There are no rules to songwriting, in my opinion. I believe that it's something you can have fun with, play around with and it's something that is personal to each individual. There are no set rules, just experimentation. These tips aren't fact, they're just things that I find most useful. I hope you take something positive from them!
1. Trying to write in a style that doesn't happen naturally, usually results in a song you don't fully connect with. For example, I love country music, but I can't write a country song without it sounding horrifically cliché. It doesn't mean I don't write country songs when I feel like it, but those songs aren't my best songs because they're not 'me'. Forcing a particular style will show and it wont sound (and most importantly, feel,) sincere. It will most likely sound forced and fake. The first songs I ever wrote were trying too hard to be something they just weren't ever going to be. I wanted to force a particular style/genre upon myself that just wasn't working and as a result, the songs never felt natural when I sung them and it always felt like I wasn't quite clicking or relating with them. The songs I relate to the most, are the ones I don't try too hard to write and the ones I feel represent me the best. Don't force yourself into any genre or any style and don't give yourself unnecessary restrictions. However, this doesn't mean that you can't try different things. It's all about figuring out what flows most naturally.
2. If you're struggling for something to write about, remember that it doesn't have to be about you and your own personal experiences. If you need inspiration, think about story lines from TV shows. Have you watched anything that has stood out to you/meant something to you? I've written a couple of songs based on a story line in a TV show and they turned out to be a lot more personal than I expected them to be. So, take inspiration from everything and everyone around you. If it means something to you, write about it, but don't just write about it for the sake of wanting something to write about. If you connect or feel inspired by the story line, write about it! The same goes for people you know. Real-life situations involving family or friends can sometimes be really useful. If you feel inspired by it then try writing about it, but again, don't write about it just because it would "make a good song".
3. Write a song as if nobody will ever hear it. Sometimes, it's easy to be put off by what people are going to think when they suddenly know your feelings. But it's better to be honest with what you feel and ending up with a great song that you have a strong connection to, than toning it down and having a bland song as a result. Don't write songs because you think that's what people will want to hear, write it because it's what you feel. Your song is your song. How people relate to it is their own personal thing.
4. "Do you write the melody or lyrics first?" Usually, I'll write the lyrics first, because I love writing anyway. Sometimes, I'll come up with a couple of lines, but I won't know what part of the song they will be yet (verse,chorus, etc). I keep writing until I get stuck and can't write any more. That's the point when I pick up my guitar and try to think of a melody. Once I have that, I go back to the lyrics and see what comes to mind as I play the song on guitar. There has been times when I've written an entire song in 5 minutes and even had the melody in my head as I'm writing. I find it much easier writing a melody for lyrics, as opposed to writing lyrics to a melody, but that's just me. Everyone is different. Play around with it and see which feels most natural.
5. Mix things up. First of all, your song doesn't have to follow the typical structure of ABABCBB (Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Middle 8, Chorus, Chorus). Try things in a different order. Sing the chorus first. Sometimes that can give the song a completely different feel. Make the second verse the first verse, if you think it would sound better. Get rid of the bridge if it doesn't impact the song and it doesn't need to be there. Sing the chorus last and only once if that's what you think works best. Repeat a verse. Have only one verse. The entire song could just be made up of three lines repeated. If the words have substance and meaning, sometimes that's more than having three verses that don't say as much. If you think a note is too predictable or dull, try different ones until you have something even better. Have fun with it because it's your song and you have the power to make it as good and as original as it can be.
6. Listen to a song you wish you'd written and think about what it is you like about it. Don't completely plagairise it, obviously, but try and pick out the parts you relate to and connect with. Think about whether it's something you'd like to include in your own music. It's okay to copy, to an extent, especially if you're just starting to write songs. It's good practice and it helps you to figure out why you enjoy composing music in the first place.
Tips for Writers Block:
1. Pick an emotion and start writing about it. However cliché or stupid it sounds, just write it down. Nobody has to see it if you don't want them to. Don't think about what you're writing because that defeats the whole point. Just write something vaguely related to that emotion or situation. When you're done, look through and see if there's anything in there that you can use, such as certain phrases, words or feelings you evoked.
2. Look through previously written songs that you never completed. There might be a verse, chorus, or even one line in there that you like and could spark a whole new song.
3. A lot of the time, when I get stuck on a song, it's because I don't like the last line that I wrote. I usually go back and rewrite it, as it tends to be something that didn't really impact the song at all or I might've gone off in a direction that I didn't need to. It's important to remember what you're writing about and to make the words as true to that as possible, otherwise you lose track.
I really hope you took something from this and it's helped in some way! Please feel free to leave any tips of your own in the comments. I'd love to discuss them!
Thanks for reading!