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Let Song Lyrics Inspire Your Next Story

by Jennifer on August 12, 2009

courtesy of RossinaBossioB

courtesy of RossinaBossioB

By Jennifer Blanchard

If you’re anything like me, music is a big part of your life. I drive listening to music. I spend my disposable income on concerts and downloading songs to my iPod. I write while listening to music.

Your life probably sounds similar to what I just described above (if you’re a music lover, of course).

But have you ever allowed music to inspire your writing?

Sure, you listen to music…but have you ever read the lyrics to all the songs you love? How about watching the music videos?

When I was in college, every short story I wrote was inspired by a song. And not just the song itself, but aspects of the song, as well: the lyrics, the music video.

For example, the first time music inspired my writing, I was sitting on the couch watching TV when I saw the music video for She Will Be Loved, by Maroon 5. Now, I had heard the song hundreds of times (I owned the CD), but the music video evoked something completely different.

I wanted to write the back-story to this music video. I wanted to show how these people got to the point they were at in the video. What would make that guy want to be with both the mother and the daughter? How could the mom do that to her daughter? I needed to find out.

So I literally pulled a notebook out at the very moment I was watching the video and starting writing this back-story. (Side note: The short story I wrote based on this music video will be available on podcast in the coming months.)

And the entire time I was writing this story, I listened to the song on repeat. I needed to be surrounded by the music so I could juice every bit of inspiration out of it.

The lyrics to this song also inspired my story. Singer/songwriter Adam Levine wrote some powerful lines:

  • “Know all of the things that make you who you are”
  • “I know that goodbye means nothing at all”
  • “I don’t mind spending every day, out on your corner in the pouring rain”

Those lines just stuck with me and I  weaved them into the story.

How To Let Song Lyrics Inspire Your Stories
Sometimes inspiration just happens–like in the example I mentioned above; you can read things, hear something, learn a new fact and–bam! There’s a story idea.

Other times, however, you can lead the inspiration to you. Here’s how:

Find a song that inspires you
You may already know of a song (or more) that inspires you. A song that gets you thinking or that burrows into your heart.

If you don’t already know of a song, here’s how you can find one that inspires you:

  • Check out song lyric Web sites–There are tons of Web sites out there dedicated to providing song lyrics. You can find them by Googling “song lyrics” (or you can Google the lyrics to a particular song).

    Spend time reading through the lyrics to songs you know (or songs you don’t know). Sometimes just reading the words will inspire a story.

  • Watch music videos online–If you check out video Web sites, such as YouTube, you’ll be able to find the videos for almost any song you can think of. Almost all music videos tell stories. It’s your job to extract the story and write it.

    While watching the video, think of how you can use the story being told in some way. Just like in the example I mentioned above.

  • Listen to the song itself–I also recommend listening to different songs to see how they strike you. One thing I’ve noticed is, depending on what’s happening in my life at the time, different songs speak to me.

    So listen to the song itself. Let it envelope you in emotion and inspire you to put words on paper.

To get you started, here’s a list of some of my favorite lines from songs. I can see a potential story in all of these lines:

  • “I’m just a notch on your bedpost, but you’re just a line in a song,”–Sugar We’re Going Down, by Fall Out Boy
  • “Funny the feeling when forever ends,” Stolen Away on 55th and 3rd, by Dave Matthews Band
  • “Nothing good comes easily, sometimes you’ve got to fight,” Amber, by 311
  • “I have found, all that shimmers in this world is sure to fade away,” Shimmer, by Fuel
  • “You’ve been the only thing that’s right in all I’ve done,” Run, by Snow Patrol
  • “You’ll never lose it ‘cuz you never had it,” Hollywood Bitch, by Stone Temple Pilots
  • “Sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same,” All At Once, by The Fray
  • “I wonder sometimes about the outcome of a still, verdictless life,” Why Georgia, by John Mayer
  • “It’s like a fairy tale without a happy ending,” Little Miss Obsessive, by Ashlee Simpson

You get the idea.

Has your writing ever been inspired by music? How so?

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Julie August 12, 2009 at 1:48 pm

Great post — I’m so glad I found your site. And, yes, music is always inspiring my writing, much the same way books and articles do. I’m one of the few people I know — and I’m sure this is fairly common among writers — who actually pays attention to the lyrics of a song, as opposed to just the tune or instrumentals. I can be dazzled or wowed by lyrics as much as I can be impressed by a perfectly constructed sentence in a novel. Joni Mitchell is one of my go-tos when I’m lacking inspiration. Her songs always tell a story — but in a clever, unique, beautiful way. Just like the best writing out there.

2 HD Silversmith August 12, 2009 at 2:58 pm

Nice post. I always write to music, but *while* I’m writing the music musn’t have lyrics — because I do listen to them and then I get distracted from my own prose.

So, while I write, it’s classical music of various kinds or film scores. (I teach film in my “other” life). If I’m writing an academic article or book, I’ll often pick something that’s appropriate to the subject under discussion in mood or tone.

If I’m writing other kinds of non-academic material, however, sometimes I will choose music with lyrics and let it get me into the zone, so to speak.

3 Sandra S Richardson August 12, 2009 at 9:52 pm

I have written a few songs based on song lyrics or titles. I am in process of writing my first novel and it is based on a song lyric.

Singing has always been one of my joys in life so I’ve always been aware of song lyrics. It’s best to know the words if you’re going to sing along. 🙂 Like HD Sliversmith I have to listen to instrumentals while I’m writing or I start writing what I’m listening too.

Thank you for this blog!


4 admin August 13, 2009 at 12:16 am

@Julie I’m with you. I always pay attention to the words in a sing. Always.

@HD Silversmith When I was starting out as a writer, I had an extremely difficult time writing to music with lyrics. But over the years, I’ve taught myself how to stay focused and write with distractions. Just like you said, music of any kind helps you get in the zone. 🙂

@Sandra Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I appreciate it!

5 Andrew Toynbee August 13, 2009 at 7:12 am

I find music to be a huge inspiration to writing, but I haven’t yet managed to write whilst listening to any. My creative neuron seems to need silence whilst I’m busy. However, I’ve been inspired by many a lyric, most recently the line ‘Standing on the edge of Nowhere; Euphoria is a long way down there.’
This conjured up an image of a character perched on a cliff edge, the scene below obscured by clouds. Who knows what will happen if the chracter throws himself off?
There’s a whole fantasy story in there somewhere….

6 larry August 13, 2009 at 8:22 am

If you’re a writer, chances are song lyrics can crack open your heart like a Hallmark card from a New York publisher. Great songs are always some form of a story, and if they can move us in three minutes, we should be able to move someone in 400 pages. Great advice, Jennifer.

Another great way to use music to jack your creativity is to listen to it — I prefer movie soundtracks — while you write. Puts your head in the proper place and keeps it there why you wrestle your characters to the ground.

Both of these tips are among the 101 I’ve collected and made available from my site as an ebook. Seems like there’s a real “tips” thing going around these days in the writing community, which is a good thing. There are never too many ways to get better, faster.

7 jennifer blanchard August 13, 2009 at 7:36 pm

@Andrew Toynbee That’s a great lyric! It makes me want to know what made the person get to that cliff. I’d probably write a version of the story that backs up and tells what happened. Thanks for sharing!

8 Crystal E. August 17, 2009 at 10:14 pm

I hope that you don’t mind, but I wrote a blog telling my friends and followers about you and your blog. I love this idea of yours, as well as several others that I have come across in following you. I just felt the need to share some of your words of wisdom. If you are interested in what I said you may read it here http://crystalestell.blogspot.com/2009/08/music-food-for-soul-inspiration-for.html . Thanks for all your helpful advice for procrastinating writers like me.

9 admin August 17, 2009 at 11:34 pm

@Crystal E Thanks so much for linking to my blog! I’m so glad that your writing was inspired by this post. I wish you much writing success.

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