Shaun Levin

A Moment of Focus

In Writing on December 12, 2011 at 9:08 pm

To stay with it. To write about one thing and only that thing. To stay with it for as long as possible, for longer than you imagined possible, to stay with that one story, that one image, that one moment and let it grow, expand, to see where it might lead you. And the story, a kind of drilling, or the layering of a path, macadamed or gravelled, but something to travel on, defined and reliable. Something that will be like a road across the story, across the novel, cutting through it. You stay with the one thing, the moment, the happening that unfolds, that will let you see deeper into the story, that will mark the terrain. So you draw it, stay with it, stick with it.

It will be a moment in the writing when you become intimate with the story, when it no longer matters – you yourself are not even sure anymore – whether it’s fiction or not, whether it really happened to you or you just imagined it. You become intimate with your character(s), discover something about them, and you pause the general forward motion of the story, or the treading of water that the narrative sometimes become, especially in the first draft, but in later drafts, too, especially when we’re too scared to take the next step.

This moment of focus can be like a Russian doll, like an egg, like something with a life of its own, like a pilot fish, a leech, a parasite, something that feeds off the main story but has a life of its own, an existence of its own, because of the story. It will be a moment of concentrated magic, and it will be as scarey as parasites are. But this metaphor/simile might be the wrong one. I’m thinking about a moment of virtuosity, an instance (it could be a passage, or it could go on for pagaes) where you are suddenly in the narrative entirely for your own joy.

You’ll follow something, take an unexpected turn, maybe even the wrong path, but the journey will be full of a thrilling and mindblowing fear. It will feel dangerous and wrong. You won’t know if you should be doing this. That’s why some people assume a pseudonym. It can help the imagination bloom, writes Carmela Ciurara in her book Nom de Plume.

Assume an alias, and the depths of the mind can be plumbed at last, without fear of retribution, mockery, or – worst of all – irrelevance. The erasure of a primary name can reveal what appears to be a truer, better, more authentic self. Or it can attain the opposite, by allowing the writer to take flight from [the] self… (from Carmela Ciurara’s Nom de Plume)

Twenty minutes are up and I was only beginning to say something about… what? How to stay with something? How to play? How to go deeper? What we need to do to create something that is as close as possible to our authentic self?


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