The most effective way to learn how to write songs is to write songs. Write a song, write another song, keep writing more songs.
I know it’s not the most satisfying answer, so here are some concrete suggestions:
Get a beginner’s book on the subject and follow along applying the concepts. If there are exercises in the book, actually do them, don’t just read them. I recommend books by Pat Pattison and Andrea Stolpe to my songwriting students.
Establish a daily practice. Yes, every day. Even just 5 minutes of writing some lyrics or a melody while you eat breakfast. Doing a little each day will be much more effective and sustainable than doing a lot every once in a while. Too often, “every once in a while” becomes “once in a blue moon” and before you know it, years go by without writing a song. It’s better to strive for consistency. Don’t beat yourself up if you fall out of the routine - just remind yourself why you want to write music, and return to the daily practice.
Join a songwriting circle to stay accountable and learn from others. If there’s not one in your area, you can search for one online. Or just find a friend or two who you can meet on a regular basis (once or twice a month is usually good). You can have co-working sessions where you set a timer and both work on your songs. Or you can tell each other what you’re working on and set goals, then update each other each time you meet, and give each other feedback.
Get comfortable with imperfection. There’s nothing that ends songwriting careers before they even start like perfectionism! If you want to get good at songwriting, you are going to write innumerable songs in your lifetime. Don’t get lost in the trap of trying to make each one “perfect” before sharing it with anyone or calling it finished. Plus, people tend to appreciate vulnerability in artists a lot more than perfection, so keep that in mind next time your mind is telling you to spend another year working on that perfect song before going onto the next one.
Write from your heart. Along your journey, you’ll learn gain a lot of knowledge and techniques about how other people write songs and what works for them. At the end of the day, what’s most important is expressing yourself authentically in a way that resonates with you. So don’t be afraid to do things differently than others.
Hire a coach. There are innumerable resources available to learn how to write songs, but if you’re finding it difficult to figure out how to navigate all of it and actually write songs, a coach like myself or others can help you. I work with my students to help them not only learn critical skills but also cultivate a regular, fruitful creative practice—even when life gets busy and your mind tells you to give up.
If you’ve been longing to start writing songs, I hope this guide helps you get started. Life is short but expressing ourselves creatively is one of the most rewarding things we can do on this planet. So don’t wait and start writing today.