I was camping in Whitby for a few days over half term and The Sick Bag Song was my holiday read. It’s a fragmentary road trip, part prose, part poem. The Sunday Times described it as ‘About as rock’n’roll as you can get …’ but despite being a music fan, I read it because Cave gives some great insights into creativity and how writing happens. For example, he tells a story about a visit to Bryan Ferry’s house where he falls asleep by the swimming pool.
‘I awoke to find Bryan Ferry in his bathers, standing in the swimming pool. He was white and handsome and very still.
I haven’t written a song in three years, he said.
Why? What’s wrong with you? I said.
He gestured, with an uncertain hand, all about him.
There is nothing to write about, he said.
That night I sat at my desk writing in a frenzy – page after page – song after song …’
(Nick Cave, The Sick Bag Song, Cannongate, 2015)
I don’t know how true this story is, but it’s interesting to me on so many levels – the idea that success can lead to a loss of creative drive and energy, that sometimes you don’t feel like anything around you is interesting enough to write about (especially if what surrounds you is luxury) etc. But it also interests me that Cave says he fed off that experience like a vampire, that somehow seeing Ferry blocked unleashed a torrent of writing in himself. Surely that’s fear of failure? But it’s being channelled into something productive.
I’m not lucky enough to own the limited edition copy of this book (mine’s just the paperback) but the book designers, Pentagram, include this picture on their website.
As soon as I saw it I was overjoyed – just look at all those crossings out! And it really is scribbled on a sick bag. Isn’t that just the sort of inspiration you need when you’re going through a fallow patch (and I think I am).
So the message is this: you can write anywhere. Don’t sit around waiting for inspiration to strike. Take action. Pick up your pen and write something. Anything. If it’s no good you can cross it out later. Maybe you’ll cross it out and then reinstate it. You might read it at an open mic. You might be lucky enough to publish it. One thing’s for sure, you’ll have done something with your time, made your mark, been human and fallible and glorious. What more can you ask for?
And yes, I’m now off to write in my notebook and it will start with the sky, which is so heavy it’s pressing on my shoulders, promising rain, rain, rain.