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Becoming A Fearless Lyric Writer
By Andrea Stolpe - 11/23/2007 - 07:19 PM EST

Lyric writing can be a daunting task.  We might begin passionately inspired by a new idea, only to spend the next hours sinking into the muddy muck of confusion on how to express that idea.  We may be mired down by our desire for perfection, our attempts at fitting the lyric to a melody we’ve already written, or simply our own fear leaving us like a deer in the headlights. 

Lyrics used to make me nervous, where writing melodies and grooving on a guitar or piano would free my inhibitions and open my soul.  I approached lyrics like the burden of the process; the point at which I knew what I really wanted to say would never quite shine through.  I had many unfinished songs, and songs in which I’d have to give lengthy explanations for before I began.  I would be happy with the chorus, and frustrated with the verse, or elated about the verse, and desolate about the chorus.  The few songs in which I was completely happy from start to finish were few and far between.

My years as a staff writer in Nashville were like graduate school in the focus of lyric writing.  I had mentors all around me who had perfected the art of storytelling through song.  I had the opportunity to collaborate with many of the legends whose songs I had adored for decades.  Slowly, my fear dissipated as a strategy for writing lyrics emerged.  That strategy because the reason for my new book, Popular Lyric Writing: 10 Steps to Effective Storytelling, published by Berklee Press.

To give you a brief overview, I’d like to describe some of the steps of the process here.  All my writing begins with a creative writing called “Destination Writing.”  This is no new process, used by literary writers for years.  It begins focused on a specific time, place, or person, using very sense-bound language involving taste, touch, sight, sound, smell, and movement.  Staying focused on these elements allows the experience or person about which we’re writing to spring to life.  Without these descriptions, the lyric simply revolves around our unsubstantiated thoughts and feelings.  To connect with our listener, we must allow the listener to experience what we experience.  To simply tell the listener we feel a certain way does not elicit that same feeling in the listener.  We’ve got to form a convincing argument, and that’s where the value of Destination Writing really takes shape.

The next and most critical step in my writing process involves the tool of ‘Toggling.’  Toggling is alternating between the sense-bound and concrete phrases with the more feeling oriented and abstract phrases in our lyric.  Each section of the song, from the verse, pre-chorus, chorus, and bridge, has a specific pattern of toggling that is used over and over again in popular songs.  We aren’t aware of them as we listen, but when we begin to analyze their functions, we can see them clearly and apply them to our own songs.    

Another tool I use to write is based on my ‘Plot Progressions.’  These are typical formats I use to organize the story, and are the basis for thousands of story developments we hear in our favorite songs.  Once we digest the most common plot progressions, we can easily see how to use them to develop our own ideas.

There are so many songwriting resources available, and I strongly encourage you to assess your strengths and weaknesses as you choose the resources that will help you along your way to becoming a better writer.  If you fear lyrics, know you’re not alone.  Please don’t hesitate to contact me with your questions, and take advantage of my book and companion course online at, “Commercial Songwriting Techniques.”  I also offer workshops in the LA area and abroad when requested, as well as a new songwriting tutorial called “Songwriting Made Simple” from my website

You can purchase an autographed book from my website,, or at Borders Bookstores nationwide, as well as Berklee College of Music’s online bookstore. 

Thank you and I wish you fearless lyric writing,

Andrea Stolpe


Book and Course Testimonials:

“I’ve read just about every songwriting book out there, and I have to say, yours is the most easy to read and digest.  You’ve written it… a story, and I can immediately understand how to apply each tool as I compare my own songs with the examples in the book.”

Rick S, ‘07

“In a mere 2 weeks and 2 days you have far exceeded my expectations as an
instructor. I can't say enough about the value of the lyric writing and strategy course and how much fun you made it. I always looked forward to your comments. Without exception applying your suggestions improved each of my writings.”
Tom G, ‘05

“Before this workshop I had never composed a whole song (lyrics included) in my entire life. Now I've composed two!”

Santiago C, ‘05

“This class has been amazing.  Your insight has been so helpful and your comments just seem to make the exercises 'come to life'.  I dread that it’s ending.”

Telita H, ‘05

“…you really opened up my eyes to the possibilities in creating new and interesting lyrics by…the techniques I've learned.  I learned way more than I expected to and it's really helped my songwriting, from my overall confidence to the way I approach the development of lyrics.  I am really surprised at the amount of stuff you taught me about the subject…and the quality of material I am generating now far surpasses anything I've tried to do over the past fifteen years.  Thanks a million.”

Mark R, ‘05

“Your review quenches my thirst for better writing. You never cease to amaze me by speaking in terms that I 'get' completely. Thanks again!”

Zane K, ‘06

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