A Writer's Process: Sarah Wheeler


Despite working with words every day, mostly I don’t feel like a real writer.

I write a legal text book, reports, and newsletters. There are certain technical skills involved. However, the goal is simple. Impart information. A professional audience wants answers, but they also want to get away quickly.

Creative writing is different, more heart than head. For me, at least, writing freely, bears a little of my soul. Deadlines, word counts, structure can all come into play, but, ultimately, it’s about the journey, rather than the destination. I want the reader to linger, to walk with me.

Sometimes I’ll have a firm idea of where I’m going, but rarely a detailed road map. I’m a slow traveller, who takes a lot of detours. Sometimes I’ll set myself a target, to write so many words in a morning. But the target can distract from the writing. I babble, and end up ruthlessly editing.

 I edit a lot any way. (The right-hand side of my brain kicks in, or I worry about leading the hypothetical reader down countless blind alleys). I am trying to train myself not to edit too much as I go along, but to let my words flow. However, the downside can be pages of unstructured, barely comprehensible, text, and the task of hacking and rendering it into some shape can be too great. Completing things (and not just writing) is a big issue for me, and, so I try to find a balance, which I am constantly adjusting.

I like the phrase “Be a good animal. True to your animal instinct.” I like it more than I like D.H. Lawrence, who I sometimes find cruel and locked in a battle with nature.

(He infamously hung a hen upside down, and chopped off her head, for being broody). The quote made me think of the amoral nature of animals, their raw energy, and how we grapple with this, our unease when we encounter something that we can’t easily categorise, which we can view only in relation to our human selves.

I’m currently working on creative memoir, and I keep hens (for therapy as much as the eggs), so that was a natural stepping off point. Thinking about it now, though, I want to write more like the fox, without self-doubt or judgment.

I’m thrilled to win the Winter Solstice Wild Words writing competition. It’s a beautiful affirmation.

Sarah's winning entry is here.