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How to Come Up With Ideas for Songwriting

I’ve been writing songs for over twenty years, and for most of these years, I used to believe that the right time to write a song is when you have a sudden flash of inspiration where the melody comes easy and the lyrics kind of write themselves.

And sometimes it happened. I could be while waiting for the bus, walking, or eating and all of a sudden ideas and inspiration start bursting in my mind.

If I didn’t have a guitar on me to start writing the song right then, I would scribble the words on the first piece of paper I find (later on I realized it’s a good idea to carry a notebook with me all the time, something which I still do) and memorize the melody in my head.

Which is great, but…

What if you want to write a song right now, and you don’t have that sudden flash of inspiration?

Where would the ideas come from?

It took me quite some time to find out how I could get ideas on the dry days, but finally it clicked.

Ideas and inspiration come from one specific place: Our emotions.

If you’ve had sudden flashes of inspiration in the past, you will notice that most probably when you did, you weren’t just emotional about the fact that a good song was brewing, but also about the topic of the song.

Let me give you an example.

Right now, I’m writing a song called “99 Lies”. 

It is about a particular politician in my country who is highly corrupt and a compulsive liar.

And that angers me, a lot! I hate it when people cheat me and then try to convince me that nothing wrong is going on, that I’m just imagining things.

And what are anger and hate?

They are two very powerful, negative emotions.

They’re also very dangerous emotions and if not controlled properly, they may lead you to do things you will regret later on.

However, you can also use these (and other, positive or negative) emotions to inspire yourself to write songs.

While writing the song 99 Lies, all I have to do to feel inspired, is to visualize this particular politician smiling his cheeky smile at me. It causes enough anger and hatred in me to get the lyrics, as well as the melody, to just flow.

So, how does this apply to you?

Your predominant emotions may not be the same as mine were while writing the song 99 Lies.

But you definitely have them.

Whether it’s happiness, love, anger, boredom, fear, guilty, hatred, jealousy, joy, excitement, pity, nostalgia or any other emotion, most emotions are a place where you have been to before.

And that place is the perfect place to get songwriting ideas from.

Thus, if you want to write a song but don’t feel any sudden flash of inspiration, go back and recollect in your mind an emotion you want to express in a song.

Then, think about what triggered that emotion in you – the situation itself, the people involved, and the environment you were in when you felt it.

You will realize that if your mind goes to that place again, while recollecting that experience that made you emotional, you will find a lot of ideas and things you can write about.

You can take the situation from a particular angle, describe it in a narrative form, or even describe the emotions you felt themselves, among other things.

But for sure, that place will prove to be fertile ground for finding songwriting ideas since there was a lot of emotion involved.

And emotions are what triggers action, including the act of writing a song.

If you play the guitar and want more songwriting tips like this, I would also suggest reading this article.

Robert Callus is a guitar player, songwriter and blogger and gives guitar lessons in Malta.