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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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:
- Is theatre the right medium for it? Could it be adapted into a short film?
- Could it be two or more smaller pieces rather than one big piece – perhaps with a linking theme (longing)?
- What is it about? What do I want the audience to take away from it?
- Am I confident in my characters? Do they behave naturally and are they strong enough to carry a conflict?
- 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…