Since the early utterances of human language, we’ve been putting words to music—belting anthems of change, humming hymns of hope, crooning lyrics of love. Songs can tell stories, evoke emotion, even deliver lessons. Before the written word, songs served as a historical record, passing information down through the generations. Put to music, words have the power to penetrate our thick skin and hold our wandering attention, and we now know that music stimulates more corners of the brain than any other activity, firing even those neurons damaged by stroke or disease. This month, write a song of your own—and record it if you’d like! We’ll select a winner for best lyrics and best performance.
Song Writing Guidelines
LET FEELINGS PERCOLATE. “Music is the shorthand of emotion,” wrote Leo Tolstoy. And WtW member Danielle Salt had this to say about the art form: “Music is the words left unspoken, the tears never fallen, the thoughts unconscious. The grief never grieved, the loss never found… It’s sunshine on a quiet morning… water on parched ground… the first notes of love… the requiem of hope. The quavering wishes, hidden away. Life burning bright.” Music is emotional
, dear writers. That’s why a song can transport us back to a specific time and place, it can remind us of someone special, and can make sense of something for us when nothing else can. So as you consider what to write about, let your own feelings surface; use them as fuel.
WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW. You might think your own experience isn’t interesting—but writing about what you know gives an authenticity to your song that allows listeners to connect with its message.
LESS IS MORE. Songs sit awkwardly between narrative and poetry. It’s easy to get tied up in wanting to say too much. Work out what it is you want to convey—a message, a feeling, a story—and then say it concisely. Usually less is more.
RHYTHM OVER RHYME. Strive for a rhythm that works rather than forcing a rhyming scheme. Rhythm is what reels in a listener, keeping them humming your tune long after the last note.
READ LYRICS ALOUD. Read your draft aloud throughout the writing process and check for flow. Your song should have a regular beat. Music needs to have a pulse! That doesn’t mean you can’t stray now and then but that should be the exception rather than the rule.
SING, STRUM, HUM, WRITE. REPEAT. Because good songs involve much more than just words on paper, take time during the writing process to sing, hum, or strum along to your lyrics. You might find that what seemed like a great refrain is actually a little clunky, or that the chorus doesn’t sound as catchy when sung. Make changes, and then start humming again.
CUT UP, TAKE OUT AND REARRANGE. Perhaps that verse would work better as a bridge? Or that riff would sound better at the very end? Perhaps the rhyme, though clever, takes away from the meaning you want to convey? Try moving around parts and pieces of your song to see whether a new arrangement improves the effect you’re going for. And remember, less is more so if in doubt, take it out!
LET A DRAFT REST. Like any writing process, songs can benefit from pressing pause. When you get to a stopping point, feel stuck, or suffer from terrible writer’s block, walk away from your draft! Take a walk, chat up a friend, cook a meal… leave your song behind. You’ll find that after a break, you’ll be able to hear your song through fresh ears.
HOW TO RECORD AND SUBMIT A VIDEO FILE (OPTIONAL). This month, we'll award a prize for the best written song performance, as well as one for the best lyrics. If you’d like to create a video version or audio recording, you may use any platform of your choice—simply copy the link within the text of your submission. Some options to consider:
· You Tube
· Adobe Spark
Please note that these are public platforms and are not affiliated with WtW. As always, practice the usual internet/online safety precautions. Talk to a parent or teacher if you have questions, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Who is Eligible?
Young writers ages 13-18
Guest Judge: Hankus Netsky
A multi-instrumentalist, composer, and ethnomusicologist, Dr. Hankus Netsky is co-chair of New England Conservatory’s Contemporary Improvisation Department and founder and director of the Klezmer Conservatory Band, an internationally acclaimed Yiddish music ensemble. He has composed extensively for film, theater, and television, collaborated closely with such artists as Itzhak Perlman, Robin Williams, Joel Grey, Theodore Bikel, and Robert Brustein, and Robert Pinsky and produced numerous recordings, including 10 by the Klezmer Conservatory Band. He is a sessional lecturer at McGill University and has taught at Hampshire College, Wesleyan University, and Hebrew College. His essays on Jewish music have been published by the University of California Press, the University of Pennsylvania Press, Indiana University Press, the University of Scranton Press, Hips Roads, and the University Press of America, and Temple University Press published his book “Klezmer, Music and Community in 20th Century Jewish Philadelphia” in 2015.
What’s Different about Write the World Competitions?
- Best Entries: $100 will be awarded for the best lyrics and best written song performance. (winning piece + author interview will be featured on Write the World’s website and blog)
- Best Peer Review: $50 (reviewer interview will be featured on Write the World’s website and blog)
- Prizes: The winning entrants will receive $100, and the best peer-reviewer will receive $50.
- Professional Recognition: The winning entrys, plus the runner-up and best peer review, will be featured on our blog, with commentary from our guest judge.
- Expert Review: Submit your draft by Monday July 8th and get feedback from our team of experts—authors, writing teachers, and educational professionals.
July 1: Competition Opens
July 8: Submit draft for Expert Review (Optional. We will review the first 100 drafts submitted.)
July 12: Reviews returned to Writers
July 16: Final Submissions Due
July 26: Winners Announced
Our Flash Fiction Competition opens Monday, August 5th.
Stay tuned for more details!
* Thanks to musician Leo McFadden for his excellent song writing tips!