Writing Lyrics From the Soul

I was talking to my friend the other day about what makes lyrics good.

What is a “good lyric”?

For me, it comes down to something that strikes you, something that pierces you when you hear it. It goes right into your chest or flashes a spark in your mind.

But how to write lyrics like this? Writing from your soul, from your heart, from your innermost self will always come out real, and you should always trust in your deepest instincts to what that is.

And when to be poetic, and when to be plain? Well, there are countless artists I could refer to. Let’s just take the example of Bob Dylan.

In the song “You’re a Big Girl Now on his Blood On The Tracks album, he opens the song by writing:

 Our conversation was short and sweet It nearly swept me off of my feet   

It’s such a plain thing to say, but the way he says it is unforgettable. Why?

The conversation he describes in that song sounds exactly like what you would say to a friend.

Because when you talk to a friend, or anyone close to you, there is an honesty that shines through. That honesty always translates to soulful writing, and without any effort, it will radiate.

Look at these examples for Bob Dylan:

The poetic:

 Darkness at the break of noon Shadows even the silver spoon The handmade blade, the child's balloon Eclipses both the sun and moon To understand you know too soon There is no sense in trying   

And then the plain:

 Shadows are fallin' and I've been here all day It's too hot to sleep and time is runnin' away Feel like my soul has turned into steel I've still got the scars that the sun didn't heal There's not even room enough to be anywhere It's not dark yet but it's gettin' there  

For me, they are both great lyrics on their own, one is more ethereal, and one is down to earth. Both are honest, and both from the soul. In both cases, his lyrics came from a place deep within him that even he describes as “the wellspring of creativity, a kind of penetrating magic.”

The important takeaway here is that this magic is not only available for Bob Dylan, that magic happens with all artists, known and unknown. For me, and for you.

Believe it.

It’s the moment when you get out of the way. It’s the moment when the need to express something from your heart overwhelms all reason and all judgment, both inner and external.

Finding the magic, finding the wellspring of creativity is a goal of mine. The magic manifests itself everywhere, even without you summoning it. So many situations in life will basically create the magic for you, and all you have to do is write it down.

I remember having a conversation with the late Jerry Jeff Walker about songwriting. He was arrested for intoxication and thrown in a jail cell in New Orleans. There he met a street dancer, also in jail, who told him his story. He called himself Mr. Bojangles.

Jerry Jeff got out the next day, sat down, and wrote the song in a matter of minutes, basically recounting nearly verbatim what happened to him, along with a little melody.

For me, this story shows how important it is to simply be aware of the magic and inspiration in life all around you, and that sometimes setting what is already there to music is all you even have to do.

I encourage any writers out there to cultivate that awareness of the magic all around you. Hopefully not be arrested for intoxication in jail, but you know what I mean!

Magic is everywhere, even in the negative parts of life. As the poet Kahlil Gibran writes:

“And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?

Seizing the moment when it happens is the key, with awareness of the worlds within and without. Articulating that emotion with honesty. All of this leads to music, and music leads to it, like the dragon eating its tail.

In that, I think we, as the artists, have a kind of duty. To write for the sake of art, selflessly from our soul, without filters. For music and for art, for beauty. Recognize and capture the magic and let the words flow, in a river if need be, to the sea. 

This, for me, is writing from the soul. And perhaps also: writing to the soul, a love letter no one has read, but always known. 

How to write lyrics from the soul? When to be poetic and when to be plain? Here's my take on how songwriters can find that balance between what's real and what's true.

#writing #lyrics #songs #Music #songwriting #learning

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