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Sally Hughes - 14 Nov 2017


When I am writing, I am in an other worldly place. I am so deeply engaged in the process of expansion, expansion, expansion, then collapse, and then retreat.

It is just a little over a week now since we gathered at Union Chapel for Campfire Convention 002. On the day, during the panel where we were talking about the future for Campfire and what it might offer, @Ralph Pettingill  talked about opportunities for learning, in particular learning about writing.

Writing, for me, is a way of giving expression to the learning about the world I have come upon through reading and through everyday experiences. I am interested in what it might mean to be human. Writing is a way to try to negotiate and understand our contemporary context. Writing is a creative act. When I am writing, I am inhabiting a world of ideas. It seems to allow me to give expression to ideas that are held within the collective conscious.

When I am writing, I am in an other worldly place. I am so deeply engaged in the process of expansion, expansion, expansion, then collapse, and then retreat.

I did think in that moment when Ralph said about writing and learning that I might have some insights to offer. But, after thinking about this for over a week now, I see that all I know is this creative process, a cyclical round and round that has occupied me for my entire life.

It begins with looking, gathering of evidence and information through voracious reading and note-taking and from attending events and lectures to widen my perspective from hearing others stories of what it is to be human.

And then time. Time to simmer and steep all the new learning in my body to hook it onto past learning and to future potentialities.

Then I have to overcome the resistance. Overcoming resistance is hard.

I always begin with a title. The title is the thing that makes the first mark on the page. After the first mark, the words have a tendency to flow. In these moments I am disembodied. It’s as if an unknowable force is channeling the words and ideas through me from the collective consciousness. I can only describe this part of the process as magic. I cannot name the place from within me from which this expression arises.

Within the flow there are periods of stuck. I ask myself repeatedly ‘What am I trying to say? It’s all wrong, I can’t do this.’ And then, usually after a walk, there will be a breakthrough and I’ll once again move forward.

After the flow, comes the finishing. With the finishing usually comes sharing, either online or at an event where I deliver my words to an audience, like I did at Union Chapel. This too feels like part of the art. I enjoy the delivery so much, the feeling of the articulation of the words as I speak them, the sound, the breathing, the pace, the pause. And people’s reaction. This is the crescendo. The peak moment. The top of the curve. The widest point of the expansion.

And then there is the collapse.

There is nothing left of me. Exhaustion.

I have to stop. Pause. Retreat. Disconnect. Be alone. Reenergize.

Sometimes this takes days, sometimes weeks. There have been times in my life where it has taken years.

And then, eventually, I feel that spark of imagination, I become once again curious about things happening outside of myself, and my home life. My interest in the world outside is piqued once more, and so it begins again.

I have always been good at writing. It seems to be something I can just do naturally. It is hard, very hard, but easy and joyful and satisfying at the same time. I do not know how to name the technical details and structures I use to compose.

I struggle with this because as a teacher I feel an innate desire to want to try to communicate how I might do this for others so they can learn from my experience. For the moment I will have to sit with the fact that I can teach art, image making and Sensory Labyrinth Theatre, but at this time, I just do not know how to teach writing. All I can do is explain the process, and that’s really interesting to me.

I think what I am talking of here is talent, the natural ability to do something well. In his book On Creativity the advertising exec (1), John Hegarty says “One of the great skills in life is to recognise talent and respect it. Recognise your own and you’ll learn more and feel far more satisfied.”

To have the confidence to say ‘I am a talented writer’ feels like a milestone for me on my creative journey. Now I know this, I feel like I might be able to do something with it. I think Campfire Convention has been a catalyst for coming to this knowing. For that, I am truly grateful.

There is one little bit of advice that I can offer to others who want to begin writing. I learnt it from Cardiff based writer and teacher, Briony Goffin. It is this - put pen to paper, let one word come and be followed by another, then keep going, with one word followed by another and another, and another…

It seems too simple, but it really does work.



(1) I think as change-makers, we can learn a lot from folks in advertising, they know how to infect the minds of the people - imagine if we learned to put that power to use for social and environmental good, imagine what we could achieve!




Mia Manners

Very good


Kimm Fearnley

@Sally Hughes I so enjoyed meeting you and listening to your utopian vision - I truly wanted to live there. You took me with you, not only with the words you had crafted so beautifully but your sweet, clear delivery. I was entranced.
I can't teach writing but I am with you when you say to seems to come from somewhere else. The words flow from a mystical source.
I don't being with a title - very little of what I have is entitled, perhaps it is because I am not methodical in any part of my life. I begin with a feeling, something that invokes an emotion and I immediately play with it in my head and speak the first few words to myself. I make little notes, speak into my recorder on my phone and then, usually late at night, I allow my self to open up the little packages of feelings and spill them onto the page. I love reading your words - I call mine ramblings for that it was they are. Beautiful, ramblings of emotions and observations. X


Ralph Pettingill

@Sally Hughes , you made me laugh out loud; the part that you learned from your writing teacher...there's something I love about reading your experience of feeding and nurturing your creativity..I'm put in mind of the places where I can tell that I have talent-and maybe writing about those places would be a good idea. Happy thanks!


Pete Lawrence

@Sally Hughes - thanks for this thought provoking article. The best recent explanation of the creative process - and writing in particular - that I have heard came from the writer Sarah Hall on a Radio 4 programme
Worth a listen...

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