to write.
Keep in mind, fam, my first EP since 2014. And before, it was 2010.
That’s a loooong time to be writing exclusively for yourself again.
I was sorely out of practice when it came 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?
Before starting this process, I made it a new years resolution that if I was going to write an authentic, interesting, and lyrically rich material.
In order to accomplish that, I knew I needed to start with journaling before I started any songwriting. Because I needed to do some digging.
And boy has it worked like a charm.
I’ve been keeping a journal since January of 2021 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 big 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!
[Psst—Song Club has a 7 day journaling challenge included in membership. It’s built to help you discover some beautiful authentic gems about yourself that you can use right away in your songwriting. Check out Song Club and start journaling today!]
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!
3. Journaling helps you become a better person.
Journaling helps us process things. 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.
This one’s big: 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, writer’s block, and more.
The act of writing in your own voice gives your voice power.
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, any way that you like. You don’t have to write more and more songs 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:
Journaling for Songwriting Strategy: Write something every day.
You may be thinking, “That 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.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Write down how your day went.
- Write what you’re feeling at this moment.
- Write a memory.
- Write a story you heard.
- Write a dream you have.
- Write a list of random words that rhyme.
- Write a song if you’re compelled to.
- Write half a song.
- Write two lines.
But write something. (To Do lists don’t count!)
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.
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 resistance is loud, and you will gain the most by conquering it when it’s loud.
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 committing to 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:
How to start a journal writing 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.
I love college ruled, spiral bound notebooks myself, because they lay flat and give me lots of room to be expressive. Plus, if I tell myself I’m going write 1 page a day, it’s a BIG page, so I have time to get into a flow. (this one’s pretty cute, and comes in a bunch of styles)
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)
3. Start writing!
What should you start writing in your fresh new notebook? 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
4. 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. Awesome, right?
[Join the Journaling for Songwriters Challenge inside of Song Club! You’ll get 7 days of journaling prompts to get you writing. And I’ll show you exactly how to use all that great raw material in your songs. Join Song Club]
Once you start journaling and experience the transformation it brings, 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 always 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.
(That’s what I mean by “write something every day.” It doesn’t always have to be a deep digging journal entry. Just musings as they come to you.)
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 people but have to get off my chest.
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.
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 journaling it out.
Write a page 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 absolutely in songs.
Remember, just like with a journal, it’s up to you what you want to share in your songs.
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.
Happy journaling, fam!