10 Words to Avoid in Your Lyrics

Posted in The Weekly on March 25, 2024 by

A basic tenet of strong lyric writing is “show—don’t tell.” Instead of stating how the singer feels, this technique uses action, details, and senses to bring the listener into the world of the song. While every song does not need to tell a story—and every line of lyric does not need to “show”—every song benefits by the inclusion of fresh and detailed imagery.

Famed playwright Anton Chekov advised, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining. Show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

For an example of a song that incorporates exceptional detail and imagery listen to “Mamaw’s House” (written by Thomas Rhett, Morgan Wallen, Chase McGill, and Matt Dragstrem; recorded by Thomas Rhett, featuring Morgan Wallen). The “pictures” painted with the lyrics allow listeners to vividly “see” Mamaw’s house.

The use of imagery and detail is a mainstay of current country music, but it is also widely used in other genres.

These are some words I recommend avoiding to increase the effectiveness of your lyrics:

  • Beautiful
  • Handsome
  • Sexy
  • Nice
  • Sweet
  • Special
  • Kind
  • Angry
  • Ugly
  • Sad

Why avoid these words? Each of them presents a perfect opportunity to incorporate imagery, detail, and action into your lyrics. They provide an opening to infuse your song with the kind of descriptions that set lyrics apart; allow listeners to feel the emotions instead of knowing them; and compel an artist or decision-maker to say “YES!”

For example, instead of saying, “She was beautiful,” show what she looked like, so your listeners can visualize her in their minds. For example, “She had warm brown eyes and a crooked smile.”

Similarly, instead of writing, “We got into the car,” you might write, “We slid onto the back seat of her Daddy’s gold Mercedes.”

If your lyric includes statements such as, “she was pretty,” “he is kind,” “they are happy,” “she’s so sad,” or “we are broken-hearted,” it can help to ask yourself the following questions.

  • What does pretty look like?
  • What does a person do when he or she is kind?
  • What does a person do when he or she is happy—or sad?
  • What does heartbroken look like?

If I write, “she tore up his photos and tossed them in the fire,” I don’t need to state that she is angry. Listeners can surmise this from her actions.

“He knelt sobbing at her grave and laid lilies from her garden,” shows us that he is missing her and evokes far more emotion than if I were to say, “He misses her every day.”

Similarly, I don’t need to state “she’s happy,” if instead I write, “She wears a smile as big as a harvest moon.”

“It was a beautiful day,” can be made more interesting by writing, “It was 80 degrees under a cloudless summer sky.”

When you have completed a draft of your lyrics, revisit them and circle or highlight each word or line that lends itself to additional description. In each instance where you have stated an emotion, such as happiness, sadness, worry, or anger, challenge yourself to replace that with a phrase that “shows” what a person would do when experiencing that emotion.

Similarly, look for those words, such as pretty, handsome, sexy, kind, mean, etc., and see if you can replace them with more detailed words. Be careful to seek fresh, original images that avoid clichés, while remaining conversational.

We need to give the powers that be—and our audiences—reasons to choose our music over the competition. Infusing detailed descriptions and fresh imagery into our lyrics can be just the ticket you need to ride to the top of the charts.

Jason Blume is the author of 6 Steps to Songwriting Success, This Business of Songwriting, and Inside Songwriting (Billboard Books). His latest book, Happy Tails—Life Lessons from Rescued Cats and Kittens (SPS/Blue Mountain Arts) combines his love of photography and cats. Jason’s songs are on Grammy-nominated albums and have sold more than 50,000,000 copies. A guest lecturer at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (co-founded by Sir Paul McCartney) and at the Berklee School of Music, he has been interviewed as a songwriting expert for CNN, NPR, the BBC, Rolling Stone, and the New York Times. To receive a free video, “3 Things You MUST Do for Success” and weekly tips to enhance creativity click on Join Songwriting With Jason Blume on Facebook for free events and song critiques. For information about his workshops, recorded lessons, webinars, additional articles, and more, visit

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