Lyrics, Lyrics for other Composers, Songwriting, Writing, Writing Process
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Lyrical Triggers & Process

Sometimes it is as simple as a title I have no control over; an inspiration that opens a floodgate of lyrics. A poignant melody combined with the title “Charlie” inspired these words:

I once was young
I was new
we shared a kiss
that’s what you do
I didn’t know
you’d go
Charlie

A tender branch
on a tree
will bend not break
that once was me
but now
I am old
I’m not so free

My brittle heart
will surely break
it only takes one small mistake,
I know,
so…..
I’m careful
And if I try,
I’ll be strong
and I won’t cry
I know, this feeling will go

I’ll hold this thought
in my mind
of innocence,
and love that’s kind
of youth
and truth
Charlie

CHARLIE
©2011 Laurie Early
[Based on melody by Johannes Faber, as played on: Artram-Mantra by Fausto Ferraiuolo]

The original musical piece is a tribute to the saxophonist, Charlie Mariano, but Charlie was also the name of my boyfriend when I was 13-years old. So, my lyrics reflect the contrast between taking risks when your heart is naive (a sweet unknowing naivety), as opposed to when you have the knowledge of how love will impact your life (yet still summoning all your courage to express that love through actions and words.)


Lyrical triggers can be anything that inspires song lyrics, poems, or other writing projects. I remember an exercise from kindergarten where classical music was played for us and we were told to think of a story that was happening. What words came to mind? What story was the music telling us? Around that same time in my life, I recall a similar experience in art class, listening to music and painting what we heard. I still use these techniques today when I am writing. Here are a few other examples of techniques I sometimes use in my writing process, which is never the same from one piece to the next:

This is the basic clustering process: You write your central word or thought in the center of the page and circle it. Then you just let your mind flow, writing down connecting words and/or phrases as they come to you. Do not edit yourself! Just write! Keep going until you sense a shift, or the words stop. (In the video he uses a timer, I have never done that.) As soon as you feel this shift write a first draft of your piece. Do not edit it as you write! As soon as you have written your draft, you can begin to edit and reevaluate or make your ideas fit a melody.

remembrance 3 with dove

  • David Bowie’s Scissors Technique – Always an innovator, Bowie’s creative process sometimes meant taking lyrics and cutting them into pieces and throwing them down randomly. (I think he threw them on the floor.) Then he would rearrange the pieces and come up with totally unique combinations that emphasized different. I found a short video of him demonstrating his “cut-ups” on YouTube.

remembrance 2 with pine

  • Images – When I am writing about a specific place, type of weather, color, or even a time of day, I find it especially helpful to go online and search for images. I look at them and write down words and phrases that occur to me. (I used this technique when I wrote words about Isfahan.)

remembrance 5 with apples and birds

So, take a risk, try looking for writing triggers in the magazines on your coffee table, or Google a word and look at “images” or what comes up for it in the “news”. You might even decide to reimagine something you have already written–print out one (or two or three) of your old poems, then cut up and rearrange the pieces. What new message do you have for yourself?

Have courage fellow writers!

P.S. Photos on this page were taken by me a couple of years ago at the Palazzo Massimo in Rome, part of the National Museum of Rome. It was an incredibly hot day in September and I sat in this lovely cool (air conditioned) room for hours writing in my journal. The lighting in the room was configured to reflect a 24-hour cycle over 24-minutes, so the walls looked slightly different from minute-to-minute. I often think back on my time in this reconstructed room. It was one of the most tranquil spots I have ever encountered.  There is an interesting video about these “painted gardens” linked here.

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