When I Shut My Door

Until sometime last year, when lockdown meant Dad was undertaking an increasing number of DIY projects out of sheer boredom, my bedroom door did not shut properly. By now, you may be aware that I’m a man who particularly values his privacy – so this was a problem. I wasn’t keen on the idea of anyone barging in whenever they wanted, especially as I’m in my early twenties, so when the lock was finally fixed – and a closed door meant a closed door – it was a big relief. Nobody wants to be greeted by the sight of me in my underpants!

More recently, the lock has meant that I have the space I’ve needed to think more carefully about numerous things. I’m still writing reviews for Music Is To Blame – in fact, my first paid review has just been published – and I also recently finished A Natural History of Dragons (not actually by Lady Trent, but Marie Brennan; Trent is the fictional author who narrates the story). Both have necessitated more scribblings in my notebook, and all of these have been added from the comfort of the armchair in my room. If I tilt my head back far enough, I can rest it on the top as I sit there and recline slightly, waiting for the words I’ve read or the music I’ve heard to dance through my head, working their magic. Thoughts and ideas are much easier to process this way, and silence is much easier to enjoy when I just want a moment to close my eyes and drift off.

This works wonders when it comes to clearing my head, and Lord knows I need headspace at the moment. Primarily, this is because of something new and exciting, which I can’t tell you about just yet, but it’s also because there’s plenty of scope for new ideas right now. When Lara finishes her copy, we’ll have to discuss our latest book, but aside from that I need fresh inspiration for my writing. August was yet another bad month for this blog – perhaps I should have set a target of four posts, like I did in July – but as always, I’m hoping this one will be better thanks to what lies ahead. When it is (and it will be, even if I have to force myself to write more nonsense like this), I’ll know that I have the peace and quiet afforded by a firmly locked door to thank.

Mason

250 Is A Magic Number

I might still be searching for a job, but I nevertheless feel I am ending July on the crest of a creative wave. With this post, I will reach my stated aim of publishing four for the month, and I’ll be doing so with two new reasons to smile. Firstly, as revealed last time, I’ve started our next book club title – A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir – and it’s proving very fruitful where my notes are concerned. In addition, I have added an exciting new string to my bow. Just a couple of weeks ago, I spotted an appeal on LinkedIn for contributors to a website, Music Is To Blame. Some items – reviews, interviews and the like – would be submitted free of charge, and others would be paid, but I didn’t really mind either way. I saw this as exactly what it was, a golden opportunity to gain greater exposure as a writer, and I couldn’t apply for it fast enough.

After some discussion with the editor, I was tasked with writing a sample review of an album of my choice – and it could be no longer than 250 words. I sat down and eagerly scribbled my observations away as Wolf Alice’s Blue Weekend, a record I’d recently enjoyed, played through my headphones. Little did I know that I’d finish having created a small problem for myself. There were detailed notes for every one of its songs, but I’d only be able to use a fraction of them in the final product. If I didn’t, I’d risk spreading myself too thin, but thankfully, I had enough experience with essays to feel confident in being selective – ruthless, in fact. If I came to a song about which I had nothing worthwhile to say, or was repeating myself, I didn’t talk about it. That meant that it was much easier to separate the highlights from the low points.

It was a new and exciting endeavour for me, and any worries I had about the word count soon evaporated. I became lost in how freeing the whole exercise felt – since music is an art form, I could talk much more expressively about what I’d heard and how it made me feel. I could delve so deeply inside myself that the text almost seemed to write itself (even if it did require some chopping back afterwards). Luckily, the result went down well with the editor, and because of that, I’m now pleased to say that I was welcomed aboard as a member of the team. Since the sample, I’ve written my first full-length review of a different album, which is yet to be published but came to a smidgeon over 1,000 words in its submitted form! I’ll be sure to include a link here when it is released into the world, by which time I’ll have completed my second piece – on a mysterious new single by a mysterious new artist I’ve not had the pleasure of listening to before. It seems that there’s an inherent unpredictability in reviewing for this website, as a lot of the music discussed on it is unknown to me, but I love that. Who wouldn’t embrace the challenge of never quite knowing what they’ll write next?

Mason

Four In July

As I’ve been taking these first, somewhat tentative steps into a post-uni world since returning to Somerset, I’ve heard a lot of chatter – from family and friends alike – about “getting myself out there”. Now that I have a Creative Writing degree, and ambitions to write for a living, exposure and how to get it is one of the biggest question marks I’m facing. When I think about it, there are quite a few of those, actually. They all reared their ugly heads at once as soon as I started searching for jobs, but they were personal as well as professional. What job will I end up in? When I get it, where will I live? What do I search for first – work or accommodation? What do I do in two months’ time if things haven’t worked themselves out? When will I next have friends I see regularly? Will I ever get a girlfriend?

You get the picture. There’s a lot to think about, and making myself seen as a writer is an ever-present objective. It therefore seems logical that that should start with this blog – in fact, something Mum said last week is the inspiration for this very post. If I remember correctly, they were words to the effect of “get back into blogging. You want to write, so write more regularly.” As always, she wasn’t wrong, and any visitor to Third Time Enabled will surely have noticed that it isn’t updated as regularly as it used to be. Not since January 2019 – when a global pandemic was something you only ever saw on the silver screen – have there been more than three posts in a calendar month.

Although there have been several abortive attempts at surpassing that amount since, none have been successful. As of today, however, that will change – I will aim to have published at least four by the end of July. To make that even easier, I’m already halfway there, because this is the second! What that means is that this time, there really is no excuse. As those of you who read my last post will know, I’ve been challenging myself as a writer with the book club notes I’ve been making, and this gives me one additional creative opportunity to relish. Let’s hope I can stick to it – and, for once in my life, go without contradicting something I’ve promised on this blog!

Mason

Operation Book Club, Part 2

Last week, Nora finished To Kill a Mockingbird. Believe it or not, this was bad news, because Lara had finished it before her – meaning that of the three who are currently signed up to our book club, only I am trailing behind. It’s now approximately three weeks since I started, and I’m currently on Chapter 18. There’s still some way to go, but I have promised myself that I will definitely finish the novel within a month – giving me another seven days to hit my target. I don’t want to keep the other two waiting, and I believe that getting through each book relatively promptly will make the whole club concept much easier for us to maintain.

Having said that, though, I need to make sure I don’t feel any pressure in reaching the end. I’ve been guilty of that on the odd page recently, and what that means is that I find myself inadvertently racing through, reminding myself to slow down. I wouldn’t exactly say I’ve been scanning, because I still register what’s going on, but I’m focusing on the destination rather than the journey, and that’s not good for my notes. I’ve really enjoyed writing my thoughts down in my new notebook as and when they occur. Not only is this whole endeavour helping to broaden my horizons as a reader, it’s also challenging me as a writer too. Although only my eyes will see them, confined as they are to private paper, each set of new notes is in effect part of a larger review, and this is useful, because I haven’t always been particularly good at offering a balanced or negative perspective of a book, film or TV series.

As I may have said before, I tend to find something to enjoy in most things unless there’s an obvious reason to dislike it, which isn’t completely ideal if you need to write about its pros and cons. Because of this, I’ve found it handy during Mockingbird to force myself to note down what I did and didn’t like about the sections I’ve finished reading, even if it’s just a few lines for each. If I remember correctly, there are at least another 12 chapters to go, so if I do this for every one going forward, I should have plenty of thoughts to collate when it comes to discussing what I thought with Lara and Nora. I can’t deny, by the way, that most of them are positive, and I can most definitely see why the novel is so widely regarded as a classic. Maybe that’s why I’ve been so slow reading it – I can’t face feeling bereft after I turn the last page!

Mason

Operation Book Club

I’m starting this post in Waterstone’s, a place I often frequent even though I mostly have no intention of buying anything. That’s certainly the case today – I already have an outstanding book to finish (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which I bought here last year, and which follows the equally excellent Ready Player One), so there’s no need for me to emerge with any more. And yet the notebooks captivate me. There are all sorts on the shelves, ranging from blank ones, to bullet journals, to those specifically designed for lists or novel planning, and even one containing a Jane Austen witticism a day (just in case you want another reminder that she’s buried in Winchester – I rolled over her grave once).

The possibilities, then, are endless, and every time I’ve bought a new notebook in the past, I’ve done so with the same overriding desire – to make it the starting point for a new, game-changing project. Admittedly, this desire does come with some slight delusions of grandeur. I can’t help imagining myself putting pen to paper on a literary classic for the ages by candlelight like an 18th Century romantic novelist, or scribbling down my memoirs in a book small enough to fit snugly into the sidebag that hangs from my wheelchair.

Judging by my track record with notebooks, neither of those things will happen – and in any case, at this moment I can’t even decide whether I want a big one or a small one. I might have something entirely different in mind for it, though, thanks to a sudden burst of inspiration Lara has unknowingly given to me. In just over a week, I’ll be leaving Winchester – hopefully not for the last time ever – having finished my degree. Over lunch on Monday, Lara, Ben, Alysha, Ryan and I discussed the small matter of how we’ll stay in touch post-uni, and it was Lara who suggested we engage in a book club. I responded very enthusiastically. She said we could put books forward for consideration, and when we’d decided on one, we could obtain a copy, start it on the same day, record our thoughts and share them with each other at the end.

At the moment, only Lara and I are definitely up for it, but I hope others will agree to join, because it could be a great group activity – and it’s given me the perfect purpose for a new notebook. Not only would it allow me to make all the observations I need on what we read, but it’d also mean I could prise my eyes away from a screen for a bit and write the old-fashioned way. I’m sure my handwriting could do with the practice. One of my teachers used to say that reading it was like looking through spiders!

Mason

The ECP Diaries, Part 8

It is done. My ECP was at long last submitted seven days ago, and only three deadlines remain before my university experience is over for good. I felt a mixture of two things as I handed it in – the warm, calming feeling of relief and acceptance as I realised that this long process was over, and a degree of apprehension. My friends and I all agreed that we were too nervous about the eventual outcome to be pleased, but (as I’ve probably said before) I know in my heart that whatever happens, I’m always going to be proud of myself because I’ve come to Winchester, thrown myself into my degree, enjoyed it at every turn and – most importantly – I’ve gotten to the end.

With that in mind, I went about the rest of my day last Friday with a smile on my face. I unwound sitting outside in town with a bowl of parsnip, fennel and coconut soup (the university canteen isn’t open at the moment, so I’ve got to get my nutrition somehow). Later I bought myself the biggest celebratory McDonald’s imaginable, all while pondering what lay ahead. In terms of my remaining assignments, this consists of a series of freelance copywriting proposals, a radio script, and a short story. 28 May is the magic date, the endpoint – after that, I’ll be cut off from education for good, and cast out into the big wide world to fend for myself once and for all.

I don’t know what lies ahead yet – I don’t even know if we’ll be getting a proper graduation – but I’m going to go forward with my head held high, as I always try to. I’ve started by sending my supervisor a ‘thank you’ email. I always tried my best to incorporate her feedback, albeit perhaps not always as she would have liked (I guess the mark I get will tell me all I need to know). There were times when I struggled to hit the nail on the head with it, no matter how close I got. Some might say that as I graduate, she should get a medal for putting up with me! Arguably, though, that’s the creative process – trial and error, agreements and disagreements, with a healthy dollop of determination and passion thrown in for good measure.

Mason

The ECP Diaries, Part 7

Last Friday, having applied three days previously, I was granted an extension for my ECP. It was due on 23 March, but the deadline has now been extended until 16 April. The relief I feel is enormous, and if that wasn’t welcome news on its own, my third Copywriting assignment has been pushed back from 13 April to 4 May. Before these changes, I had five deadlines between 19 and 29 March alone, so I and many of my friends and cohorts were in desperate need of some breathing space – and thanks to a form we could use to get an extension without any evidence, we have it.

When it became clear in early January that I wouldn’t immediately be going back to Winchester after the Christmas break, Mum and Dad set up a small area in the corner of the living room where I could do my Microsoft Teams lectures and assignments in private on my laptop. It’s so far served its purpose well enough, but it doesn’t quite compare to a nice quiet study space in the university library. It doesn’t have all the resources the library has either, and that was one of the key reasons why I and so many others have sought to have the deadline moved. On top of that, even though I now have three complete screenplay drafts and a rough rationale draft to go with them, they still need work. That’s not to say that I’ve neglected them in any way – they’re shaping up well and I know that when they are done, I’ll be majorly proud of them. I just know that that’s not quite yet.

My supervisor agreed as much during our fourth meeting. That had been delayed for a couple of weeks, and while it was nobody’s fault, I was determined to get my full quota of six meetings before I handed my project in. Not everyone will choose to use all of theirs, and that’s up to them, but I can’t help but feel that it would be a waste if I left any outstanding. Each passing discussion is shaping my work for the better, and although its development is gradually coming to a climax, I know that there’s still more invaluable feedback to come before that end point in April.

Mason

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

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