A songwriting notebook, also called a Hook Book, is your idea vault.
It’s one of the best ways to capture all of your great ideas, hooks, thoughts about what’s going on with you, and moments of inspiration. A songwriting notebook is also your #1 tool when you’re trying to start with a blank page, or need to bring ideas to a co-write.
I’ll run through how to start a physical book you’ll be writing by hand in, but you can also use a computer. Simple replace write with type, and name your Word doc – Songwriting Notebook.
Your songwriting notebook is the most consistent tool you have as a songwriter because once it becomes a habit, you’ll actually start seeing more in the world and how it can become a song.
My poetry professor Arthur Smith calls it “setting an appointment with the muse.”
Once you open up yourself to see things from a songwriting perspective, it’s amazing what enters your world – and – your songwriting notebook.
So how do you make it a habit?
Week 1: Getting Started
Purchase a blank book. Lines or no lines, that’s up to you. Mine is always a solid colour that looks pretty plain. My preference is a hard cover, but yours might be a spiral notebook, a small notepad, giant legal pad, etc. It just needs to be something you’ll write in consistently and can reference back to as you start writing more songs.
This way, you end your Hooks & Titles on a back page and start your writing on a right hand facing page. Or you can make them the last four pages if you prefer.
Funny, odd, sad, strange, something someone said, you read, or just make you go “hmmmm . . . that’s interesting” in a simple line or two. Make sure you include the date to the right for each entry (this will come in handy later).
Week 2: Building Up Your Ideas
Go back and for each entry, write for 10 minutes (freestyle object writing) about those line.
It doesn’t have to rhyme, or a story, or anything like a song, just write what comes to you when you think about those lines.
This is all top of mind writing in the moment, so whatever pops into your head, write it down. It doesn’t have to make sense so don’t edit yourself. Just write.
Week 3: Mining The Writing
Go back through your freestyle object writing exercises and circle anything you think would be a good hook, title, first line or cool line in a verse or chorus.
Be sure to include the date next to each so you can find the full entry later. How handy is that?! These are your song idea inspiration pages and are VERY handy when you’re in a co-write or just need something to get excited about so you can start writing.
Week 4 & Beyond: Keep Writing!
You don’t have to do the object writing exercise every time. It’s just meant as a kick-starter.
Continue using your notebook to capture random thoughts and ideas. Once you’ve got it rolling, use the pages as a space to be creative. You’ll be amazed at how you’ll start noticing more and more things that can turn into a song.
Yep – I’ve got a system for my song notebook so I can easily find ideas, song lines and hooks.
You can find those tips here: Organize Your Hook Book
I’ve used several of the past few years, but these are some of my favorites because they can be archived easily. On the moleskin I use a silver Sharpie to write the date range on the front when I’ve filled it. I have them stacked on a shelf for easy reference.
Moleskine – they make a variety of different types and sizes. If you like a grid, lines, blank, or a music staff, they’ve got you covered. The elastic strap is handy for keeping the pages from ripping if you tend to stuff things into a bag and the pocket on the back inside cover gives you a bit of storage for photos or napkins you may have written on when you didn’t have your book handy.
Rhodia – has a very versatile selection from staple bound to spiral, hard cover to soft, this company should have something that fits with your songwriting lifestyle. One of the best features is the protective coated cover, which is very durable and can save you in a light rain! Also easily labeled with a Sharpie on the front.
Lab Notebooks – you can sometimes find these in used bookstores or office remnant places for pretty cheap, and they have the benefit of being highly
regarded as a documentation book (handy if you have to go to court for copyright infringement of your song). Laboratory notebooks are actually designed to protect scientific work by numbering pages, and are great at documenting the development of a new chemical revelation like Febreeze, or – a song. They can be found from $5 to $35 on Amazon.
Blank Books – you should be able to find blank books at a bookstore for a relatively good price. If you’re a soft cover kind of person, you can sometimes pick up 3 packs at places like Half Price Books for $5. Hard cover options they usually have a good selection as well.
And of course, there’s always the spiral notebook. I’m not one for the wire things that make them wonky to shove in a back pack, but the main point is – get something and start capturing your ideas!