Nick Cave shares advice on how to be inspired as a songwriter

"The most important undertaking of my day is to simply sit down at my desk and pick up my pen"

Nick Cave has explained how inspiration hits him as a songwriter, and how musicians and writers “just go to work” every day.

Writing on his frequently updated Red Hand Files website, Cave was asked about inspiration by a fan.

“I’ve always had an affinity for songwriters who put a lot of craft into their songs like they’re building a wooden table, everything is where it should be,” a fan called Jake from Canada wrote. “Do you think it is more important to find inspiration or to get to work and write?”


Another simply asked: “What’s it like to write a song?”

In response, Cave said: “I also have an affinity with artists who treat their craft as a job and are not dependent on the vagaries of inspiration — because I am one of them. Like most people with a job, we just go to work.

“It never occurs to us not to work, there is never a moment when we don’t work because ‘we are not feeling it’ or ‘the vibes aren’t right’. We just do our hours, as I am doing mine now, writing to you, Jake, and to you, Freya.

Nick Cave
Nick Cave performs on stage at All Points East in Victoria Park on June 3, 2018 in London (Picture: Gus Stewart/Redferns)

He added: “The most important undertaking of my day is to simply sit down at my desk and pick up my pen. Without this elementary act I could not call myself a songwriter, because songs come to me in intimations too slight to be perceived, unless I am primed and ready to receive them. They come not with a fanfare, but in whispers, and they come only when I am at work.”

Elsewhere in the letter, Cave revealed how he feels “powerless to influence the outcome” of sitting down to write lyrics or music. “So often we stand bereft before our ingenuity, with nothing to show for our efforts. Yet at other times we are ushered in.”


“Once inside the imagination all manner of inexplicable things occur,” Cave continued. “Time gets loopy, the past presses itself against the present, and the future pours out its secrets. Suddenly words behave in ways they shouldn’t, but wonderfully do, our pulse quickens, yummy butterflies explode in our tummies and songwriting becomes a collision between the pragmatic and the completely gaga.”

Read the full letter and response here.

Last month Cave shared the full version of his song ‘Letter to Cynthia’ online – a track inspired by a fan letter that was sent to him on Red Hand Files.

It follows ‘Carnage’, his collaborative album with Bad Seeds member Warren Ellis, which came out back in February.

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