In any creative endeavour, it's natural to hit a bit of a roadblock occasionally. There are many reasons for this, but the most common reason I find myself unable to write anything worth singing is quite simple- overthinking it. My latest dry spell involved the frustration of trying to capture entire people in a single song.
Whether you're just getting into songwriting, or it's something you've worked on for years, it's deceptively easy to fall into the trap of trying to capture too much in a song. This isn't always true, by the way- lots of people write about huge topics, and write them well, but sometimes focusing on little details can get the creative ball rolling.
I'll give you some examples in my own songwriting where I work with small moments, as well as some songs that I think encapsulate this idea very well, but first I'll share the passage I wrote in my journal that re-inspired me to start songwriting again, so you'll get the idea:
"I feel almost too in awe to write about anything at the moment. It's like I've just realized how magnificent everything is, but I feel like I could hardly capture that in my music- I don't even know where to start, actually.
It's just... little things. Fleeting, indescribable moments.
The warm feeling in your stomach when you watch your best friend with the man she loves, who you know will take care of her. The thought of your sister a few years from now, when she realizes how incredible she is. The moment of guilt when you realize maybe you haven't always been there for her like you should have been. The pride in realizing someone who inhabited your thoughts for years has no power over you anymore. The smell of spring drifting through the window in the morning. The liberation of running barefoot and silent through dark streets and feeling the moon on your bare shoulders.
Little things. I suppose that's what I'm supposed to be writing about, in the end."
So, how do we apply this to YOUR writing?
Sometimes, you can capture a feeling in a line that doesn't explicitly mention the feeling at all- and that's how songwriters are able to write about the same things over and over, but in a unique way. Here's a few examples from songs I've written:
1. All My Friends, (opening line):
Sunlight, the only thing that will kiss your face this morning,
Because I left before the sun came up.
So just in that line, what are we accomplishing? We're setting the scene- sun coming in through a window, someone waking up alone, the guilt of creeping away without saying goodbye. Just in something like this, the person listening has a feeling of the tone of the song, and that makes it easier for you, the writer, to have some guidelines of what you're trying to say.
2. Haircut, (closing verse):
I cut my hair off yesterday,
I didn't like it anyway,
Because it held too many parts of you
I couldn't get out with shampoo, but
I finally washed them all away
So with this one I'm talking about a haircut, which is just a little moment, but a significant one. In the song, it symbolizes all the memories and trauma that need to be released, and it sets a tone of liberation, of independence. By intertwining big feelings with little, relatable, everyday moments, your music becomes relatable. It's easier to listen to.
3. Freckles (mid verse):
I like the distant look you get when you are thinking,
I like the little trail of freckles on your back.
My fears used to be so big, my dear, they're shrinking,
When you see me for what I have, not what I lack.
So here, instead of saying "I like you, you're really handsome and funny", we can take tiny details that bring that person to life for the listener. I started with a detail that animates the person, and then used that as a launching pad to say something more important. The verse is actually speaking to mutual admiration- a shared awe between two people, and the emotional safety that is created from this. But it's laid out in a way that leaves something to the imagination. Let the listener fill in the rest.
Here are a few examples of songs that also do this very well- you can see how they're capturing feelings in little details, which is an easy way to make your writing more unique.
1. Summer Clothes (Mark Scibilia)
2. Give Me a Minute (Lizzy McAlpine)
If you want to give this a try in your own writing, try starting with a fleeting moment that made you feel something, and describe it. What did it smell like, what can you see, hear, etc? Be intentional with your words- everything you put in should symbolize something, because you don't have that many words in a three minute song.
I hope this was useful for any aspiring songwriters out there, and I would love to see your songs if you give it a try!