Object Writing: Quickest Path To Great Lyrics

Object writing is one of the best ways to learn how to write great lyrics full of imagery – quickly. It’s also a way to create ideas in your songwriting notebook for those days when inspiration is hard to come by.

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

Object writing is really about finding a moment or message by using objects around you. To be honest, you’ve probably already done it a time or two, but didn’t realize it.

For an example: you see an old wooden sign on a shop that reminds you of where you used to vacation as a kid.  Or, you have a watch reminding you of your grandfather. The emotions of the moment flood back because you remember everything:

  • 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 special “thing” in the moment 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. They’re also 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 similesmetaphors and compelling imagery to add texture to your songs.  All of these are key elements of being a strong songwriter.

One of the biggest proponents of object writing as a way to grow your songwriting “eye” is Pat Pattison.  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.

  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. Underline any that could be stronger if you spent some time on describing them more
  7. Use your regular songwriting process to outline a song idea, verse, chorus, bridge, find chords and melody

You can find prompts in a number of places, but it’s good to keep a running list. Refer to your list when you start your object writing time.

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 to help you get started:

Fanta bottle capPipe pouch
Bird’s featherBurned log
Clip on bow tieReading lamp
Red chili ristraRotary phone
Pencil eraserCharm bracelet
Train whistleMatch book from a bar
Steel thimbleCamping stove
Yellow raincoatCigar box
Motorcycle headlampRow boat
Ice cream scoopWorn page of a book
Faucet knobDog collar
More Object Writing Prompts

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