The ECP Diaries, Part 6

There are now around six weeks to go until the biggest deadline of them all. Things are really starting to hot up, but – believe it or not – I’m as cool as a cucumber (although I can’t guarantee I’ll feel the same with a week to go). As I write this now, my three complete short screenplay drafts have been scrutinised once more by my supervisor, and I spent last night applying some of the latest round of feedback to them. Now I have a new aspect of the ECP to consider – the accompanying essay, a rationale that will explain every decision I made throughout the writing process and why I made it.

When those of us in Creative Writing were briefed on the dissertation and what would be required from it in early March last year (in a room packed with people – the most dangerous thing in the world 12 months on), we were told we didn’t even need to cite any sources if we didn’t want to, although I wouldn’t dare leave them out. At the moment, I’m taking my usual ‘skeleton’ approach that I use when writing all essays, where I create a version containing all the fundamental points I wish to make before going back and adding the quotes to back them up. Since rationales are all about describing your own actions and processes, I can never quite be sure how much to add in terms of additional sources, both primary and secondary. It’s a bit of a balancing act, and it will take careful consideration, but it isn’t daunting me just yet – I will continually re-assess the situation as each one is added. Furthermore, I have been recording every development in the project on a large Word document since late June, so I have an abundance of notes to draw from. It’s thanks to these that at this precise moment, the first draft of the rationale is coming along very nicely. I believe I have three meetings with my supervisor remaining, so my next step is to show her two of the screenplays (the third still needs a lot of work), along with the essay. If her previous feedback is anything to go by, what follows should be invaluable, and it’ll only boost me further as I enter the final stage of this lengthy, but ultimately satisfying, creative process.

Mason

One More Yellow Question

Picture the scene – the game is in its closing stages. Seven players started out, and seven are still in contention to win. I have gradually powered my way through Geography, Art and Literature, Science and Nature, Sport and Leisure, and Entertainment. History, the yellow category, is all that stands between myself and glory. Five slices of the cheese wheel are in place, and I just need the sixth. Unfortunately, it’s the same for everyone else – the last slice eludes them all – and the questions aren’t quite falling my way.

This was the climax of the Trivial Pursuit game I played with Lara, Nora, Ryan, Ben, Alysha and Deacon last weekend – socially-distanced, of course. It was possible thanks to the magic of Zoom, and worked an absolute treat. Ryan had the board and pieces in front of him, we decided on our counters, and he rolled the dice and moved them all on our behalf. We played for first place, then second, then third, all the way down to seventh, and there were plenty of laughs throughout. We all miss being on campus together dearly, so we’ve found that meeting online for quizzes and banter has served us very well indeed.

We have another Zoom call pencilled in for tomorrow lunchtime, and I can’t wait. We’re going to give some new games Alysha has suggested a try, too – we all agreed it would do us good to diversify from quizzes every so often. They’re much less complex than Trivial Pursuit, too, involving little more than old-fashioned pen and paper, so they seem rather refreshing in that respect. I’m sure that whatever is different about the games we’re playing, though, one thing will stay the same – the spirit of competition between all of us.

I came third on that day, by the way. The question that clinched it?

‘Which king abdicated the Spanish throne in 2014?’

King Juan Carlos, in case you were wondering.

Mason

The ECP Diaries, Part 5

As 2021 dawned on New Year’s Eve, I was spending my afternoon scratching my head over my laptop. Something just wasn’t right with the stage plays I was developing for my ECP, and I was annoyed that it had taken me until late December to figure that out. For so many months, through three official meetings, I’d insisted to myself that I could still make it work and that live performance for a real audience was definitely the way to go. They needed to react to these pieces in real time, they’d undergo an assault on the senses and it would absolutely be doable. So why all the doubt? I’d assumed that the amount of time I’d spent getting stuck was just down to my own fears and lack of confidence, my insistence on questioning every word or sentence I ever put to the page.

That day, though, it suddenly occurred to me that while my ideas could be realised on the stage, that didn’t necessarily mean they should be. During the very first discussion of one idea, back in early July, my supervisor noticeably bristled as I told him of my intentions. He asked how much experience I had of theatre (certainly not much in the age of coronavirus) and why my script specifically needed to be written for it. He then subtly indicated that I should consider reimagining them as screenplays – and I now realise he’d been right all along. While I did and still do enjoy writing for the stage, I’d been struggling to move forward because there was nothing in either of my two scripts that justified its use at all. The action could take place easily enough, but it was too contained, and it wasn’t using all of the stage space as effectively as it should have been (that’s a key part of the marking criteria).

A quick email to our course leader was the answer to my problems. Once I had been assured that it wouldn’t be a problem to switch to screenplay format, I got to work – and now, just over two weeks later, my first short film drafts are complete. I had to resurrect an idea I’d scrapped previously, since at least three screenplays must be submitted, but it was much easier to write in its new form. In fact, I felt much freer with all of them, and I think what I’m trying to communicate to the viewer can be conveyed much easier. I thought the journey ahead looked bright before, but it looks even brighter now, although plenty of changes will still need to be made. There’s still an accompanying essay to consider too…

Mason

A Writerly Dilemma

After the year we’ve all had, it might come as no surprise to you that I had been struggling to feel as festive as normal. The Christmas lights and decorations have definitely improved that, though, and Mum and Dad have excelled themselves with our tree once again. Over the last few weeks, I’ve found myself sitting on the sofa and basking in its glow as I try to write something, be it for coursework or pleasure. I should probably place a certain amount of emphasis on ‘try’, because of late, not much new material has surfaced at all.

I’ve concluded that this is because of a constant battle, a dilemma of sorts, that goes on in my head. Every so often, I feel pressure to decide exactly what kind of writer I want to be, even though I’ve always maintained that I want to be as versatile as possible. As you’ll notice if you’ve seen the homepage of this blog, Third Time Enabled was created when I had time to kill after a Formula One qualifying session. Motorsport has always been a central part of my life, and so to some people the prospect of me going on to write about it seems only natural. It appears to be a logical step to me too, being the thing I arguably know most about.

The problem is, though, that only 50% of my brain thinks that. The other 50% worries about how well I could write about it – and beyond that, whether I actually want to at all. I’ve dabbled in motorsport reporting before, and because you’re talking about a fast-moving industry, where there’s a new story every minute, you largely have to stick to the facts, and you have to do so in a concise and easily digestible manner. Everything is black or white. I know you could say the same about any other form of journalism, but accepting that there seemingly won’t be much opportunity to spread my wings and show what I can do creatively takes a bit of getting used to.

The opinion piece, a much more subjective kind of writing, is more conducive to an inventive turn of phrase since it relies heavily on the author’s own view, but this is where another point of self-doubt arises. What if I publish something I have faith in and it transpires I have no idea what I’m talking about at all? Not doing a subject I love so much justice would be a great worry to me, as would pigeonholing myself specifically as a motorsport journalist. In addition to that, sometimes I think that I’m more comfortable just being a fan – kicking back and relaxing while I watch the Grand Prix on a Sunday afternoon. Turning it into my job could, in my opinion, be somewhat risky, and growing to even slightly resent racing doesn’t bear thinking about.

I have done my best to strike up a balance between writing about motorsport and everything else the world has to offer. This blog has a sister site, MOH Racing, founded in February last year – but as I type this now, only nine posts have been published on it. There must be some way I can overcome these lingering self-confidence issues, give equal attention to both of these blogs and any other projects, and maintain the versatility I’ve always wanted. Only time will tell – perhaps it can be a secondary New Year’s resolution for 2021.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Mason

Relished

I write this having returned home for Christmas, with no immediate assignment deadlines ahead of me. The resulting breathing space (although ECP work is ongoing) has given me time to reflect on the past twelve weeks, which have flown by yet again. Even faced with a second national lockdown and an earlier finish, there was so much to enjoy about this university semester. Much of it was aimed at preparing us for whatever lies beyond graduation. Among other things, I wrote a CV and mock job application for a relevant role in the publishing industry, a publishing strategy for a theoretical book and a letter to a literary agent.

Perhaps my favourite project by far, however, was the book I’ve just submitted for my Creative Non-Fiction for Children module. An introduction to disability for 4 to 7 year olds, it was a writing challenge unlike any I’ve encountered up to this point on the course. I chose it in the first place because every piece of work I had done previously was intended for an adult audience, so this was something that allowed me to spread my wings, so to speak. I can now freely admit, however, that I completely underestimated exactly what this involved. Obviously, when you write for children you need to adjust your voice so that it will be appropriate for whatever precise age group you’re targeting, but I still hadn’t considered how much there was to think about.

I’d chosen the youngest possible audience, of course, which meant that every single word, phrase and concept had to be mulled over before it was set to the page, to ensure that it was understandable for the reader. This increased my respect for the effort put in by professional children’s authors, but it did also have the effect of making me somewhat paranoid. I found myself deleting and re-typing various parts of the text multiple times, but that was no bad thing – after all, writing is re-writing! The feedback I received from the others in my group and my tutor helped a great deal with refinement, and it was very uplifting to find that most of the feedback on my work was positive. In turn, I found myself privileged to be able to read so many other brilliant pieces, and at all times throughout the module I felt a really warm and happy buzz around us.

The result of those twelve weeks was a book I am exceptionally proud of. I haven’t said that about my own work often, because writers can be their own harshest critics, but I can most definitely apply it to this. I am immensely glad that I used the module as an opportunity to submit an entire book, rather than part of one (which is all the word count normally allows). I feel the whole exercise has been invaluable, both in terms of boosting me and expanding my versatility, and I now have something complete – and with potential – to show for it. The assignment may have been submitted, but the file remains sitting on my laptop, waiting to be tinkered with and added to some more. It may be too tantalising a prospect to resist – as part of the module, we were advised on how we might be get our projects published. Such a goal can be incredibly difficult to achieve, especially with so many authors jostling for recognition, but it is by no means impossible. Maybe it’ll be my next step…

Mason

The ECP Diaries, Part 4

So, it’s been a long old gap between ECP updates, and for that I can only apologise – I blame the numerous deadlines that seem to be coming in from all directions at the moment. You’ll hopefully be pleased to hear, though, that it’s developing more and more by the day. About a month ago, I was finally able to have a meeting with my temporary tutor (standing in for the one who had been assigned to me), and it gave me plenty of food for thought that I was able to consider when I sat down to apply her feedback. At the time of the meeting, I had 11 pages for the first piece – to put that into context, we can write a maximum of 40, so I was already making good progress. As I deleted every unnecessary line and tweaked every slightly sloppy stage direction, the page count fluctuated, but the good news is that she also suggested additional scenes, meaning that it’s set to rise further still. By my estimation, once I’m finished, I should have around half of the total amount – and getting to that could be somewhat easier now I’m not spreading myself too thin.

Originally, I had intended to write three short pieces for the project, but when I started to develop the second last week, I very quickly found it excruciating. I’d had a rough idea of what might happen for some time, and everything else usually grows from that, but on this occasion nothing was forthcoming. I knew what my starting point was, and I’d hoped it would flow from there as I typed, but even getting to three pages was a drag. It felt so forced and unenthusiastic that I swiftly decided it was beyond saving, and abandoned it. I will keep what I managed to write in case my tutor thinks it can be salvaged, but in the meantime I have moved onto what was my third idea – now promoted to second spot.

It already feels ten times more promising, and I reached three pages of it in half the time. I’m not going to talk it up at such an early stage, but knowing that it’s gotten off to a better start has really boosted my confidence, and I don’t feel as though I’ve hit a brick wall. I can see the rest of the journey in my head, as well as the ending, and that’s more than I could say a few days ago. Cutting three down to two was definitely the right decision!

Mason

What Does This Button Do?

Imagine if I just started writing a post, with no prior idea of what would be in it, just to see what the result was. What would happen? A lot, or nothing at all? Something worthwhile, or a total waste of time? Wonder no longer, for today is your lucky day. I mentioned this idea while chatting to Alex last week, just as I was expressing my concerns about my creative well running dry. Aside from the mention of her and the idea, nothing you are about to read has been thought about beforehand – not significantly, anyway. Not even the title, although I’d say it’s probably rather fitting for the subject of spontaneity. After all, as I must have said on many occasions, experimentation is what creativity is all about, isn’t it?

When I was at school, and we were taking our first steps into the world of the essay, we were always encouraged to plan them. We had to know the exact content of every main paragraph, as well as the short and sweet introduction and the conclusion that would tie it all together. As I recall, lots of people relished this task. They were meticulous in their preparation and enjoyed being safe in the knowledge that there’d be fewer opportunities for panic to set in once they actually started writing. I, on the other hand, saw the essay plan as just another chance for procrastination to rear its ugly head, as the more time I spent on that, the less time I was devoting to the actual assignment. If nothing else, having to come up with a plan was always a somewhat daunting prospect, so in time I resorted to a much easier method instead. I just wrote the first sentence.

The second sentence would follow. Then the third, then the fourth and so on until I had made what I deemed to be good progress. Even if I wasn’t entirely satisfied with what I was writing, I would be calm, because I knew I’d made a start and there was plenty of time left to review it. Working in this way put me in a clearer headspace, and I honestly think it led to better end products. Even though I’m now at university, where essays become bigger and increasingly demanding, I still approach each one in exactly the same way, and I still believe it pays dividends.

You’ll have noticed by now that we’re already on paragraph four. You could argue that each Third Time Enabled post is a bitesize essay in itself, and just by tackling it one line at a time, I have succeeded in composing something that I hope is at least reasonably cohesive. I guess you can be the judge of that, but it just goes to show that sometimes all that’s needed is a little leap into the unknown – and just a dash of curiosity – and you can find yourself with a surprising result. I suppose the titular question sums my point up pretty well. If you’re struggling to jump in, just throw caution to the wind, and ask yourself – “what does this button do?”

Mason

The Teams Experience

WordPress seems to have a new layout, so I thought I’d start this post with a nice drop capital (and some white boxes, although those might only be temporary). As it happens, now seems an appropriate time to try something new. In what has seemed like the blink of an eye, the third and final year of my degree has already arrived, and in light of the unprecedented times we’re living in, it’s already proving to be very different to either of the previous two. As I write this, we have completed one full week of lectures, and have experienced the first taste of what we can expect from teaching, at least until Christmas.

It now relies heavily on rotation, and our timetables have been designed to allow us all to be both present in class and remotely via Microsoft Teams. When we’re there in person, we enter, sit at socially-distanced desks around the room and the session proceeds more or less as normal, with us making sure to wipe down our desks before and after using them.

Ours is a course that benefits greatly from face to face interaction (particularly when critiquing work), so it’s a shame that that has been (understandably) reduced, but within every Teams meeting are smaller ‘breakout groups’, which we can enter with two or three other people to share files. I haven’t had much experience of them yet, but I have found them to be a source of the teething troubles tutors and students have been having with the software. In a session last Wednesday I went into one with three people, only two of whom could show what they’d written – the other file was nowhere to be found, even after it had supposedly been uploaded more than once. In addition to that, we only tentatively added comments to one another’s work because we weren’t sure that our edits would be saved, although we eventually discovered that the documents save themselves automatically whenever changes are made, so we left that group with our confidence boosted for the rest of the semester.

Certain people I’ve spoken to have been sceptical of the tutors’ ability to get on top of Teams, but I think they’ll find it easier to get to grips with as the weeks go on. They can only prepare for so much beforehand, after all. On Tuesday last week, in my very first class of the year, three of them had difficulty seeing and hearing each other as they introduced one of my modules, and struggled to adjust to a few of its features, which they’d anticipated in their training over the summer – but everything came together in the end, just as I knew it would. These minor hurdles will be overcome, and the new methods will be second nature to us all. I for one already feel very comfortable, and ready to tackle whatever the next three months bring, just as I always have been.

Mason

The Fire Still Burns

A little while ago, while we were all fully housebound by lockdown, my friends and I discussed our favourite songs of all time. We challenged each other to create Spotify playlists of these songs so we could all browse and comment on them, and – although we intended to list a Top 50 and I only got to 25 – the exercise reminded me of two posts I wrote here back in 2018 on the subject. One contained the first half of the then-definitive list, the other the second half.

As I gradually compiled this new Spotify selection, I realised that I now disagreed with every song choice I’d made in those posts two years ago. I thought of that revelation as another indication of how things change in life, how they fluctuate at a moment’s notice, even when it comes to personal tastes. Such changes can also be seen in Third Time Enabled, which as of two days ago is now five years old. More recently, you might have noticed a significant drop in the number of actual posts. It’s a decline that began in 2019, and that I was adamant wouldn’t continue in 2020, but life clearly had other ideas.

I’m still not entirely sure why I’ve had so little to write about, but it’s something I’ll continue to try to get to the bottom of privately. All I know for sure is that after five years, despite what the numbers may say, I’m still passionate about this blog. As I’ve already made very clear, it’s an ongoing portfolio of my innermost thoughts, feelings and ideas, and an invaluable outlet regardless of how often I update it. I feel as though every new Third Time Enabled post is the next step in a journey of some kind, one I’m committed to no matter what, and one that I hope might open a door or two for me along the way. The fire still burns, and I can’t wait to continue proving that wherever I can. Here’s to the next five years – and beyond…

Mason

 

 

The ECP Diaries, Part 3

Here I am, back again with fresh inspiration! I’m not exactly good at leaving this series until September, am I? It might have been a lot longer before you heard about my ECP again had it not been for the fact that – somewhat ironically – I’d been really struggling with how to move forward. As you might expect, those of us on my course are told to avoid cliches in our writing like the plague. Unless, of course, we can do something different with them and turn them on their heads. In my state of blind panic, convinced that every one of my ideas had been done a million times before, I’d completely forgotten about that and had resigned myself to struggling until my return to Winchester – until a friend stepped in with a reminder to do something different.

So, the current state of affairs is as follows. My original idea – concerning two people locked in a relatively trivial disagreement – seemed much too basic. There was nothing different about it that made it stand out from countless other similar stories that have gone before, so I thought about how I could raise the stakes for one or both of my characters. In doing so, I’d be following the advice I’d been given, and potentially improving the piece’s dramatic effect. Take the scenario I have at the moment – two people in a problematic relationship, arguing about their feelings. It hadn’t occurred to me until a few days ago that doing something as simple as changing their ages could put them in an entirely different position in life, taking an even bigger risk, so at the moment I have Mark, a younger man locked in a heated confrontation with Jackie, the older married woman with whom he has been having an affair. As they talk, they’ll reference Jackie’s husband, who we then meet in the second script, facing his own much more severe issues all alone.

Even this new concept might still seem too much of a cliche at first, but I’m confident that there’s room to experiment with it even more. It’s certainly the clearest direction I’ve established so far, and the fact I’m now likely to panic much less as this process continues is a welcome relief. I feel much better about writing focused test material now – everything I’d attempted up to now seemed rushed, unnatural, hastily typed from a place of desperation. Let’s hope that won’t be as much of a problem going forward. It definitely seems like I’m on more of a roll, which can only be a positive.

Mason