Restrictions make you work better

Spiderman by Steve DitkoSometimes when something’s difficult you can manage it by making it a different kind of difficult.

I’ve been confounded for most of the year by a big ‘ol baddie that sits on my shoulder saying ‘ You can’t write anything, certainly nothing as good as you used to, nothing as good as <name anyone>, and nobody can be bothered with you, so why not occupy your time in other ways and forget singer/songwriting ‘.  It’s a familiar pattern to me and lots of others, I know it doesn’t last forever, so I just ride it out. Usually something breaks it eventually.

I’ve been experimenting with various ‘restrictions’ in creative work both in my day job and trying to get back into ‘my stuff’. For example restricting time to 30 minutes or even 2 minutes.  At the same time, trying to declutter both my office/studio environment and my thinking (e.g. cancelling subscriptions, that sort of thing). Nobody ever tells you how long decluttering takes and how much more time you can spin out of it to avoid creative work.

But while deleting old files from my computer I found a lyric I didn’t remember writing, which seems to have been an attempt at rewriting the lyrics of  Talking Heads Life During Wartime as if it was set in Edinburgh. I read it with delight thinking ‘this isn’t bad at all’ but when I tried to sing it I found that it didn’t fit. Why not?  I found that David Byrne’s verses were written in pairs with the last line of each rhyming, whereas all mine were just single verses with no rhyme.  I was still enthused with the song so I thought ‘How hard would it be to write a twin verse to each of the verses I already have?’   Turned out it wasn’t that hard at all.  And it broke the blockage just for half an hour, and I had a pretty much finished song which I’ll be able to perform when I’ve memorised all twenty verses.

Here’s a taste:


Roadblocks at Cramond

Roadblocks at Gogar

They took some money each time


They took my ID

Round five different people

They like to mess with your mind



See those neds

On every corner

Where did they get all those guns?


They’re shooting cats

They’re shooting dogs

Don’t interfere with their fun



Who’s got the castle?

Who’s got the station?

Who’s got Calton today?


Who’s got the Old Town?

Who’s got the New Town?

I just keep out of the way

2 thoughts on “Restrictions make you work better”

  1. i have never been able to force the lyrics out, it us polish it usually takes a couple of days of boredom and aimless guitar fiddling before i accidently stumble on something i like, than , when the enthusiasm for the concept kicks in, i find i can build a tune round the nugget, then hopfully round if off. Normally i will then play it to john, we will kick it around and his input will help to broaden and arrange the music, maybe put a stop in, that sort of thing. This is fairly standard for me.

  2. it’s funny how we all work in our different, but probably not so different, ways isn’t it? the last big block of songwriting I did was for my last album, ‘Home’ and it all just flowed, partly because of what was happening in my life but also, crucially for me, hugely because of the creative partnership I had with Marc Pilley who produced both of my albums and who I found quite inspiring to work with. He was so encouraging and positive about my stuff that I could write a song without even having to think about it much. Bit of a different story now but it’s starting to work out again.
    Glad to hear that your ‘block’ has passed, Norman, and that you already have your own way of doing this, Fraser.
    ps the new song, ‘Mathilde’ is evidence that your best songwriting is definitely not in the past 🙂

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