Songwriting: My Experience, Process, and Advice

Keep scrolling to the bottom to hear my full original song, "Love Like Arsenic."

Imagine a 14-year-old, angsty Kathryn, one who is obsessed with Taylor Swift and pines after heartbreak. This is where my songwriting career begins.

The first songs absolutely sucked. They were so bad; I hope no one ever finds them. Considering I was only fourteen, I didn’t have much life experience to go off of. Most lyrics were comprised of a series of cliches, but at the beginning ninth grade I finally wrote a song I was proud of. It was a song about a boy in my English class and was entitled, “Blue Eyed Boy.” It’s no masterpiece, but listening to it now I can still feel the innocent excitement that came with having a crush on this boy. I captured the feelings of the moment, which is the purpose of songwriting itself-- to take a moment or a feeling, capture it, and make everyone who listens experience it for themselves.

The subjects of my songs matured as I did. The songs I wrote in 2017 are a narration of the emotional landmarks I faced that year. The song that you will hear in the attached video, “Love Like Arsenic” is the second song in a series of four. This song was sort of a musical and lyrical breakthrough for me. For the first time, I composed something more candid and truthful than anything I have written to date.

I always begin with lyrics. Sometimes I’ll imagine a “hook” in my head, run off and make a quick voice recording, and return to it later. However, when I’m overwhelmed with emotion and literally need to write a song, I’ll sit down with my notebook and write down a stream of consciousness. This process usually turns from writing down single words into full sentences and ideas. From there, I mess around on the guitar or piano until I find a melody that matches the mood I’m searching for. I’ll work with the lyrics and music for hours; I usually write an entire song in one sitting. In days following, I play the song over and over and over and over… and over again until I’ve developed my own style with it. Each time I play it is like a therapy session.

So there it is, my songwriting journey and process. Songwriting pushed me through my most difficult moments. Writing will always be my greatest outlet. Something about matching written emotions with audible ones, I wish I could explain it in a way that would allow those who don’t write music to understand its power. It’s indescribable. If there is one piece of advice I can give to anyone who is interested in songwriting, it is to not be afraid to be vulnerable. Writing with fear will never be true. For so long I shielded myself from real emotions, and it was obvious in my songs. But the purpose of art is to convey emotion, and every good artist must expose their soul.

Also, excuse the poor video quality; I was filming on my iphone.

“Love Like Arsenic” lyrics

Love like arsenic will burn

Words I can’t read because they hurt too much

You left me with no limits just to feel the pain

The bottle hits my lips to make it go away

You can call me Alice you’re my rabbit hole

Your brown and broken eyes they are a slippery slope

Desire is fire to what’s good for me

You said it yourself let’s be crazy

Pour up your courage baby

Then wash it down the drain

I light a match to your sacred name

‘Cause like arsenic will burn

Maybe I just wanna hurt

In someone else’s arms I am trying

Lifeless, breathless, tired, I’m pretending

My skin still burns where his hands found their place

So I pretend they’re yours just to feel something

You watch me bleed

Liquor sterilize me

A red dress and all my memories

Love like arsenic will burn

Maybe I just wanna hurt

Ooooh ooh oooh

Ooooh ooh oooh

Ooooh ooh oooh ooh ooh oooh

Ooooh ooh oooh

You’re like the smoke that’s looming

I let the flames consume me

I cried for help as I fell to my knees

‘Cause love like arsenic will burn

Maybe I just wanna

Maybe I just wanna

Maybe I just wanna hurt

#songwriting #lovelikearsenic #music