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 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

Mosaic

So, we’re now onto the last of the songs from my module that I’m going to show you. It’s a version of Blur’s ‘On Your Own’ – or part of it – entitled ‘Mosaic’, although ‘Collage’ might have been a better name. It’s a mish-mash (and that’s a technical term) of phrases and images with no meaning whatsoever. I’d put some degree of thought into each of the preceding three songs, so I wanted to close my assignment with one that made absolutely no sense. Having a completely blank canvas was slightly daunting, as is always the case, but I was looking forward to seeing how absurd my imagery could get and what the limits of my imagination were. These verses are therefore pretty weird, since I wasn’t taking them seriously, but I hope you don’t either. Enjoy!

(Verse 1)

All the lemons stowed away in their chip paper

Embraced by the flowing summer sun

Oh, it’s all in the past, no-one cares now

Little amethyst assassins on the run

Now you’re on the telephone

But you’re talking static

As the big glass door slides shut automatic

And did I leave the gas on in the attic?

Lose myself in the dense yellow mist

Floating on away

 

(Chorus 1)

And now the flies

Keeping a surprise

It’s in their feet

And it’s in their eyes

Just hibernation

Resting at the station

Galactic sleeper

But no Grim Reaper

I’ll ride on home, inflate a dome

Light the stars in airplane fuel

We’ll be starting a blaze in the head

 

It’s food for the soul

For the soul

 

(Verse 2)

And the sky is raining rods in shades of emerald

The grass is growing high around the hogs

Sniffing hungry round the eyeballs

Of a kitty

And eating the bread the man’s thrown onto the lawn

On the emerald lawn

 

Mason

 

 

The Lipogram Challenge

My second year here in Winchester is now in full swing, and until Christmas, Thursday will be the busiest day of my week. Last Thursday, from 11am until 2pm, I was in the first seminar of my Telling True Stories module, the one Lara and I are both expecting to enjoy the most this semester. Eventually, it will require us to choose, research and write about any person or event we like – the idea must be big enough to theoretically fill an entire book. At such an early point in the term, though, we haven’t started thinking about that just yet, and a large part of that session was just devoted to what would be expected of us over the next twelve weeks.

When we did get around to writing, I definitely found the exercise to be an intriguing test of our abilities. Through an example shown to us by our lecturer, we were introduced to the lipogram – a piece of writing in which a particular letter, or group of letters, is avoided. As you might expect, we were soon asked to write our own, and we were given the choice of either creating something original, or adapting one of the lecturer’s two chosen news articles. You can see the story I chose to work on at The Guardian‘s website here. I found it tricky to decide on what I would exclude from my piece, so I turned to the person sitting next to me and asked them for their opinion. They opted for the letter ‘C’. Deciding that there were enough synonyms in the world for me to make that work, I got started, and what you can see below was the result. The nature of the lipogram meant that the original story ended up somewhat condensed, but rather than limiting me as a writer, I found that it opened my mind and really made me think about how I could get around the obstacle facing me. Surely that means that it’s worth trying again?

“Parisian onlookers were astounded on Saturday evening when a young man braved the outside of a building to save the life of a boy about to fall from an upper floor. He is being referred to as the “Paris Spider-Man” due to his selfless and remarkable show of strength, now widely available in video form. Following the heart-stopping event, 22 year-old Mali-born Mamoudou Gassama was personally thanked by Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, who said that it would be “very keen to support him in his efforts to settle” in his new homeland. He will also be honoured for his valiant deed by the President this week.

The boy was home alone at the time of the episode – his father was held for questioning and is due to appear before a jury, but his mother was outside of Paris.”

Mason

Bum Notes

Ahead of starting my new “Composing Song Lyrics” module next semester, I wanted to do something different here and review the next album I listened to for the first time. That way, I’d have something to go with my review of the film Whiplash, which I posted here at the end of June. It was my birthday on Sunday, and at my request, Louis gave me one of the albums that I needed to plug a conspicuous hole in my vinyl collection – I was missing the final three Oasis records, of which Dig Out Your Soul is the last. Released in 2008, this seventh studio effort was also the seventh consecutive album by the Manchester icons to go to number one in the UK, and their last hurrah before their abrupt split in August 2009. As we have now arrived at the tenth anniversary of the event, it seems apt for me to tackle their last offering now, even if this did come about entirely by coincidence. Louis tells me that he chose Dig Out Your Soul because out of all my missing Oasis albums, “it had the prettiest cover”.

Dad plugged my record player back in – after it had spent the last couple of months in the garage following my return from university – and I listened to the album from start to finish with my notebook to hand. I tried to write something about every song, even if it was just a few words or a single sentence. For the opening track, “Bag It Up”, I wrote “raw, repetitive, lumbering juggernaut of a riff begins the album. Liam’s vocals are crisp but full of attitude.” As I soon discovered, those words presented me with a considerable problem – namely that I could pretty much say the same for every song. I’m not saying that that’s necessarily a bad thing, but as I got further into the album, I struggled to muster anything more adventurous, to the point where it felt like I was scraping the bottom of the barrel out of desperation at times.

I can see the decline in the notes I made. Of “The Turning”, the album’s second song, I was able to say that its opening was “soft and more subdued, with gentle drums and keyboards.” From this point, though, I can tell that I was gradually running out of any kind of valuable insight. All I could offer on “Waiting For The Rapture” was that it was “stylistically similar to the opening track”, and a throwaway reference to the fact that Noel Gallagher apparently wrote it about meeting his wife. It got even worse by the time of “Ain’t Got Nothin'”, another song full of attitude that only received a response of “typical Liam!” from me. I did redeem myself to some extent with certain judgements. I managed to specify that “The Shock of the Lightning” was “a great, unashamedly rock and roll anthem that would have been great to hear live”, and “I’m Outta Time” was a song that seemed to “unknowingly foreshadow” the fate of Oasis itself. Overall, though, my attempt to thoroughly review Dig Out Your Soul fell flat on its face – there were several songs about which I could say nothing at all.

I don’t think that’s a reflection on the quality of the album at all. There are only a select few records I’ve ever heard that I’ve categorically disliked. It’s more a reflection on my own reviewing abilities, and the fact that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get the depth I was looking for. I didn’t feel confident enough to try using any musical terminology either, and the end result was a set of notes that couldn’t have looked less knowledgeable if they’d tried. They’ve given me a reason to go back to the drawing board, but I’m going to look at that as a positive thing. Maybe my upcoming module will give me the insight into the songwriting process that I need to confidently discuss how music is made. At the very least, it’ll allow me to think about adding another string to my writing bow, and including more reviews here. Mum has told me they’d be well worth doing more often, so maybe – for once – I should take her advice on board!

Mason