Nick Cave on writer’s block

Hello writers.

Writer’s block is a universal concept. That time when you got stopped up and the words can’t flow. Maybe you were writing so fast the pencil was flying and then, suddenly, you lose your train of thought. You can’t think of the next line of dialogue.

Maybe you take a break from looking at the page or the screen and step away for a bit. But what do you do if when you return you’re right where you left off?

Essentially nothing, at least not yet. I’d wager to say that anyone who has ever written anything has experienced some form of writer’s block. And yet, there are professional authors who write tens of thousands of words each day. You’d think they must have found some way to avoid it but most of them deal with it just like we do.

Nick Cave is often regarded as one of the most brilliant lyricists in music. He writes elaborate stories and poetry into his music in a way that carries their significance, along with bringing his experiences along through his words.

And no more shall we part, the contracts are drawn up, the ring is locked upon the finger and never again will my letters start sadly, or in the depths of winter

His thoughts about writer’s block may be specific to lyrics in his words, but it’s clear how his advice applies to all writing.

Cave says, “The idea of lyrics ‘not coming’ is basically a category error. What we are talking about is not a period of ‘not coming’ but a period of ‘not arriving’. The lyrics are always coming. They are always pending. They are always on their way toward us. But often they must journey a great distance and over vast stretches of time to get there. They advance through the rugged terrains of lived experience, battling to arrive at the end of our pen. In time, they emerge, leaping free of the unknown — from memory or, more thrillingly, from the predictive part of our minds that exists on the far side of the lived moment. It has been a long and arduous journey, and our waiting much anguished… our task is to remain patient and vigilant and to not lose heart — for we are the destination.”

We are the destination — not our writing. Through writing, we discover more about ourselves and the writing continues to convey more and more about us. Our writing must cross the terrain of our lived experiences; we cannot write disconnected from our lives. Everything we write is deeply ingrained with our joys and pains.

But ultimately, as he says, vigilance is key. We can’t be upset with ourselves for the ideas taking a while to reach us, because they need time to develop.

Next time you find yourself staring expectantly at the page, take a walk with your thoughts. Drink some tea and let the ideas steep. Don’t let yourself give up simply because you lost the patience to wait for your best ideas yet.

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