These days it seems we’re up to our ears in songwriters. Everyone’s a closet poet, and most of us can play a little piano or a few chords on the guitar. If you’ve ever imagined yourself up on stage, thousands hanging on your every sung word, or if you’d just like to improve those solitary musings, here are some tips.

[BE REAL]

Use real experiences from your life as material for your songs. Just write what you feel, whether it’s happy or sad or silly or serious.

[DON’T WRITE FOR THE TOP 40]

Don’t try to write a song that will be a top 40 hit. It’ll come out sounding trite and contrived. Write from your experience about what you know. Don’t be afraid to use specific memories in your songs-they’ll add depth and substance to the topic of the song.

[LISTEN TO OTHER PEOPLE’S MUSIC]

Play other people’s music, too. Learn what works and what doesn’t work. Is there a song you like? Find out what you like about it and apply it to your own songwriting.

In Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke tells an aspiring wordsmith to avoid writing about love. However, love may be what inspires you to write a song in the first place. Most people’s first songs are love songs, so go ahead, write about it.

[DON’T GET FANCY]

Don’t force yourself to be “poetic.” Don’t feel like you have to use elaborate metaphors or literary allusions; often, most people won’t know what you’re talking about. Again, draw your material from your daily life, and your audience will be able to relate the topic of your song.

Don’t expect perfection-don’t be discouraged if your first two or three or 30 songs come out incohesive, dumb-sounding or unfinished. Often people expect to be able to just sit down and write a good song, as if it’s an inborn talent. While some people have more natural talent than others, it takes practice to do anything well, and songwriting is no exception.

Don’t be afraid to be unconventional lyrically or musically-if the song calls for it, go ahead. Or if you want to be simple and traditional, go ahead and do that. The point is not to write a particular type or style of song, but simply to communicate what’s on your heart or mind.

[REFINE YOUR SONG]

Come back to your song and continue to work on it. It may come all at once, but a good song most often takes time and effort to write.

[HAVE A RECORDER HANDY]

Buy a microcassette recorder. You may find that song ideas pop into your head at the most random of times, like when you’re lying in bed trying to fall asleep. Don’t expect to remember that idea; most likely it’ll be gone by morning.

[FOOL AROUND]

Turn on the recorder, and just start playing and singing whatever pops into your head. This is a good way to get creative juices flowing, and if something good comes out, you’ve got it on tape.

[DEVELOP YOUR VISION]

Cultivate an eye to see beyond the surface of the world around you. Spend time alone either reflecting or observing, or both. No matter how boring your daily life may seem, there’s still enough there for a song or two if you’ll just take the time to see it.

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