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. 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 have faith that to someone else, your perspective is unique, enthralling, song-worthy! 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 the best lyrics and best original song performance. If you’d like to create an audio/video version, you may use any platform of your choice—simply copy the link within the text of your submission. Some options to consider:
Please note that these are public platforms and are not affiliated with WtW. If you need assistance getting started, please contact email@example.com.
Who is Eligible?
Young writers ages 13-18
Is previously published work eligible?
Our monthly competitions are designed to get you writing across a range of genres throughout the year, so we encourage you to write a new work for each competition, but we will also accept work that has been previously shared with a small, local audience (for instance, a piece that was published in a school journal).
How to Enter
- If you haven’t yet, sign up for a free account for Write the World as a young writer here
- Hit the “Start Writing” button above!
- Draft your entry! Hit “Save” to return to it later.
- The first 100 people to submit a draft by February 8 will receive an in-depth review from one of our Expert Reviewers—authors, writing teachers, and educational professionals—that you can use to revise your final entry. The “Submit for Expert Review” button will be clickable if slots are still available—click it to have your draft reviewed. (Note: you can still enter the competition if you haven’t received or don’t want to receive an Expert Review!)
- When you are ready to submit your entry, hit the "Submit as Final" button (You can revise, re-publish, and mark any version as your "final submission" until the deadline.
Michael Lydon is a writer and musician who lives in New York City. Author of many books, among them Rock Folk
, Boogie Lightning
, Ray Charles: Man and Music
, and Writing and Life
. A founding editor of Rolling Stone
, Lydon has written for many periodicals as well, the Atlantic Monthly
, New York Times
, and Village Voice.
Michael is also a songwriter and playwright and, with Ellen Mandel, has composed an opera, Passion in Pigskin. A Yale graduate, Lydon is a member of ASCAP, AFofM local 802, and on the faculty of St. John’s University.
What’s Different about Write the World Competitions?
- Best Entry: $100 will be awarded for the best lyrics and best original 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 entries, plus the best peer review, will be featured on our blog, with commentary from our guest judge.
- Expert Review: The first 100 writers to submit drafts by Monday, February 8 will get feedback from our team of experts—authors, writing teachers, and educational professionals—to guide the revision process.
- February 1: Competition Opens
- February 8: Submit draft for Expert Review (Optional. We will review the first 100 drafts submitted.)
- February 12: Reviews returned to Writers
- February 16: Final Submissions Due
- February 26: Winners Announced
Our Op-Ed Competition opens Monday, March 1st.
Stay tuned for more details!
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