Shaun Levin

Posts Tagged ‘editing’


In Writing on September 6, 2020 at 10:55 am

I imagine the larva or the pupa or whatever it’s called that’s there in the cocoon. I imagine it getting flashes of what it will be, how it will emerge, but then the image disappears and it keeps nibbling away, pushing against the screen of the cocoon, the boundaries that will eventually give way, and the larva glimpses – so quick, a flash! – a world without limitations, but the limitations are the story taking shape, the constraints of a story not yet known or known but the shape not quite there, the story in its entirety not quite there. I feel the physicality of it, the details, I have some of the details, but as I sit in it, this cocoon of a first draft where there are things to nibble on and feed off and also the promise of what lies beyond, like the larva knowing in its DNA that there is something beyond, something meant-to-be that it’s been working towards.

So what if it’s not the precise metaphor but it’s the right one for now just let yourself live in this metaphor the cocoon of this metaphor and keep your eyes on the keys and stop looking up and just feel the cocoon of the first draft around you and yes, you just got a flash glimpse of what the story could be, what it could expand into, and the beauty that would be there like a fancy dress to fit itself into because the larva is the larva but is also the butterfly and the first draft is the first draft but also the final story. The final story is inherent in the first draft, the beginning of the larva shuffling about starting to nibble its way out into the spectacularity of colour and flight.

The larva trusts. The larva doesn’t give up midway, never looking back at its life as a caterpillar. Is the caterpillar the first draft? Ugh, don’t get entangled in the metaphor. Stay with the cocoon. Stay with the story and what it will be from now on, not what it was not where it’s been, stay with the story as it is now, what came before doesn’t matter, what it took to get here doesn’t matter, what matters is the cocoon of this first draft and the larva/pupa of it, the cocoon is the veil between the first draft and the story as it will be in its colour and flight.

The story is about a spine and a path and the thing that runs through our lives, my life, his life, your life, all of them being aspects of the me in the story but me as I was 40 years ago, 30, 20. Maybe that’s the story: versions of a character over time, and the search for things that stay with us, not necessarily the things inside, the who-we-are things, but the things we do (but they, too, are who we are), that we dedicate ourselves to or that have the allure or the whatever that keeps us doing them. Like running. In my case running. It’s about running away and about movement and doing and the illusion of doing and about a legitiate reason to move in the world alone although times when I’ve run with someone, a friend, a lover, a relative, have been wonderful and a different type of running, and running in a group very briefly in London when two of the personal trainers at the gym set up a running group and we’d all go for a run in Finsbury Park or Clissold Park. I’m not a pack animal, but maybe running is a way of calling out for a pack. What of the butterfly? How does the butterfly feel about the herd instinct? A herd of butterflies.*

That’s the joy of turning up for a story, the way it keeps offering more and it’s up to us to enjoy the moment of a story, this moment of it trying to take shape, rubbing against the walls of the cocoon because it has just had a glimpse – flash! – of what lies beyond, the blue skies, the air, the smell of spring or the expanse of its wings, that’s what it is, too, the unfolding, the movement from a first draft onwards is a process of unfolding, of opening out, of oxygen, of breath and breadth, letting the story take up the space it has been created to assume.

* apparently, a flight of butterflies, or a rabble of butterflies, or a flutter of them.


The Furtiveness of Writers, II

In Writing, Writing Workshops on September 4, 2020 at 8:09 pm

When I speak of mess I mean unshaped writing. We all flounder in the early stages of a story, in the first draft, the second, the third, sketching, searching, making spelling mistakes, mixing up tenses, writing things that will disappear – poof! a few back spaces and you’re gone! And how necessary that is. It is necessary. To stumble, flounder, not worry about good-or-bad.

There is great power in early drafts, in the words composed at the beginning of a story, the beginning of an exploration. To share them takes courage. It’s a risk. Early drafts are evidence of our floundering, our confusion, our uninhibited mind. I see this magic in workshops, one of the rare places where writers share beginnings of things, words not overshaped, words from a place beyond thinking, raw words. I think that’s what happens when you write in company, that’s the gift of it. You learn to love those early drafts, those fumblings for story, for direction. I think it’s also a place where we can learn the power of writing without overthinking, a glimpse into a way of writing that can be done, too, when we are away from the shared writing table.

Attending workshops taught me how to let go into writing, not overthink. The sense of containment, the sense of an audience is part of it. Participating in workshops changed the way I write, courses near a river in North Wales, a workshop in the middle of a sheep field in Devon, week-long courses in Yorkshire just outside Hebden Bridge, a course at this community college, that one, impacted on the course of my writing, the way I write and what I choose to write about. In the company of other writers I learn to write.

By the company of writers I mean dead ones, too, by which I mean books. What I’m trying to say is that we could learn more about writing and about how to write, not how to plot and write a best seller, but really how to write a sentence. I want to see Chekhov struggling with a sentence, I want to see what a sentence by Kafka looked like before it was ready for publication.

Some of this has to do with the clandestine nature of writing, the secrecy, the, maybe not furtiveness, but the privacy of it. Nobody looks over the should of a writer as they refine a sentence, and my god there are so many sentences in a story, not the way someone might look over the shoulder of an artist, I mean look at the size of that canvas, Hockney, it’s beckoning others to look over a shoulder, but the writer, there with their little notebook and its scrunched together words and lines giving off the message: keep out.

Show us how you do what you do, writers, even if it means being the one to look over your own shoulder to tell us what you see.

Connected or not, I like what Lydia Davis says about Kafka: “…the way his fictions grew organically out of his daily life.”

from Kafka’s The Trial (image: The Kafka Project)