How to Write a Song

This is a guest post by my friend Carl Dylan. Carl Dylan is a singer / songwriter from South Africa. He’s opened for The Beach Boys, and is currently raising money to tour with You Tube sensation Tyler Ward. Make sure to follow Carl on Facebook and Twitter (@carldylan).

There is both magic and discipline in the art of songwriting. You may be reading this as a professional writer or as someone who dabbles for the joy of it, but one thing remains—we are all creative. I honestly believe this.

As I sit here trying to share some of the tricks I’ve learned over the last decade of songwriting, I know you could quit reading right now and go write a great song because the moment may just strike you—magic. I also know you could sit down and decide to write a song and not quit until the job is done—discipline. I would love to help you achieve both.

Carl Dylan


This may shock you, but I believe the magic is easier. You’re suddenly struck by the NEED to write and get it all down. You are no longer in control. You simply ride the wave of whatever lovely Muse has graced you with her presence.

But barring being struck in the head with inspiration, how do you control the songwriting process? Here are two of my “tricks.”

1. Wooing the Muse.

First, find the perfect space for your creativity. Personally, I love finding a loud place where life is happening. There are lots of sounds, smells, and commotion. I enjoy feeding off the natural energy that a place can provide. Get ideas, take notes, and gather the energy.

Second, find a quiet place with soft lighting and something beautiful to look at. This is your space for doing the creative work. For me, this second space happens to be the writing room in my house. I turn on some lamps, open the blinds, and stare out at the forest of trees behind my house. For you it may be any number of things, but create a space either loud or soft, busy or tranquil, that brings you to a place where your inner voice gets really loud.

Don’t forget to focus on things that you find beautiful or entirely too large to comprehend. I find that this helps you realize that there is “magic” in creation.

Creativity is too big to be wrangled—it has to be wooed. (You might want to tweet that.)

(Remember, these moments can happen whenever and wherever. Always keep something handy to write down lyrics or record melodies because that particular “magic” may only happen once. I’ve forgotten more songs than I’ve written.

2. Creating the Discipline to songwrite.

So the last three times you wrote songs, they just came to you. It was invigorating and powerful. It also hasn’t happened in 3 months. Here’s how you overcome that—Make Time.

In Nashville, professional songwriters have something they call 10, 2, & 6. This refers to their songwriting appointment times. They literally set aside time at 10 AM, 2 PM, and 6 PM to write. So they show up to their “space” and stare at blank pages or hold a quiet guitar.

What do they do with the silence? They pull up all the little things that have been calling them lately. The one line they wrote down two weeks ago or the funny conversation they just had with their kid. Pull from your life and intentionally try to fit that inspiration into the story of your song. That conscious and disciplined writing had birthed more songs than all those moment of “genius.”

Remember Thomas Jefferson said, “I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”

Good luck finding.

Joe here: Want to support an up and coming musician? Carl and his band are raising money to finish a full length album and go on tour with You Tube senstation Tyler Ward. They’re currently a third of the way to their fundraising goal on Kickstarter. Check it out and consider helping.

Have you ever written a song before? What tips do you have?


Here’s a great way to put this into practice. Pick a subject, any subject, and carve out fifteen minutes to write four lines. Don’t be afraid of keeping it really simple. Remember what Harlan Howard said “music is three chords and the truth.”

Share your four lines in the comments section. And if you share, don’t forget to give feedback to a few posts from other writers.

About Joe Bunting

Joe Bunting is a writer and entrepreneur. He is the author of the #1 Amazon Bestseller Let's Write a Short Story! and the co-founder of Story Cartel. You can follow him on Twitter (@joebunting).

  • Girl I wish I could shut you up

    The stuff you say don’t have no sense

    That stuff you shoot has killed your mind

    Girl I wish I could shut you up

    • mariannehvest

      That really sounds like a song Suzie. Very interesting.

  • In college my roommates and I dappled with the songwriting thing. All of us were either musically-inclined or wordsmiths. I think we only finished two songs but it was a lot of fun (and hard work) to sit down and plunk out a chord progression and a concept and find a way to make the two merge together.

  • I’m tired if your hypocrisy so I’m going out
    Acting on my dreams and screwing the odds
    Chasing paper solo and earning without a doubt
    Having you begging for me to come back, and I’m like god

    Have you realized that I’ll do more than you’ll ever do?
    Now I’ll be the keepers of your generation’s zoo.
    I’m going to bring down the house on you.
    Bring down the house on you.
    Bring down the house on you.
    And there’s nothing you can do.

    Hey Mom, do you know where’s Dad’s going out tonight?
    There’s sure a lot of strange contact on his cell
    I only know that because over tech we fight
    Will you grow out of ignorance, only time’ll tell.


    (Now, I was using a pre-existing idea with a vague idea of the melody and the subject matter, and I bet that’s the meter is all whack, but hey, teenage rebellion.)

    • mariannehvest

      I don’t think I like the sound of “I’ll be the keeper in your generations zoo.”

  • Alison Schultz

    The times we had, the way they stared
    Laughter ’cause we didn’t care
    Picked up our bags and ran
    Sock feet and stirring sand

    • mariannehvest

      I like that sock feet and stirring sand. This is such a young song it reminds me of “I think we’re alone now” by Tommy James, not in the cadence or really the word choice but in the feeling I get from it.

  • Tamera

    When you lose your faith, I’ll give you mine
    I’ll be your strength when you lose your mind
    And just when you think you can’t take no more
    That’s when I’ll be standing at your door

    • mariannehvest

      What a wonderful kind of loyalty to have.

  • PJ Reece

    I am amazed and yet I am not… that so many songs speak of loss. Maybe it’s because that’s when we’re at our vulnerable best. I’m not a singer, songwriter, musician, nada, but some of these lyrics move me.

  • PJ Reece

    I am amazed and yet I am not… that so many songs speak of loss. Maybe it’s because that’s when we’re at our vulnerable best. I’m not a singer, songwriter, musician, nada, but some of these lyrics move me.

  • I mean, why is it that we feel more closely in touch with our deeper truth when we are suffering loss? Do we love ourselves more at those times, and hence we love other people? And we want to sing it out. This is a question that gnaws at me as a writer. It’s a question I love to be gnawed by. What say ye?

    • we lament, we look back – in anger, with regret, with the what ifs?

      If only I had walked down that street

      if only he hadn’t gone left me with six kids

      if only my mamma loved me

      don’t you leave me now

      don’t you take your love to town

      don’t turn away

      she came into our lives

      he wrecked our beautiful marriage

      don’t marry her, have me

      even songs like Ce Lo’s Yeah sorry cant afford a ferrari i more atari he more xbox (very approx of lyrics) it is looking back, making old, that kind of thing, there are those songs we go back to listen to when we are feeling blue for some it might be C&W, for others jazz, blues classical whatever. (it is punk for me, Green Day SLF Siouxsie Poly Styrene)

      We need songs and music in our lives whether we create them or not because our bodies are full of rhythm and rhyme. Our bodies have sounds (well those ones too) that we can’t hear with normal hearing – blood coursing through our arteries and veins, we have cells will cilia that emit a twang as they move. We are a musical instrument, a positive orchestra.

      Pythagoras knew it, Ancius Manlius Severinus Boethius knew it

      That’s what this “ye” thinks

      • We know so little about ourselves, really. Our rational minds offer us so little explanation of our feelings. Music lifts us out of logic’s gravity field and that alone is enough. Once out of the influence of our habitual thinking, we are available to the truth. Something like that, maybe.

        • mariannehvest

          I think that makes sense, and i think we need to be out from under the influence of our habitual thinking (numb mind in my case) to put the truth down on paper.

          • Yes, I agree, Marianne, we need to be somewhere else entirely

    • I think the walls come down more then

  • Sorrow’s well reflects her eyes

    Static time crackles on; (all we’ve ever known)

    This loneliness pokes and pries

    Yet I’d wait forever; (locked with you in stone)

    • mariannehvest

      Beautiful. Can you add music to that? I really think it should be a song. Well done.

  • As a professional songwriter – my own generated songs and commissioned ones – I know that Dylan is right on here. Writing since 1977 – and playing guitar since 1962 (and I still can’t bar chords!), I haven’t opened for the Beach Boys, but I have my 3rd album out, this one on CD, and I’m now putting my songs on Internet Radio.
    I’m going to take the coaching about 10, 2, and 6, beginning tomorrow. I love that!

  • PS: If any of you songwriters would like to trade recordings by email, I’m up for that (or down for that; I’m of the wrong generation to be sure!)

  • It’s the shocking rift in my soul
    that gives me the lift
    to grow and grow

    • mariannehvest

      What a good idea. I wonder if you could make it longer, I was thinking too when i read this, a song like this could be included in a story. It’s such a big idea and so clearly put that is stands alone; but it could also be used to show someone who finally knows what that means or who doesn’t know or but has written it. Don’t you do young adults?

  • Jen Tavernier

    celtic-y ballad
    the tune arrived on cue, with first word picture. Where’s my fiddle…
    Lord Dufen went a walking
    among fair fields new greening
    and his boots sang a song as he wandered along
    leaving puddles filled with silver streaming

    • mariannehvest

      That’s just beautiful “puddles filled with silver streaming”. Love it.

  • In loving memory of Refiloe, who is still shining, but now in a different place.

    I was there the day
    Your home became a house
    The day we laid you down.
    Down down down
    into the dusty ground.

  • Arielle

    When you get lost
    Ill lead you through
    To a better day
    Take a look into
    The sky you will
    see A Angel over you