After a writer's block of at least ten years, this guitarist is "ready" to move on with writing and recording the songs that lurk inside me.

My initial approach is diving back into my folders of lyrics, seeing what leaps out as having potential, and polishing those. Then once I have a lyric I like, I come up with the vocal melody and write the rest of the song around it.

Overcoming my procrastination is like peeling an onion. Now I'm back in the thick of things, I can see common themes for sure. My lyrics are generally quite bleak, about the struggles between heart and mind, and between the chemicals that make us do goofy stuff, with the knowledge that it may not be not a great idea, with some existentialist / nihilist stuff thrown in to lighten the mood ;).

Some of my concerns:

  1. My songs are too similar. Then again, this never stopped AC/DC.
  2. My style is somewhat stream-of-consciousness, a braindump. I don't feel I use enough rich description / metaphors. Then again, nor do Helmet.
  3. Most of my lyrics are drafts, written whilst "in the moment". But time has passed, and I don't feel the initial inspiration as strongly as I did then. For each one, how can I decide whether to polish it, or archive it (probably never to be seen again)?

My inspirations include Neil Peart (Rush being the first band where the lyrics ever touched me) and Steven Wilson (been a Porcupine Tree fan since 2000, he always seemed to write what I was thinking).

Peart didn't worry that this song might be a bit cheesy, and Wilson didn't worry that this song might be a bit short. Both brilliant.

With this in mind:

  • How can I polish my lyrics to the point where I'm happy with them?
  • Or should I just accept that they'll never truly be "finished" in order to proceed and break through the procrastination barrier?
  • What are the "boxes that you tick" in order to say "I have a viable song here"?

NB Sure, it's subjective, nonetheless I believe that we can share valuable insights on the topic. I guess that all songwriters have "systems" that you use to deal with these issues, whether they realize it or not.

2 Answers 2


Here is your mission, should you choose to accept it. It ISN'T impossible, and I guarantee results.

Take one of your ideas and within 4 hours of 'studio time' produce a recording. And FINISH it. It won't be perfect. But you MUST complete it.

(If you're more of a 'write it down' composer, that's fine. But still get to that final double bar.)

Same thing tomorrow. Or perhaps once a week would be more practical. But if you can't find time once a week, forget the whole thing. It's less time than you'd have to spend in practice if you were serious about learning an instrument. Do you WANT to do this or not?

When you have completed 10 songs, you will notice improvement. After 50 (that's a year of once-a-week) you'll have a few pretty good ones.

But you MUST assign regular time, you MUST complete the song.

Now start making excuses.... :-)

  • 2
    Good advice, with a long history. One of Rossini's students complained that he couldn't find any good lyrics for writing an operatic aria. Rossini hunted around in his desk for a few minutes, gave him a piece of paper, and said "this is your next week's assignment." The paper was an old shopping list.
    – user19146
    Apr 15, 2017 at 14:24
  • When you say "studio time", do you mean "recording an idea that's (nearly) ready", or "polishing writing and recording an idea that's nowhere near ready"? Because I'm talking about the ideation, before I even start recording. :) NB You may be on the right track - time management has always been an issue for me, even with regard to practicing guitar, but I'm making progress on that front.
    – antgel
    Apr 15, 2017 at 14:30
  • 1
    'Nowhere near ready' is fine. You'd be surprised what can be achieved in 4 hours. Use dummy lyrics if you must. Or use a generic musical pattern. The main thing is, FINISH IT. Tomorrow you start on a new one.
    – Laurence
    Apr 15, 2017 at 15:42
  • How can something be "finished" with dummy lyrics or generic music? Genuinely confused. :)
    – antgel
    Apr 17, 2017 at 10:39
  • 1
    It will be finished in the sense that it can be played, from beginning to end. There will be much to criticise. Parts of it may be unoriginal. The next one will be better. Move on to the next one. The point is to break away from being one of those bedroom musicians who has been agonising over the details of a few songs for many years but never produced three minutes of continuous music! For now, good enough is good enough. Perfection isn't the goal. Move on. It works!
    – Laurence
    Apr 17, 2017 at 12:19

Writing exercises will help improve the quality of your context, vocabulary, and delivery/phrasing over time... In college, one of the English professors had us keep a journal next to the bed and spill out everything that was on our minds right in our first waking moments; I found it helpful. Be patient; it may take time to get your flow going again.

There's no shame in refining old lyrics - songwriters tweak and/or overhaul lyrics all of the time... If your 'not feeling' your old lyrics, it's probably because you've matured out of the place that originally inspired them, though. By all means, mine them for what still jives with you and refine them to what inspires you now.

But, in the broad scope of this question - What ideas are you wanting to express in your lyrics? With a firm concept in mind, what experiences from your life, and from other's lives that have affected you, can you transform into stories that express your idea(s)? Or do you even want to tell a story? Maybe you're looking to score against an old poem?

With that being said, sometimes lyrics don't have to mean anything... And, there are an infinite number of reasons why songs get written, of course. This is a hilarious story about John Lennon writing "I am the Walrus" on Magical Mystery Tour:

John Lennon received a letter from a pupil at Quarry Bank High School, which he had attended. The writer mentioned that the English master was making his class analyse Beatles' lyrics. (Lennon wrote an answer, dated 1 September 1967, which was auctioned by Christie's of London in 1992.) Lennon, amused that a teacher was putting so much effort into understanding the Beatles' lyrics, decided to write in his next song the most confusing lyrics that he could.

The lyrics came from three song ideas that Lennon had been working on, the first of which was inspired by hearing a police siren at his home in Weybridge; Lennon wrote the lines "Mis-ter cit-y police-man" to the rhythm and melody of the siren. The second idea was a short rhyme about Lennon sitting amidst his garden, while the third was a nonsense lyric about sitting on a corn flake. Unable to finish the three different songs, he combined them into one. The lyrics also included the phrase "Lucy in the sky", a reference to the Beatles' earlier song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds".

The final piece of the song came together when Lennon's friend and former fellow member of the Quarrymen, Peter Shotton, visited [and recalled] a playground nursery rhyme they sang as children.

So, if it's a matter of simply being clever - what is it that you yourself find clever and how can you express/emulate it? This is all about individual expression - keep at it so it doesn't get stagnant. Sort of a cop-out answer but, you will "just know" when your lyrics are ready... Everything's pertinent in art, after all.

Finally, writer's block usually equates to a diminishing of one's determination and motivation; losing momentum can be very detrimental to the creative process. Personally when I've previously been dissuaded by a perceived lack of progress, I found that when I let go of that elusive creation-to-be, something else pours right out of me... Sometimes this helps to get back to exactly what one was previously attempting to articulate, but couldn't.

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