Interviews / Reviews

Etsy Made Local Maker: Writing Maps

11.30.16

writing-maps-all-interview etsy market inspire and enjoy

Order three different cakes, pastries or cookies from the cafe you’re in. Write about each one.

As if I need any persuasion.   

This bakery-based suggestion is one of many creative writing prompts on the wonderfully illustrated Writing Maps. These colourfully illustrated pages are a gentle nudge towards overcoming the dreaded writers block so many bloggers/journalists/writers suffer, packed full of prompts to unblock our brains when our usual enthusiasm for writing seems to have been mislaid. These double-sided folded booklets encourage you to observe the world and people around you in a more mindful, imaginative way. So ‘The Cafe Writing Map‘ not only encourages you to eat cake, but to do so from the point of view of a curious food critic, before imagining the character traits your carrot cake, brownie or cookie have. (I’m guessing: wholesome; devilish and playful – in that order).It’s a really fun way to break out of your usual pattern of thinking and dive back into the kinds of stories you might have written at school. Asides from the illustrative style unique to each map, there are also reading lists and quotes peppered throughout. Some other maps which took my fancy: ‘Writing Things: a writing map of the things we carry’ (‘Empty your bag and write about the objects you carry’); The Character Map: A writing map into the lives of people in fiction & memoir’ (‘Make a list of 20 things you don’t know about your character’) & ‘Writing the Body: A writing map from head to toe’ (‘Write a praise song to your body and its feats of endurance‘).

Below, Shaun Levin, creative writing teacher and author of Writing Maps tells us more about them, shares the strangest places he’s run a writing workshop and his secret for finding new inspiration. You can catch Shaun at the Etsy Made Local market this weekend if you’re keen to see these maps in person, or head over to writingmaps.com for a 20% discount.


20% discount WITH CODE ‘INSPIRE’ until the end of december 2016


Writing Maps creative writing prompts

Please can you tell me a little about yourself & your background?

I guess like most artist-freelancers, I have multiple identities. My main one is a writer. I started publishing short stories in the early nineties, then went on to publish a few books, like ‘Seven Sweet Things’ and ‘Snapshots of The Boy’. And then I’m also a creative writing teacher. Soon after I came to London about 20 years ago, I started running creative writing workshops and also got involved in publishing other people’s work. I ran a literary journal in a small publishing house for a few years. Background-wise, I grew up in South Africa and then in Israel, so that also contributes to my multiple identity juggling!

writing-maps-review-interview Shaun Levin

Can you share what Writing Maps are and what inspired you to start creating them?

The Writing Maps emerged out of a combination of things. When I started making them about four years ago, I was looking for a way to take stock of 20 years of running workshops in all sorts of settings: besides colleges, universities, and schools, my main love was writing and running workshops in public spaces, like art galleries, parks, cafés, department stores, zoos, cemeteries, on a boat. You name it, I’ve probably written there. I’d say that most of my work has been written outdoors, or at least started when I was away from my desk, out of the house, in cafés and on park benches.

The main idea behind the Writing Maps is that the world is full of inspiration; basically, the world is one big creative writing prompt… the Writing Maps are made up of ways to channel all that into stories, to make stuff out of what’s out there! Writing Maps are for anyone who is interested in writing and who is open to trying out new approaches to creating stories.

I’ve always loved that combination of text and image, and have a deep interest in psychogeography and creative mapping. I don’t remember exactly how all this became aligned, but at some point I must have thought: let’s put creative writing prompts onto maps! It was exciting – no one had done it before, so it was a bit like going into unchartered territory (without a map!) and creating something new.

writing-maps-etsy Do you have a favourite Writing Map? Why?

They’re my babies, you can’t ask me that! Okay… sothere are two that I really love: Write Around the House and Writing the Body. I particularly love the illustrations on both. The house map is intricate and detailed, and the body map is seemingly simple, but the bright colours blow me away every time. The writing prompts on these two maps show you how you don’t have to go far or experience great dramas in order to have something to write about. The places you’ve lived in and the body you have are the source of an infinite amount of stories. There’s enough inspiration on these two maps to last a lifetime. Truly. For me, there are at least two book projects hidden in the house and the body Writing Maps.

writing-maps-writing-the-body Shaun Levin interview Etsy

Where do you often find yourself feeling most inspired?

Because I’m constantly working when I’m in London, or at least feeling like I should be working, checking into a hotel in another city is always the beginning of an inspiring few days. I was in Madrid recently, and it was like I was surrounded by muses. I couldn’t stop writing and making stuff. Being away from one’s work space is like being liberated, nothing can make demands on you, and the imagination can soar. I love hotels. I love being a stranger in a city. If I could live in a hotel, I’d be happy, and I’d probably get a lot more writing done! One of my secret pleasures is to check into a hotel in London every year for a few days just to be a tourist in my city, and to see what new writing projects will start to take shape.

Where are you currently finding most enjoyment in your life?

I’ve recently become obsessed with bookbinding and book making. I’ve also gone back to taking photographs, which I used to do in my teens and early twenties, but stopped doing for various reasons, but now am totally in love again. Working with a range of designers and illustrators on the Writing Maps over the past few years has given me the hunger and the confidence to explore my own limited visual arts skills and to enjoy the state of “beginner mind”. That’s all really new and exciting for me and who knows where it will lead! More unchartered territory.

cafe-writing-map creative writing prompts

Inspire & Enjoy is all about building an inspiring independent life. What does an independent life mean to you?

I think an independent life is one where you have space to evolve and change and doubt. It’s an interesting question, because more and more we’ve become dependent creatures, especially on our devices, but to be human is to be dependent: on family, on friends, on a job, on a place to live, on freedom to move. It helps to have a few of those things in place in order to feel you can live a creatively independent life. Maybe an independent life is a life that’s unchartered, or at least one that has the outlines of a map to it, with enough open spaces for improvisation and surprises. Needless to say, I’m a typical Sagittarian, always on the look-out for new projects.

Etsy Made Local Christmas Market (organised by the 900 makers strong London Local team) is this Saturday 3rd & Sunday 4th December at Hornsey Town Hall, 11am – 5pm.

*I was kindly gifted a selection of Writing maps in exchange for this post but it goes without saying that opinions are my own. 

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