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

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 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

The ECP Diaries, Part 2

OK, so I know I told you that the next update on my ECP would come in September, but sat here, watching first practice for the British Grand Prix in the comfort of my room, I had something of an epiphany about it. You might recall that in Part 1, I discussed the possibility of writing a pair of small scripts, connected by a shared theme. I intend to stick to what immediately came to mind – the subject of longing – and to demonstrate this in two very different ways. In the first, two characters will come to blows over something relatively common or trivial, treating it as though it’s the worst thing in the world. In the course of their disagreement, they’ll talk about their friends, the people on the outside of the situation, who – unbeknown to them – are themselves struggling with a kind of longing that’s much more severe. Maybe they’re at risk of losing jobs or homes, or they’re struggling with secret issues or addictions, but none of the people closest to them have given them the support they need – so engrossed are they in their own comparatively petty squabbles.

At this early stage, that’s quite literally all I have so far, still the bare bones of an idea. Having said that, though, it’s enough to push me on towards the next step, namely actually writing some test material and something resembling a first draft. Once I’ve made what I deem to be good progress, I’d like to devise at least one alternative concept, in case my tutor doesn’t think either or both of the aforementioned ideas are worthy. In any case, it certainly can’t hurt to expand my options. I’m sure all writers, budding or experienced, can agree that facing a blank page is daunting – but I evidently have more than I need to get started, so that’s left to do now is get typing and see what appears!

Mason

The ECP Diaries

As revealed in my last post, discussions with my assigned university tutor about my final Extended Creative Project (ECP) have finally begun. I was raring to go, of course, but also more than a little nervous before we started our Zoom chat last Wednesday. Numerous questions were whizzing through my head, the biggest of which was “what if he despises my idea?” I could have spent ages with my heart set on something only for it to be completely unworkable. Thankfully, I needn’t have worried, because we were both attentive and receptive to one another’s ideas right from the start. My tutor is the kind of person who encourages someone to ask every possible question about their work, so they can reflect on it as fully as possible, and I was no exception. Over the course of 45 minutes or so we both raised a variety of queries concerning my proposal, and I made sure to list these after the call had ended as part of my developing long-term notes. It had been recommended that we all keep a ‘diary’ describing our efforts throughout our projects, to make the accompanying essay we’ll submit much easier to write, so I started mine straight – and the aforementioned questions were all duly listed.

I don’t feel able to tell you about the finer details of my project just yet, because it’s likely to change a great deal over the next year – possibly even before my next meeting with my tutor at the end of September. At the moment, though, it’s a stage play with something very personal at its heart, and before there are any further alterations, I need to think carefully about the following:

  1. Is theatre the right medium for it? Could it be adapted into a short film?
  2. Could it be two or more smaller pieces rather than one big piece – perhaps with a linking theme (longing)?
  3. What is it about? What do I want the audience to take away from it?
  4. Am I confident in my characters? Do they behave naturally and are they strong enough to carry a conflict?
  5. What exactly is this conflict? What will set this relatively ordinary idea apart from other similar ones?

Aren’t I cryptic? There’s already a lot to think about, as you can see, but I will relish the challenge ahead. A list of plays I might find inspiring has been given to me, and as I write this now, two of those – Yasmina Reza’s Art and Patrick Marber’s Closer – have arrived, ready to be devoured. I’ll let you know what I think of them, as I intend to keep you updated on every twist and turn throughout the process. This is the first instalment of a new series, so look out for Part 2 once I’m back in Winchester. The ball is well and truly rolling…

Mason

 

When The Well Was Dry

Over the last few days, it’d been looking increasingly likely that June 2020 might become the first month in Third Time Enabled’s short history not to offer any new posts. I don’t know if I can fully attribute the lack of material to the ongoing lockdown situation, but I simply haven’t had anything worthwhile to say for myself. It might partly be because that’s just how life is sometimes. It’s full of fluctuations – there can be plenty or nothing at all to say. Lots of new ideas to share, or none whatsoever. The lack of predictability keeps us on our toes – we never know quite what will or won’t work out. Just think of all the things I’ve said I’ll do on this blog before – how many of them have I actually managed to follow through?

Circumstance can be to blame then, but I probably am too. I’m doing a Creative Writing degree I love wholeheartedly, and yet I haven’t been proactive enough in creating outside of it. Maybe that’s down to simple procrastination, or self-doubt about the quality of my work. Whatever the case, I haven’t been able to take the plunge. Thankfully, though, sheer desperation has driven me to take action, and I’ve been working on two posts simultaneously for a little while now. Since I’ve had little to say about my own life here, I decided to write something new to showcase, and in this instance, poetry seemed appropriate. I’ve been trying to come up with some using a method I’ve used before – progress has stalled, but there’s been progress nevertheless. The same goes for a film review I started two weeks ago. There’s been much typing and deleting, and while I have managed to put some thoughts to paper, I don’t feel particularly close to finishing it. All I can say is that I’ll keep taking the initiative and pushing myself to write – hopefully you’ll have more to see here soon enough, and I’ll have more to add to my personal portfolio.

In addition to that, I’ll be having the first discussion about my final degree project with my tutor tomorrow…

Mason

 

Keep Calm, Chop And Change

Hi everyone, my name’s Alex. I’m a friend of Mason’s and a fellow Creative Writing student. I’ve been fortunate enough to be offered a post on this blog, but I’ve never done a blog post about me as I’m used to telling other people’s stories, so bear with me!  

I decided to cut my hair from shoulder-length to pixie one Saturday night in January while I was alone in my uni house. I hadn’t planned to go that short when I picked up the Ikea scissors and faced my reflection. I hadn’t planned past the slightly bored thought of “I’ll give it a trim”, which I’d had for the past year. So I snipped in a few more layers, took a centimetre or so from the ends and found myself wondering – not for the first time – how it would look a bit shorter. Maybe a lob length. My sister had just started growing her pixie cut out and I’d admired her confidence when she got hers cut, but felt – because we have different bone structures – that I wouldn’t be able to carry one off. I put on a playlist – I can’t remember it now but it probably didn’t help to rationalise what I did next – took a handful of my hair and chopped it at my jaw. No turning back once you’ve done that, is there? It felt…empowering? Crazy? Like I’d stuck a metaphorical middle finger up? Of course, a lot was behind this, not just the desire to try a new look. I’d spent my whole life feeling self-conscious, awkward, like I didn’t belong anywhere, as though no matter how hard I tried I just didn’t fit in. Nothing really felt personalised in my physical identity.

I felt free to be so drastic partly because I wasn’t with anyone (so didn’t have to worry about being dumped because I’d changed), partly because I was no longer bothered if people didn’t like me (and if they cared then I no longer wanted them in my life), and partly because nothing else had worked. I don’t know how long that first chop took, but I’ve never regretted it. I love that I cut (and still maintain) it myself. No-one else had any part in creating it and there’s something really satisfying in that.

Changing to become more authentic is the most terrifying, empowering thing because it’s a leap of faith. Chopping my hair into a pixie cut challenged me – and not just in my cutting abilities! It challenged me to step out from a role I felt I’d been playing for years that had got good reviews, but wasn’t authentic. I didn’t want to be a carbon copy or a blend, I wanted to be me and I wanted to be that person unapologetically and honestly. Cutting my hair was the first major step towards cultivating a look, a lifestyle, a persona that suits and reflects me. Not society, not socially popular images, not stereotypes, not what’s seen as attractive. Just me.

Lots of people thought I was having a crisis, lots of people thought I was crazy. Lots of people probably still think all those things, but I’d rather be honest about who I am and what I want. Trying to stuff myself into an image that increased self-doubt and insecurities already in existence – due to constant comparisons with everyone else – hadn’t worked. But accepting those insecurities, owning them and stepping out from who I felt I’d always had to be helped to overcome a huge block. I realised that you can change but the people who like you for yourself won’t give a damn what you look like, and if they do? Well, there will be people out there who love who you really are, and you should look out for them.

So that’s the story behind the hair.

Thank you Mason for letting me contribute to your blog!

Alex

Outer Space, Outer Space

I’ve recently started a new project, creating the 120-150 lines of song I need for my next Composing Song Lyrics assignment. Unlike others in my class, I don’t sing or play, so I’ve taken what is supposedly the easiest option by choosing to rewrite existing songs instead. The first step in all of that is choosing the tracks I want to work on, and as I write this, that’s still very much a work in progress. I do have one song set in stone, which I rediscovered my love for a few weeks ago thanks to Spotify’s random choices – Coldplay’s ‘In My Place’ (song titles go in single inverted commas, apparently). However, the only issue with being able to choose songs you enjoy is that you risk butchering musical masterpieces with your own mediocre words, and that was definitely at the front of my mind as I started to think about mine.

We’ve been doing various writing exercises in seminars over the last few weeks that we hope will get our creative juices flowing. Many of them have involved writing about different unrelated emotions or scenarios in prose or loose verse, so that we can pluck certain words and phrases for later use. In my case at least, some exercises have been more fruitful than others, but a few words, lines and images have helped me to get started. Last night, I went to the library to begin my new version of ‘In My Place’, and because the song has a relatively simple syllabic structure and rhyme scheme, I had written a draft I was satisfied with in around half an hour – giving me 39 lines of lyrics. A blank sheet of paper is daunting for any writer, so I initially focused only on getting started and committing to an opening line. What I came up with was “outer space, outer space”, which mirrors the repetition of the title in Coldplay’s original, since I felt a degree of pressure at first to be faithful to it. It had the effect of evoking something better, though, so I soon replaced it with something else. From there, the rest of the piece seemed to flow nicely, and my portfolio was officially underway.

Because I’m rewriting something existing, it is imperative that the new song exactly matches the syllabic count of the original. In some cases, there may be an opportunity for an extra syllable in a line where one has been stretched by the singer – but I have to try and remember not to get greedy. I have a feeling that whatever the next four songs are, their new words won’t come quite as easily as the first set did, and I’ll have a lot more to consider before I can make them work. Each submission has to be accompanied by a 30-second recording explaining what you were trying to achieve with it, so there are both technical and emotional aspects to think about. Even so, I’m finding the study of lyrics less highbrow and much more accessible than I did traditional poetry last year. I can only conclude that that must be because of the nature of popular music as something which is designed to be cherry-picked and enjoyed by anyone, regardless of age, experience or background.

Mason