The Songwriter’s Journal


Songwriting Journal.

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:



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Sentence Fragments

In ordinary narrative writing, sentence fragments are no-nos. In lyrics we use them all the time. Often lyrics wind up clunky and less rhythmically assured if we assume we need to write in complete sentences.

You can get some practice with lyric “raw material” in sentence fragment form by using sense-based writing tools, like the object writing techniques Pat Pattison has introduced in his books. These involve generating associative streams of words, not yet intended as rhythmically or rhymically shaped lyrics. (Wait—is “rhymically” a word? “Rhymic” apparently is, so why not?) When writers first try such techniques, their prose is often too “journalistic” and correct, as if they were constructing polished short stories or essays. This generally means words are not flowing out fast and loose enough: there’s too much editing going on. To defeat this, some writers try spitting out isolated words in lists. If you’re object writing about an apple, you’ll get: “Red. Sweet. Crunchy.” The sweet spot for the best object writing “flow” is between these extremes: the phrase or sentence fragment is perfect. A series of sentence fragments creates snapshot pictures or other sensory “bursts” for the reader, and potentially for the listener as well. And, while the goal of these techniques is not to arrive directly at extended lyric passages or entire lyric sections, it is possible to lift out isolated gems—an image, metaphor, phrase or line—into song lyrics. These will often take the form of sentence fragments.

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