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Posted by Dean Whitbread on

The Writing Drug

(first published here)

Songwriting is powerful. One reason I love writing in general is because it completely absorbs me. It is a drug, it takes me away, alters my state, removes thoughts of self-preservation; and songwriting with the intoxication of melody, harmony and rhythm is the most addictive drug of all.

When I’m songwriting, I’m useless for doing anything else. The song won’t leave me until I’ve finished it, and made as good a recording of it as I can. I may make a good show of being practical, but actually, I’m obsessed, and if I’m not, the song probably won’t be that good. If I get stuck on a lyric, I wash up or hoover, some mundane task to free up my subsconcious mind. Usually I abandon the task immediately the elusive phrase or the better-shaped melody comes to me.

Songwriting creates in me a somewhat disembodied and semi-pyschotic state, which is one of the reasons I do not attempt to combine songwriting with other activities, like shopping, or eating, except easy to fix food that may be in the house. I eat a lot of cheese on toast, apples and bananas.

When I’m writing emotional songs, I don’t feel the emotion, until I step back for an objective listen. I can sometimes then become confused by the sudden identification with my own lyrics, and laugh, or cry. It’s crazy – it’s like a song from somewhere else, I may as well not have written it. From being totally wrapped up in the construction of the words, chasing down rhymes and honing meanings, the impact hits me like a tidal wave.

The phone rings, I answer with a thick voice.
“Have you got a cold?”
“No, I’ve been writing a song.”
“You sound terrible!”
“It’s a good song.”

Just like a drug, I can’t sustain songwriting for too long – 24 hours maximum is best – otherwise, I’ll lose the thread and become mentally and physically exhausted – so it’s imperative that I stick with it until there are no tasks left, except to tidy up afterwards.

I write like a sculptor, working to see what lies within the block of stone. I may have a good idea, but the process will reveal all. Afterwards, like sex, I’ve often confused myself in a good way for all the right reasons. And now i’m going to make a t-shirt with that written on it, so that people understand.