The 9-Minute Songwriter Workout

These three songwriting exercises are designed to get you into the flow of writing without thinking. Your best ideas come from the subconscious, and you can tap into this with regular practice. Remember to do these exercises quickly, spending three minutes on each in rapid fire succession. I set the timer on my iPhone. Don’t judge or question ANYTHING you write down. This isn’t a test! The sole purpose is to train your creative thinking to respond on command. I find it helps to write with pen and paper, instead of typing. A lot of studies show that your brain responds differently when writing, as opposed to typing.

Pen and paper? Timer set? Okay, let’s go!

1.Write down every song title that comes to mind without censoring yourself. Work fast. Spit out titles. No judgement. Go wherever your thoughts take you. (Note: These are you’re own original titles. Not pre-existing song titles!)

2.Choose one of your titles to play word association. Write down every word or phrase that relates to your title. Don’t think! Just work as quickly as possible. This is freeing up your subconscious.

Here is an example of how I free associated one of my Darius Rucker hits.

Title: “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It”

Associations: regrets, missing you, could’ve been, should’ve been, wrong choices, mistakes, do i cross your mind?, looking back, rear view mirror, where are you today

3.Choose a word in your title and play poor man’s rhyming dictionary: write down as many rhymes as you can. Example: My title is “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It,” rhyming the word, “it.” Work your way through the alphabet and add consonants to the beginning of the word. B-it, F-it, Gr-it, H-it, S-it, etc. Not all letters will work, so move quickly to the next. Today there is less emphasis on perfect rhyme so don’t be afraid to cast a wider net: D-itch, W-itch, S-witch. In the example song I used the word “regret” as a rhyme wit “it”. The meaning and the Darius’s delivery made it work beautifully. This exercise will strengthen your rhyming skills so that it becomes second nature. Your goal is to spend less time “thinking” of rhymes while writing.

Congratulations, you did it! Repeat daily!

Write On!  ~Clay


Clay Mills is a 16-time ASCAP hit songwriter, producer, and performer. His songs have been recorded by such artist as Lady Antebellum, Darius Rucker, Babyface, and Kimberly Locke. He has 2 Grammy nominations for “Beautiful Mess” by Diamond Rio and “Heaven Heartache” by Trisha Yearwood. Follow him here: www.songtown.comat

8 thoughts on “The 9-Minute Songwriter Workout

  1. Wow! Clay, love the workout, I have been working on one particular song for over 2 months now and it’s just driving me crazy, but it has made headway this past few days, going to try your workout tonite and every day. Thanks!

  2. Clay, Im going to make it my goal to do this every day this month. I have learned so much from your FB page and know I will learn so much more by joining up.

  3. I like the exercise, and over the years (I’ve been writin’ since 86′) I’ve used a similar method…..although if I didn’t like the flow of the song, or the initial write or rewrite didn’t suit me, I’d shelve it. In the recent past I asked visitors to my page on Facebook to give me a theme, topic, or storyline and I’d write a song to it…of which I chose 2 out of the ones I got. And when I come back to Nashville, that’ll be a simple test to show my worth as a writer too. Give me any topic, tell me whether you want it to be a ballad or upbeat, and it’ll be written in one day. I think this advice you’ve given is very valuable and valid, n’ I think it’ll help a lotta writers get more work done!!!

  4. Thanks Clay, food for thought, will try this exercise, my biggest problem with my song writing is I can come up with lots of ideas, but I find it hard to translate those ideas into a song… but I am always progressing forward and with post like yours. Cheers..

    1. Steve, we had lots of videos to help you finish songs and get your flow going. Let us know if we can help! ~Cheers, Clay

  5. Clay this will help me a great deal. I would love to be able to fast track my brain and teach it to go right to the subconscious where I can find what I need. Good lesson!

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