Printed Matters: Writing Maps - Write Up Your Street, Writing The Love, Writing People

Writing Maps by Shaun Levin
Words: Marcel Krueger

These days, a good map is hard to find. With a variety of location services installed in smartphones, cars, and even glasses, it seems to me that the art of appreciating and even reading a map is slowly but surely dying. But then maps have never simply portrayed landscape in reality - just look at Tolkien’s self-drawn maps of Middle Earth or Martin Vargic’s Map of the Internet. Maps have always enabled us to understand abstract and imagined facts and ideas, so why not take this up a notch and release maps from their traditional purpose completely?            

Enter Shaun Levin, writer and creative writing teacher. Shaun has published short stories, novellas and non-fiction, and is the founding editor of the literary journal Chroma and the director of Treehouse Press. He also publishes the literary magazine The A3 Review (also as a folded map-like publication) and a series of notebooks featuring writing prompts, with so far three volumes out: City, Food and Family. In 2012, Shaun launched the first in a series of “Writing Maps”, illustrated creative writing prompts to inspire writers on the go. As Shaun states: “Together with some exceptionally talented illustrators, my aim is to create a source of inspiration that draws on my love of writing and the ways it enriches and intensifies our engagement with the world.”

For Elsewhere I’ve reviewed three different maps with city writing as overall topic, named Write Up Your Street (illustrated by Andy Carter), Writing The Love (illustrated by Isik Bagraktar), and Writing People (illustrated by Andrew Sutherland). Each map has a distinct individual style, ranging from monochrome images of buildings in Write Up Your Street - my personal favourite - to the city represented as a colourful beating heart in Bagraktar’s map. All maps contain at least 12 extended writing exercises that will help a writer explore the city and the writing process, plus a reading list and quotes befitting the topic of the respective map. According to Shaun: “Writing Maps are created to suit writers of all genres and levels, and have been devised with adult writers in mind.” Overall 18 writing maps have been published so far, with locations ranging from beaches to art galleries to the body itself.

What I like about the maps is that while they might not lead you to a specific location in your city or neighbourhood, they enable everyone to use every-day surroundings and encounters as writing prompts. One might argue that this is just standard creative writing course material wrapped in fancy paper, but I might beg to differ: for me, any reason to leave the house and go for a stroll is a good one, and if I have a map with me that makes me write - even better. These maps are not the latest in cutting-edge abstract cartography, but lovely little things for anyone who can do with nudge towards creativity on the go. Bring them with you if you are ever stuck with a piece of writing and, to paraphrase Nietzsche, need to conceive some great thoughts while exploring your city.

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