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Saturday, May 18, 2013

A recovering journalist's top 5 tips for writing lyrics

By Ted Slowik

I got together this week with a bunch of former newspaper colleagues to remember a friend, Tim West, who passed away May 14. Tim worked at The Naperville Sun for 40 years. He knew that town better than anyone, and he will be missed.

I spent 20 years working in newspapers. I hired a lot of people, fired a few, and learned a lot about writing and editing. I helped a lot of interns and young reporters become better writers. Most of what I know about writing for newspapers has to do with storytelling, and a lot of that translates well to songwriting.

So here are a Recovering Journalist's Top 5 Tips for Writing Lyrics:

1.)Write efficiently. Don't bore people with lots of adjectives and flowery words. Get to the point, quickly. If what you're writing about is interesting, say it with the fewest words possible. If it's not interesting, write about something else.

2.) Use strong verbs. There’s no better way to be efficient with your words than using strong verbs. Avoid “is” and “was” and use strong, active, descriptive verbs. This means you should also expand your vocabulary by reading more.

3.) Write in the active voice whenever possible. Say what's happening now, and how it affects the reader (or listener). Avoid writing in the past tense.

4.) Use similes and metaphors. These are among the strongest devices for improving descriptive writing. You could say the girl’s hair is long and red, but it’s way better to say her red hair flowed like ketchup down her back, as Tom Robbins did in “Still Life With Woodpecker.”

5. Find the unexpected. Dog bites man isn't interesting. Man bites dog, now that's interesting! It's challenging to write about life and love and all the same old same old in a way that hasn't been done a million times before, but it can be done.