Shaun Levin

Posts Tagged ‘creativity’

Inside a Book

In Writing on September 23, 2020 at 8:17 pm

I met a man many years ago who gave up on writing. At the time, I’d known him for 4 or 5 years and had seen him try to write and succeed in writing and complete a novel. When he gave up he had been writing for many years but with limited success and an overall sense that he was neither enjoying the process nor able to achieve the kind of work he was striving for.

This was many years ago, maybe 15, and I remember being both astonished and awed by his decision, his announcement that he’d no longer be a writer. The struggle was over. He may have said that he wasn’t sure what he would do instead but that he did know that he would never write again. I might be exaggerating about the last bit. I have no idea where he is now nor whether he ever returned to writing. To be honest, I don’t remember his name (although we do have a mutual friend), but I do remember the moment when he said what he said in that large room in Soho at that dining table with the London light coming in through the windows, muted by the general grey of the city. I remember the relief in his voice, in his face: at last he was free from some burden that had clung to him for too long.

Astonished the one could just give up.

I have not always been loyal to writing but then writing has not always met my needs. For many years I relied on writing to fulfill my needs. Maybe we were co-dependent, maybe I asked for too much, maybe writing asked for too little in return. And so I drifted away for a while and found myself doing other things. I played with other art forms – photography, illustration, bookbinding – and because they were not “my” art forms and I was an amateur, there was no pressure, no bar, no history. All there was was now and the joy of the experiment. There was what there was in the beginning of my writing life: only the writing. No expectation, no assumption of an observing eye, a reader. Everything I did was for the writing itself.

And suddenly, colour mattered, colour was available. Composition on a single page mattered. It was possible to put a small image on a large page. Each page was a canvas, is canvas. Take a photograph and put it on a page and it’s possible for the page to be done, complete. You don’t have to fill it with words, the most difficult, demanding, and exacting of mediums.

I think what I’m exploring here is the question of what constitutes a book? Or: What are the options available to us when we’re faced with a blank page, even a single page? And: At what point are words not enough? At what point is the use of words too much? And when they’re too much or not enough, what are the options available to a writer? What are the other performances you can do in a book? What can you do inside a book that will excite you to keep making work?


What’s the Imagination?

In Writing on September 2, 2020 at 9:45 am

How do you keep a short story short so that it doesn’t run away with itself? How do you stay focused without being too lean? So I’ve started working on a short story and I want to finish it in the next two months. I want it to be a story that takes – working-on-it-wise – about 10 weeks to create. Think of it as an assignment. Think of it as a thing that needs to get done. Some stories take years to get done. I’m not sure they need years, but sometimes that’s what they take. Some come out fully formed. Some stories – and I think this is the main point – know where they’re going and what they want to be. Some stories know what they’re about.

The aim is to forget you’re writing the story and to surrender to it. I’ve always liked the swimming metaphor, that feeling of moving forward, eh, swimmingly. By which I mean a kind of grace and even if not grace – a sense of moving forward with all the limbs moving. When a story is going well it’s like you’re in water, surrounded by something. I know that sounds a bit womb-like and maybe that’s what it’s like to be in a story and moving forward, that kind of effortlessness. Not feeling like a construction worker, a builder. Or maybe the pleasure comes from being a bit of both at different stages of the process.

The story I’m starting takes on a lot. It’s a story about running, with a focus on my first run in three places: Israel, England, and Spain, or more specifically: Ashkelon, Lyme Regis, Madrid. There are references to clothes and movies and other characters in each section. As I write this, I’m thinking: Maybe there’s a way to make it more fluid, to have the three runs merge into each other, create a sense of a single run, because that’s what we want from a good run: fluidity, flow, everything happening effortlessly, swimmingly.

The story starts with a downhill run. In this section I’m running down to the sea. It’s 1980 or 81 and I’m in England for the first time. I’m in my last year of high school and I’m on a trip to England. I like that point of view, the description as if recounting the details of a film or photograph. Also: making the writing process or the description process transparent.

Everything we write is from memory. Our imagination is a storehouse of memory. The present is a millisecond that becomes memory. That’s what our storybank is made of. Not storybank, maybe warehouse, maybe sea, maybe world. What is the imagination? (note to self: research Imagination.* What is it? Like, what’s it made of? Is it a specific part of our brain? Is it a thing?) Where are our stories drawn from?

* quick Wikipedia search in the 21st minute says about the imagination: “The common use of the term is for the process of forming new images in the mind that have not been previously experienced with the help of what has been seen, heard, or felt before, or at least only partially or in different combinations.”