5 Tips for Songwriting/Composing- (and for you other creative types)

5 Tips for Songwriting/Composing- (and for you other creative types)

5 Tips for Songwriters

(and you other creative types)


I recently watched an interview with the late Stephen J. Cannell, one of the most successful screenwriters of all time-( The Rockford Files, The A Team, 21 Jump Street, and many more including numerous novels.) When asked what his secret to being such a prolific and successful writer he said “write every day.” He would awaken at 4:30 AM every day and write for 5 hours. Now many of you may think that you have to be in the “mood” or feel motivated to write, and this can be true. However, if you sit and “force” it for a few minutes you will likely start to move the creative wheels and get ideas flowing. You can jumpstart inspiration and this is really the hardest part. Check out the interview here.

When you write every day several things start to happen- you exercise the creative muscle and build your stamina to concentrate. Concentration is really one of the secrets to being a great writer. Dweezil Zappa once told me that his father, the great Frank Zappa, could “get on a flight to Europe, pull out a book of manuscript paper and by the time he landed 7 hours later would have a whole score of music written.” He had the ability to focus for long periods of time and this ability comes with writing daily.

Another thing that will happen is that your backlog catalog of creative ideas and little “nuggets” of songs, melodies etc…will grow….and grow. You’ll be surprised how many ideas you will end up with if you stay with the daily writing practice for a month. Having a catalog of your own ideas will keep you productive when you hit a “dry spell.”

Just start with 20 min, set a timer and focus only on writing. Try a melody, a chorus to a song you haven’t finished, a verse, chord progression…it doesn’t matter really- just pick ONE thing and stay with it. Write every day even if it’s just a little something.


This is pretty self explanatory but here goes. You need a way to store your moments of inspiration and keep them all in one place when they can be easily accessed for future reference. Over the years I’ve worked with many successful songwriters and they each have their own methods. I was in the studio with Jewel once and watched her pull out these beautiful notebooks with hundreds of poems and songs written in them all in such a really unique way. Daryl Hall uses an old boombox cassette recorder from the 80’s and it’s worked well for him. I use an I Phone for recording and organizing ideas. It doesn’t really matter which you choose just keep them all in the same place and as organized as you can. If you get stuck on that verse or chord progression, or can’t find anything to spur some song ideas you can always resort to your back catalog of little gems of inspiration. I look at these as little “gifts” from my inner voice and I treat them carefully. Eventually you’ll end up with thousands of your own and forget most of them- until you pull one out again. Don’t underestimate recording your ideas….magic can be created in this way. Sometimes in the dead of night I wake up and hear melodies or ideas that are so strong I have no choice but to go downstairs and commit them to tape…before they are gone forever.


Oftentimes when you write something it’s easy just to toss it out the window without giving it a chance to develop or grow. We are quick to judge our own work and without the objectivitiy that a co- writer or a producer may provide some great song material may be thrown out before it’s potential has been fully realized. Remember the famous story about Steven King’s wife finding the manuscript for Carrie in the trash and rescuing it from obscurity? Imagine throwing away something that would became one of the biggest movies of the late 70’s!

At the same time, be careful who you play your songs for, remember that other peoples opinions are just that…opinions. And yes EVERYONE has his/her own opinion. It amazing sometimes how non-creative types can be the most judgemental to artists. We do need constructive criticism and this can be a part of reaching your potential, but it can also work in the reverse and kill a great idea- in seconds. Be careful and selective about who you play ideas for.


When you get stuck or feel like you are in a creative rut- go outside. Not literally (although this can help too) what I mean by going outside is to go outside your box. Listen to a completely different style of music, or visit a museum and try and feel what the artist was saying with a work. Don’t study it just feel. See if you can take this inspiration and channel this into your own work.


Many guitarists get stuck into patterns or fingerings and as a result always end up playing the same thing leading to ruts and lack of creativity. By singing a melody in your head and then trying to play it you are tapping into your inner voice. This is the most pure “you” that there is, your original voice. Start paying more attention to the melodies in your head or those lyrical ideas and capture them.

I hope these tips will inspire you to find the voice within and create some of your own new music to share with the world.

Paul C.

Fantastic Shane! Writing every day keeps the wheels greased.

Shane T.

yes I think so!


Andy K.

Shane all I can say is thank you.

Thank you for the music, thank you for being a badass, and thank you for this post.

I just watched the interview with SJC and he seems to just get it.

Jenifer K.

Thanks! This is something I'd like to learn how to do, but have been intimidated to try.

Shane T.

Just get started and that's really the best way to "learn" with anything creative. Just do and you'll figure it out as you go. Don't feel intimidated because at first it's just you and your ideas.

Jeannette b.

Just curious.  Is your Mojo Monster Picking lesson a book or audio-video?  

Shane T.

it's a PDF book with audio MP3s for reference and playalong.

Jeannette b.

My best creative song writing is at the endow the day.  I keep a guitar next to my bed, so that I try out new tunes, then I cheat by turning on my Super Snark (tuner) to capture the notes of the melody. Next I jot them down on old envelopes that my mail was emptied from, then put them in a journal.  I'm really picking up momentum!  This is so rewarding.  As I have time, I use my loop pedal to play chords, then individual notes, &/or finger pick harmonies.  You are right.  The more you do regularly, the better it gets. Thanks for encouraging us out here in the world of music to do these exercises. It's really so much more fun than playing covers.  Im on it!


Shane T.

Thanks for reading and glad it's helpful!

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