I believe a songwriter needs a journal—a primary container for your songwriting work. Expect to fill a series of these over time. In your journal can go not only actual song drafts but also pre-writing or supporting material: object writing exercises, back story writing, rhyme worksheets, project ideas and the like. Get accustomed to the idea that you can write stuff down that may not look anything like song lyrics, to help you get to the final song. Some materials, like rhyme worksheets, could be resources used for multiple songs.
Every songwriter needs to sort out their own approach to keeping their songwriting journal, and specifically boundaries or separations between that journal and other material you want to keep in journal form. I’ve spent many years honing my own “life and art journal architecture” and the design is constantly shifting. Here’s a picture of the archive of most of my 160+ journals, dating from the Tarot card “research diary” I started around age twelve:
Your personal journal or diary. In principle your songwriting journal can be distinct from your personal journal or diary, which is a place for recording and reflecting on your life, your day, conversations you’ve had, etc. In practice, you’ll need to evolve your own ways to organize your personal journal vs. journal(s) for songwriting work. You may choose to keep them together, or separate them.
I’ve spent years trying different ways of separating or combining my various diaries, notebooks, songwriting journals, manuscript books, dream journals, I Ching reading journals, teaching journals etc. When I began writing songs, the songs were interspersed in my personal diary pages. As I got more serious I would tally up the songs I’d written when I’d fill up a journal, and list them at the back of the journal. I also started using separate journals with music staff paper for instrumental writing, journals with square-ruled graph paper for extensive chord diagram explorations, and so on. Each type of journal, size of page, shapes what you write and how you use it.
Gradually I shifted to a separate songwriting notebook. For me this decision was a powerful statement I made to my inner songwriter self. On the one hand it was an act of distinction: My songs are more than just personal expression—“pages of my diary.” Pat Pattison says the mark of a great song is when the listener says, not: “It sounds like a page torn from your diary…” but: “It sounds like a page torn from my diary!” On the other hand this was also an act of unification: I am creating a sacred boundary (a binding) around my creative work. My songwriting journal helped me see my individual songs and songwriting efforts as part of an ongoing practice. When I began teaching full-time I started separate notebooks for “teaching seeds” and ideas; I also began to create separate journals for larger projects.
As you develop your own “journal architecture,” be aware that creating a separate container has a powerful psychological effect; and it’s always a compromise. If you do a lot of pre-writing exercises like free associative writing, morning pages or object writing you might establish a different journal for these. You can also try keeping a dream journal (especially if you’re practicing Hypnagogic/Hypnopompic seed catching!). There’s no one right way to do it; experiment till you find what feels right for you, and expect even that to change over time.