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Object Writing: Quickest Path To Great Lyrics

Object Writing: Quickest Path To Great Lyrics

Object writing is one of the best ways to quickly advance your songwriting skills.

It’s also a multitasking way to create ideas in your songwriting notebook for those days when inspiration is hard thing to come by.

To help move things along, try challenging yourself with an unconventional source – objects around you.

Object writing is really about finding the “thing” that a moment can divulge as you write by using objects around you to spur the process.

To be honest, you’ve probably already done it a time or two, but didn’t realize it.

You see an old wooden sign on a shop that reminds you of where you used to vacation as a kid.  Or, a friend shows you a watch that reminds you of your grandfather’s and the moment as a child when he held it to your ear.

The emotions of the moment come flooding back because you remember what the room looked like you were standing in; the sound rattling in the bones of your ear; his hand worn hands, dirty from sorting parts at a factory, slowly winding the stem; the tobacco from his pipe smelling like apple and cedar chips.

These sensory memories are what take us back to meaningful connections to find the “thing” in the moment that we didn’t know existed.  The “why” of the memory. Why did it resurface? What does it mean to you?

These ‘a-ha” moments are what poems seek as they describe things and move down the page, and they’re what make songs more than just generic messages of love, loss and happiness using stock images and cliche phrases.

Object writing is also one of the best ways to find unique similes, metaphors and compelling imagery to add texture to your songs.  All of these are key elements of being a strong songwriter.


Getting Started With Object Writing


One of the biggest proponents of object writing as a way to grow your songwriting “eye” is Pat Pattison, a professor at Berklee.  His book, Songwriting Without Boundaries: Lyric Writing Exercises For Finding Your Voice, is an exceptional guide to object writing, with examples from songwriters and one of Americana’s best, Gillian Welch.


Basic Steps Of Object Writing
  1. Don’t over-think what you’re writing – the goal is to get you started
  2. Don’t worry about rhyme and structure – you can clean that up later
  3. Do write down whatever comes into your head
  4. Do it for 10 – 15 minutes but no longer
  5. Go back and circle the parts that have an emotional connection to you
  6. Go back and underline any strong images or items that could be stronger if you spent some time on describing them more later
  7. Use your regular songwriting process to outline a song idea, verse, chorus, bridge, find chords and melody



Sources For Object Writing

You can find prompts in a number of places, but it’s good to keep a running list so you’re not spending your object writing time looking for a prompt.

I also keep a box of small items to rummage through. You’d be amazed at what a simple Fanta orange bottle cap with a little rust can make you think about!


I’ve included a list of objects and words to help you get started:

Fanta bottle cap Pipe pouch
Bird’s feather Burned log
Clip on bow tie Reading lamp
Red chili ristra Rotary phone
Pencil eraser Charm bracelet
Train whistle Match book from a bar
Steel thimble Camping stove
Yellow raincoat Cigar box
Motorcycle headlamp Row boat
Ice cream scoop Worn page of a book
Faucet knob Dog collar


More Object Writing Prompts



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