Geraldine Latty

Songwriting – What should I write?  Where do I start?


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Hello to all you writers of songs

I’m recently back from the Resound songwriting retreat ( up in sunny Scarborough where I met with some amazing people who are also writers.

Writers who came with songs that were initial outpourings or seed ideas.  Other writers shared songs that were a snapshot or journal of their experiences. Others came with songs they’ve been working on for years!

And some of these writers also had questions around the writing process.
Things like:
–       “What should I write?  Where do I start?  I’ve lost confidence.  Can I still write?”.”
–       “With my doubts and questions, I find it difficult to say what I feel.  Will God be mad at me if I include what I really think in my songs?”
–       “Why should I bother, my songs are rubbish!”
–       “I start off with good ideas, but then I get stuck! How do I finish this song?”

As I hear these vulnerable expressions, I can relate.  I’ve had those very questions too.
Maybe it’s time to face these questions,  and ask how we as writers can enhance and develop our skill and love for words, shape melody and find harmonies to communicate our stories in song.

So, here is my shout-out to four songwriters I met (will keep your names anonymous) and to your questions that mirrored mine.

Hopefully, they will encourage you, me and others to keep writing!

Songwriter 1:

“What should I write?  Where do I start?  I’ve lost confidence.  Can I still write?”

These are important questions – let’s explore:

  • Where’s our focus?
  • Love writing! What even with writer’s block?!
  • Tips for developing writing skills.
  • Summary.

I wonder if sometimes we can overly focus on that writing project coming up or writing for Sunday worship in your church community.

Thinking about the end result is really key. We are in good company with classical writers like Bach who worked to deadlines,  but I wonder if sometimes we need to take the pressure off ourselves a little?

How about we develop our writing skills, rather than simply focussing on finishing a song?

As a matter of fact, this is one thing I really enjoy,  encouraging students and people I work with, to not only work to complete their songs but also grow skills as writers.

Try to become a writer that loves the writing process rather than always straining for the finished product.

BTW – writer’s block is real!
But maybe some of the suggestions below will help us to jump off writer’s block.

Consider some of these questions around lyrics:
⁃       Can you find options that move you from your ‘go to’ lyrics.  Especially if they are overused?  For example, can you find any alternatives to lyrics like ‘saved’, ‘glory’ and ‘redeemer’?

⁃       Can you write your song concept both in longhand (a paragraph) or as a five word title?
⁃       Try writing your song as a letter to someone in the story (eg: Lazarus),  or to someone you know.
⁃       What about writing to the song’s concept as if it was a person? For example – write to the Saturday after Good Friday or to living water or write to wisdom.
⁃       You could try different styles for the same song.
For example, can you write in CCM * style? Can you then write it as a longer story song? Then, try the same song as a nursery rhyme?

We tried the ‘1 song – 3 styles’ approach when writing our song “Close To You” with our friend and fellow co-writer Matt Weeks.

Keeping the melody, I worked on lyrics:
1.  From a singer/songwriter perspective
“…breaking open, pain not spoken,  can I find my peace again?”

2.  From a story song perspective
“Covered by the love that found me carrying an empty heart” (Ruth and Naomi)

3.  And finally more CCM* style
“Why am I so loved by you? Treasure that I don’t deserve…”

While we came down to selecting just one of those options, I didn’t ever feel that the other explorations were wasted.

*Christian Contemporary Music – this widely debated umbrella term is coined by some to mean music that is non-classical and has influences from the pop and rock genres with, amongst other things, memorable melodies (hooks), accessible lyrics, recognisable song format (chorus, bridge, verse) and use of repetition.


Wakeup call!

Now, I know there are some of you writers for whom deadlines and responsibilities mean you have to produce. And produce quickly. And produce a good song. This is not that!

This process above, is for those of us who may not have those particular responsibilities but who do want to develop our writing skills.

Let me encourage you to write for the love of writing.

No doubt – it is careful, deliberate, some might say, hard work!
Some might even say ‘just writing’ and not using all of your ideas, is a waste of time…

…but I consider the challenge of seeking to become a better writer, has a particular joy.

Are we up for the chase?

This great little book by Sam Hargreaves and Joel Payne (Grove Worship – W240) may help.
‘How to Write Worship Songs’.  Check out Chapter 2 ‘Sparking – Habits for Inspiration’ (especially page 8) which may be a great place to start.


How To Write Worship Songs


So, in summary:

  • Find your focus.
  • Let’s learn to love writing – even with writer’s block!
  • Keep developing YOUR writing skills.

You made it!

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