The 9-Minute Songwriter Workout

The 9-Minute Songwriter Workout consists of three songwriting exercises designed to get you into the flow of writing without overthinking it.

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 like to 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 judgment. Go wherever your thoughts take you. (Note: These are you’re own original titles. Not pre-existing song titles!) I like to write my titles in a Hook Book. There’s something about writing down ideas on paper that go deeper than typing on an electronic device.

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 songwriter workout 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, rearview mirror, where are you today? are you happy? what ifs.

The Poor Man’s Rhyming Dictionary

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.








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 with “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 the 9-Minute Workout daily!

Write On!  ~Clay


Clay Mills is a 16-time ASCAP hit songwriter. He has 2 Grammy nominations and is the co-author of  The Songwriter’s Guide To Mastering Co-writing. 

25 thoughts on “The 9-Minute Songwriter Workout

  1. Also, using a small recorder, even your phone, can speed up the process, and you get a sense of how the words actually sound.

    1. Interesting. A lot of people work differently. If you are a writer that likes to work with pen and pad; or a computer to type your lyrics, then i think practicing by writing down puts you as close to the actual writing experience. If you write everything in your head, and record as you go, then that could work too.


  2. Clay that was awesome totally my style stream of consciousness. I finished the exercise and then kept going and started on a lyric – cool!

  3. Clay, this is awesome! I am so bad about editing as I write, I know it stifles my creativity. This will be part of my routine every day, now. Love it!!

  4. I’m only new at this songwriting thing, I have no hits or deals so this comment is not really valid I assume but I would like to share it anyway, when I write, I work out the vers and hook backing track very basic and then I sing through thoes sections without any words or thoughts, I even ignore what I am saying but I get the feel of how the words and melody go with a bunch of sounds and words mixed up. I then play it back and sure enough, there are some lines and words that make sense and the sounds that are not words, I find the words that rime with the sound and in a short time, I have the guts of a song right there, from nothing to something in no time at all and with very little thinking.. Maybe when I crack a song, this method of writing could be used by other up coming writers… cheers, Kodey Woodlands…

  5. Clay I once used this method to find out if my subconscious knew where I was going in life before my conscious mind did.(me)..I took a 24″ x 8′ piece of paper, tore pictures out of a magazine FAST…not thinking and eventually I collected 30 pictures. I cut some out and sometimes used total pictures and pasted them on the sheet. Every night I would take 5 minutes to look the sheet over…(I nailed it to the wall behind and above my bed) Eventually I ended up at a place or situation that was on the sheet I pasted to the wall. I then put a circle and marked the date it came true on it and knew when 15 of hem came through I was on the right track….Your songwriting is giving me the same results…pulling it out of the subconscious. I wanted to thank you for the the songwriters like me that write alone. stuck in Mooresville, NC …I thank you…. Patrycya Hill

      1. Clay,I like Patrycya Hills’ story too.

        Clay, I enjoy your posts! I have been doing similar exercises for years and I expect it is one of the reasons, why I am a prolific songwriter!

  6. 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!

  7. 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

  8. 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!!!

  9. 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.

  10. 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!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *