Write Better Lyrics: Is Your Lyric Complex Where it Could Be Simple?

Sometimes a lyric taunts its writer, stubbornly remaining almost-great despite repeated efforts to make it fully-great. In my previous post I promised to share 16 questions you can ask of your lyric in order to identify the tweaks necessary to take it from fine to fantastic.

Here is Lyric Question No. 2:


The goal of asking this question is NOT to dumb down your lyrics or pander to lowest common denominators. Deep and challenging lyrics are encouraged here! But think about the five most profound lines you've ever heard in song, poetry or prose. Chances are, part of what made those lines so brilliant was that they took a highly complex idea and made it suddenly clear.

When I suggest your lyrics be simple, I am really referring to this definition of simplicity:
- "Having or composed of only one thing, element, or part"
- "The quality of being simple or uncompounded; 'the simplicity of a crystal'"

You want your lyric to be brilliantly focused--crystal clear. So another way to ask Lyric Question No. 2 would be:


I can still remember my first publisher calling me after I'd mailed in my latest masterpiece and saying: "There's a good song in here somewhere. In fact there are 7 good songs in here. Pick the ONE THING this particular song is going to be about and write me 6 other songs with the rest." Over time (and via numerous less-than-effective, scattered songs), I learned that while complicated lines might dazzle and impress, simple, focussed lyrics stand a much better chance of engaging and moving a listener.

For each lyric you write, you should be able to identify a single, central idea (hopefully embodied in an undeniably great lyrical hook). Then, you should be able to draw a direct line of connetion from every other line of the song back to that central idea. If you find some rogue lines, remove them, no matter how amazing they are. They can be the foundation of your next masterpiece.

Take a look at your latest lyric. You should be able to summarize the concept of your song in 1 sentence, and the emotion of your song in 1 word. If you can't, continue to sift and refine until you can. Remember, you are writing a song, not a novel or essay or even a poem. The good news is, if craft and inspiration meet up and weather conditions are just right, a song can sometimes let you say more in a single line that you could with hundreds, even thousands, of other words.

Remember, focus = power. And simplicity does NOT equal stupidity or vacuity. We want the sort of undiluted purity that allows us, in the words of William Blake,

To see a World in a grain of sand,
And Heaven in a wild flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

Keep it real. Keep it simple. Keep writing.

Do you agree with the idea that the most profound lyrics are often the simplest and most focussed? Or do you actually prefer more enigmatic or complex writing? Argue your viewpoint in the comment section below!

Also, don't miss Lyric Question Number 3! Bookmark Songville or Subscribe (for free!) to be alerted when there are new posts.
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