I've been asked this question countless times, and it's actually incredibly difficult to answer. My reply is always in-depth and lengthy, so it's probably best that I'm finally writing it down. Now, I can say, "Go read ze blog."
My songwriting process has changed drastically throughout the years. Obviously, I need to start at the beginning, back when ALL OF MY SONGS SUCKED. I used to mainly write stories and whatever school told me to do. I hated writing technical pieces, like "Current Events" and similar (junk) in high school. It was never interesting to me...I'd rather make things up. So, when I started trying to write songs, everything I would come up with was more of a story than a song. I wrote too much, and I had no idea how to stick with one main theme or hook, and I was clueless about how to condense what I had created. It was ridiculously frustrating, and I can't even retrace every time I felt like quitting, because I felt it so often.
Throughout high school, I kept writing. I used to stay up all night, trying to get all of my feelings out. I had no process, and I had no clue what I was doing. I just knew I had to get all the feelings out, or I'd explode.
When I turned 18, I graduated high school a semester early, and I took the additional semester off to explore not only college options but my songwriting. I had written so much CRAP. I explored poetry, and I wrote endless poems and short stories. Hell, I wrote my best friend, Alex, letters almost every day while he was serving a deployment in Iraq. It was a series called - you guessed it - "Letters to Iraq" and they consisted of complete, utter bullshit. I made up stories and they were all absurd lies. They were funny as hell though.
I digress. I started focusing intensely on songwriting. One day, in the middle of summer, randomly, with the sun hanging high in the Alabama sky...I wrote my first song. Like, REAL song that didn't suck ass. It just CLICKED. That's the only word for it. I think I even cried a little bit, because I had wanted to give up so badly at times, and I didn't...and because I didn't quit, I wrote this song, "Robby Boy." I was super proud of it, and it was a humongous step forward for my musical life.
Next came establishing a process. For me - currently - a song falls out of the sky and hits me in the head. It's kinda like when the anvil falls off the cliff and hits the coyote on Looney Tunes, but it's a good kind of hit-in-the-head-with-an-anvil. Songwriting has become an energy flow to me - and I've left out a lot of intense experiences between writing "Robby Boy" and now, because some of it is too dark and I don't really feel like elaborating on it - and the trick is to tap into that energy. The "problem" (a welcome problem) is that this energy can fall out of the sky when you're sleeping in the wee hours of the morning, or when you're naked in the shower. It's happened to me several times, and I've had to run and write down lyrics or record a voice note on my phone. It's awkward, but SO worth it.
Sometimes, the music hits me first. Sometimes, it's a simple line of melody, and I build around it later. Sometimes, it's a single word. Sometimes, it's a line that ends up being the hook - or not even the hook. There have been times, however, than an ENTIRE song, lyrics and music, just flow through me like a magical power, and it is the most divine thing I have ever experienced. I can't really explain it.
The songwriting process for me, simply, is finding a happy, open state. Unfortunately, though, there have been times where the gate to whatever songwriting energy I tap into is opened by intense, traumatic experience (example, getting cheated on, being scared to death, etc.). Fortunately, it hasn't been the latter for a while, and I've found a lot more peace in my writing rather than using it to release the negative.
Some people go out to the bar and get drinks. Some people smoke a cigarette. Some people hire a hooker. Some people do drugs. Some people go to church. Some people go to the gym. Some people eat. I write, play guitar, and sing. That's it. That's how I deal with life. Now I have to go because the apartment people are closing the office, and I have no wifi, because I'm Jess Meuse and that's how I roll.
In conclusion, I guess I'll just say songwriting is like working out. It's like exercising your muscles and having a healthy diet and lifestyle. You have to stick with it and keep working on it, but you have to change it up enough so that you don't plateau - you don't grow at all if you just stick with what you already know. You have to be adaptable. You have to switch up your routine and be open to new suggestions and techniques. That's the only way you'll grow and get better.