Stuck on lyrics? Think of yourself as a potter

If you’re stuck or unsure of how to begin lyrics to a song, or a portion of a song, here’s a useful analogy:

Think of yourself as a potter.

A potter is similar to a songwriter in that the end result they seek is to create a beautiful, well-crafted piece of art.

But they differ in that a potter requires raw material to do their art. Whereas songwriters can pull words, melodies, images, and chord progressions out of thin air—on a good day, at least—a potter needs a lump of clay to get started: Shapeless, meaningless, and most definitely not a piece of art.

Songwriters can benefit from a “lump of clay” too. But in our case, it’s a mound of words, thoughts, feelings, mumbo-jumbo—anything that gives you something to start playing with, manipulating, forming.

To begin, just start writing down what it is you’re feeling or what it is you think you want to say. Stream of consciousness, just blurt out thoughts.  This can have a wonderfully clarifying effect on what you’re trying to express. But more importantly, it gives you some tangible stuff to work with.

With the “raw clay” out of your head and onto your page (or Google doc), you can then start to look for interesting words, themes, parallels, potential rhymes. With practice, you can get better at noticing these glimmers of potential—but you need to get them down on paper so you can look at them first.

Here, let me show you an example. I need to write a verse for a song I’m working on now, tentatively titled “Work Song.” I’ve already written a chorus that goes like so:

Don’t lose hope
Don’t lose heart
I know it hurts
I know it’s hard
But in the morning
Comes a rising sun
With a song to sing
And Work to be done

The main idea behind the song is to celebrate Work, capital W. Work is fundamental part of being a human being. It can be very spiritual, almost like a prayer or a meditation. It’s a universal topic, but I want to come at it from a personal perspective.

Turning to the verses, I want to set up the Chorus by writing a bit about what stops me from Working the way I want to. In storytelling terms: The Problem. I quickly jot down some thoughts—my lump of clay.

I get frustrated.
I get scared.
I doubt myself
I hide my head
Fall prey to distraction
Around every turn / Left and right
Precious time
Is slipping
Right before my eyes

Lyrics? Hardly. But now I have some raw material to work with.

After a bit of shaping, I end up here:

Frustration clouding up your head
Every day a brand new dread
Stick your head down in the sand
While precious time slips through your hands

That’s more like it.

Try it sometime, and let me know how it goes.

And if you’d like to book a songwriting lesson with me, all the info is here.

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