Posted by: Nigel Morgan | November 19, 2010

The Witches Ladder

I suppose one of the most common questions a writer is asked is, ‘how do you write?’ I’m often quizzed on the process of writing; ‘Where do you get your ideas? How do you start a story? Do you use a formula? Do you start with characters etc…?
Recently, after a lovely ‘interrogation’ by a group of youngsters in a Swansea book shop I started thinking about how other writers go about their work. I suppose the answer is that we’re all different in our approach and that every piece of work can grow from a variety of starting points.
Then I started thinking about writing itself; what a wonderful activity it is! Writing and fiction in particular is an opportunity for reflection on life. It can be an outlet for those often random and eclectic thoughts and interests; the imaginative and creative ideas that come more often than not from the mundane … people -in everyday circumstances. Take a motorway service station for instance, where a writer can become a literary stalker – in an inquisitive and not a prurient way of course – picking up on the anticipation or trepidation of travellers; on their weariness or excitement, their arguments, their moments of panic, and then letting the imagination and inquisitive mind loose. In reality many people will do this but the writer will record the thoughts, often in isolated chunks. Then, at some point he or she will select appropriate snippets from a battered notebook or laptop and weave them into the body of another idea, embellishing and enhancing the theme like a plaited and feathered Witches Ladder, and following a similar process of meditative mantra in developing the story.
Being Celtic Wiccan, spirituality and meditation plays and always has played a big part in my everyday life. Recording my thoughts and ideas for the purpose of further exploration has been a regular feature of my adult life. I see it as a natural habit to keep journals, scribble poetry, jot notes and record snippets, some of which are then used and expanded in my writing for children and young people. I suspect more of my randomly collected chunks will be used as I head towards retirement or semi-retirement from my ‘day job’ and have more time available to piece my ramblings together. Many of my reflections, however, are likely to remain largely undisturbed, living on beyond my days in personal journals and notebooks, and of little interest to anyone beyond immediate friends and family. It is often the case that writers who become well known have every little snippet, letter and scribble, no matter how rough and unrefined, plundered and analysed by biographers or academics, with an outcome of undeveloped material being presented to readers in published, annotated ‘Collection Editions.’
But, back to the method of writing! I often ponder on that seemingly simple but remarkable process of writing and reading. The writer, not only published authors but anyone who scribbles ideas, instructions or requests, uses marks or symbols to record thoughts. Then, at some other point in time, another person decodes those sigils and absorbs, and so shares, the thoughts that existed in the mind of the writer, and possibly from many years before. The sequence of symbols that we call writing has the power to capture and hold thoughts from a human mind enabling others to access that cognitive activity even after the author has long gone. I suppose we take this process for granted but aren’t human beings such incredible creatures!
So, how do I write? Well I suppose it’s a case of taking my ‘people-watching,’ ramblings, ideas and random thoughts and plaiting them together in a three-ply Witches Ladder of introduction, plot and conclusion, then enhancing it with characters, settings, twists and beautiful words.



  1. Lovely ideas about how the creative process works, Nigel. But what exactly is a witches’ ladder? And why has it got feathers on it? Do tell

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