Friday, November 8, 2013

The Creative Process—Lyrics

Words are my life! There are thousands of words and hundreds of thousands of combinations of words. The words are always my starting point when I sit down to write a song.

Most people who wish to write an original song have something they want to say. Something is on their heart that they wish to share, or they have a unique viewpoint on a topic or strong feelings about an issue. But they just don’t know how to go about getting it down on paper.

Having been a songwriter for over 40 years, I’ve found that the more *creative* you are, the more creative you *are*. You’ll never create anything if, at some point, you don’t discipline yourself to face that blank page.

It may be difficult to get started, but set aside some time when you can concentrate and remain undisturbed. In fact it’s a good idea to set some time aside on a regular, if not daily, basis if you are truly committed to writing. Choose your tools—I still love pencil and paper but often use a word processor on the computer for speed and flexibility. I have rhyming dictionaries and thesauruses and other resource material all around my desk area. Close your door, turn off the TV and the radio, and ignore email and other distractions. Take a couple deep, cleansing breaths.

Start by writing your theme, or the topic that you will be focusing on. Usually when I start writing and have chosen a theme, what comes first is the chorus with the “hook” —the catchy phrase that people will remember, and which often becomes the title. (Country music is full of examples of good hooks—Achy, Breaky Heart, On the Other Hand, etc. You may not like the song, but you can’t forget that hook!) Begin with a goal of writing one small set of lyrics. It may end up being the chorus or the first verse, or even just a beautifully poetic line. But put something down as a starting point.

Don't be afraid to write everything down that comes to mind. Often as I work on lyrics, I move lines up and down (the benefit of a word processor; copy & paste!) and keep building the strongest set of words I can. Something might not fit in, but it will help me think of something else that does. It's not unusual for my notes of unused words and phrases to be three or more pages long for a given song!

When working on a new lyric, I don’t worry about a rhyme scheme. Instead I think of the most beautiful, descriptive, and poetic words that could be associated with my topic. In fact, I’ve often been willing to sacrifice a rhyme in order to say something I wanted to say in a beautiful way. If you have a page full of poetic, descriptive, and beautiful words or phrases, you will find the best ones for your important message. Alliteration is another great way to give your lyric an internal structure that seems like a rhyme scheme.

A very common mistake is to try to say too much. The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing! Pick your topic and explore it, but stay with it. You can always write another song about a related topic or expound further in a separate work with a different focal point. (That might be a good use for your unused words and phrases!)

Next time we’ll discuss melody. Good luck!

Ruth Elaine Schram
Ruth Elaine Schram wrote her first song at the age of twelve, and her first octavo was published twenty years later, in 1988. In 1992, she became a full-time composer and arranger and now has over 2,000 published works. Over thirteen million copies of Schram's songs have been purchased in their various venues, and Ruth has been a recipient of the ASCAP Special Award each year since 1990. In addition to Schram's choral music for church and school choirs, her songs appear on thirty albums (four of which have been Dove Award finalists) and numerous children's videos, including sixteen songs on four gold videos, and four songs on one multi-platinum video. Ruthie's songs have also appeared on such diverse television shows as The 700 Club and HBO's acclaimed series The Sopranos.

Ruthie began piano and theory lessons at the age of five. She studied music at Lancaster Bible College and Millersville State College and taught Elementary Music in Pennsylvania for several years. Schram now lives in Birmingham, Alabama with her husband, Scott, and they have two grown daughters, Crystie and Celsie.

Ruth Elaine Schram's current published works, including pieces published by Exaltation Publications, Monarch Music, Laurel Press, Heritage Music Press, and Lorenz Publishing Company (all Lorenz companies) are listed on her web site,, with samples of audio excerpts and select pages of the scores.

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