Generating Ideas

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Finding Your Inspiration

Generating Ideas

There are many different approaches to the process of generating and developing song ideas. When embarking on any creative process, it’s important to make a note of all your ideas: don’t dismiss anything. This is especially true in the first part of the creative process, so rather than limit or judge your ideas from the start, gather a range of material together before whittling it down. 

You might find inspiration through:

  • Free writing
  • Brainstorming
  • Reading newspapers, magazines and books
  • Watching films, TV shows and plays
  • Listening in to conversations
  • Considering other songwriters’ subjects and other peoples’ experiences
  • Talking your ideas through with others and taking notes on the conversation

Once you have plenty of ideas gathered together, you can start to look at them critically and decide which ideas you want to continue with. 

This is personal to you – what you want to write about won’t be the same as the next lyricist who takes this course. Just remember there’s no right or wrong answer. Go with what feels right, and what interests you most. 

As you start to write regularly, you’ll likely find that ideas come to you more often, without you having to actively sit down and seek them out. The more you immerse yourself in the creative arts, media and literature, the more likely this is to happen and the more ideas you could generate. 

David Lynch on Great Ideas

YouTube video

Starting with Titles

Conduct your own title exercise, choosing five objects you can see in your creative space (as demonstrated by Hannah in the video below). Spend a couple of minutes turning each object into an interesting title, and save these five titles in your very own ‘Hook Book’. 

Here are just a few techniques for getting started in coming up with ideas. 

3-Step Technique

 This is a technique beloved of the mainstream US Country writers, but is also very useful for creating a conceit or concept in a classic, jazz standard lyric, as demonstrated in the song ‘I Get Along Without You Very Well’. 

It works like this:

Step 1: Start with a title, before coming up with any other lyrical content.

Step 2: Briefly describe, in no more than a couple of sentences, the information you want to convey in the first verse of your song that will lead us to the title you’ve chosen. Focus on creating your story and how best you can ‘set things up’ to lead back to the title. 

Then do the same for verse two, remembering that your story will need to develop as you move through the verses.   

When you get to the bridge or middle eight, remember that this section is often a chance to change perspective or allude to the title from a different angle, so the story might need to ‘feel’ different here.

Step 3: Start crafting the lyrics to the song.

Free Writing

Free writing is a simple process designed to help you bypass your ‘inner critic’. It can also function as a sort of ‘creative valve’ to release inner tensions and open you up creatively. 

The important thing to remember is that you can’t fail in free writing; the whole point is the process, not the end result.

  • Write non-stop for a set period of time (approx. 10–20 minutes)
  • Write whatever comes to mind
  • Don’t make corrections as you write
  • Keep writing, even if you have to write something like, ‘I don’t know what to write’
  • Don’t judge or censor what you’re writing
  • Use the writing tool most comfortable for you
  • Don’t cross anything out – write the new idea down and leave the old one in
  • Drop all punctuation, making your free writing faster and more fluent
  • Walk away from what you’ve written and don’t look at it for a day or so, then see if there’s any useful material. It might be that there are actual useful phrases; it might be that some of the material you create triggers new thought processes, but you might not recognise these things without a little distance
  • You can also try ‘free speaking’ into a dictaphone, rapping or improvising along with a melody: these are all forms of free writing

Saving Your Ideas

Whether your writing sessions are formal or spontaneous, it’s important to record all your ideas as soon as they come to you. You could try:

  • Carrying around a small notebook 
  • ‘Notes App’ on your phone
  • ‘Voice Memos’ on your phone
  • Cloud Drive (accessible anywhere)