Jess Cates: When You Don’t Know What To Write About

Special guest post from the very talented songwriter Jess Cates of


I know staring at a blank page or google doc with a guitar in your hand can seem intimidating. Even after all these years, it seems like a step of faith to make the leap from nothing, to inception, to a full-blown song.

Here are 3 quick tips to keep the river of ideas flowing.


You might do this already, but you’d be amazed how many songs are waiting to be written in the world around you. Relationships, conversations with friends, or a book you are reading, can all be the place where a song idea is born.

A few months ago, my pastor at church said something in passing and I couldn’t shake the phrase. For an entire week, I was singing it over and over in different melodies, trying to find the right one for the lyric to sit in. Finally, it landed. I took that initial idea to some friends and it’s become an encouraging song for our church.

That phrase could have passed me by and the song would have never been written. So keep your eyes and ears open to the songs around you.


I’m not sure how you start songs, but a great way to get ideas is to just start playing and singing.

Pick a chord pattern and start singing words, not gibberish. Some words may seem a little crazy, but if you sing long enough, something worthwhile will eventually fall out. It might be a word to build upon or an entire phrase.

When you recognize that moment, catch it. I don’t mean in a voice memo, although you should. I mean to catch it and start running with the idea. See how far you can take it before you need to start the work of writing. This is my main source of ideas.


No, this is not cheating or stealing. For me, looking at other words and titles, spark new words and titles. And what a better place to do that, than in the biggest database of song titles ever.

I sometimes go to the electronic or dance section and look through the titles of those albums. A lot of times they are random, but they always get my wheels spinning.

Another helpful exercise for me is looking up the top songs of each year, going back to the 40’s. There is nothing new under the sun, right?! I actually know pop writers who have had massive hits rewriting an old song title.

Make a list of all the ideas that come to mind from these prompts, and run with the titles and concepts you feel inspired to write about.


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