When my Winchester flatmate Sam and I cross paths, often in the kitchen at odd times of the day or night, he’ll frequently ask what I’m writing at the moment. In the last few weeks, with no academic work to do, the answer has tended to be “nothing much”. Even when I’ve prompts in mind, nothing has been fruitful, but one very small thing has suddenly helped to change that – and I could find it rather useful over the coming months at home.
When I saved and submitted my poetry portfolio at the beginning of last month, I assumed that I was letting go of the last batch of verse I would write in a while. I’d had trouble gelling with the module, and – excluding one on song lyrics – I haven’t chosen to take any poetry modules next year. That was that, or so it seemed. Just the other night, using the pen and notebook Louis bought me for my last birthday, all it took was three lines to reveal that perhaps I have unfinished business with it after all. In a haiku, I have a simple outlet for all of those fragmented thoughts and emotions I’m keen to express. It’s also good for the ideas I have that aren’t quite big enough for me to expand on substantially, those that start out as words, phrases or images. If I get them down on paper in this way, I’m shifting my writer’s block and expanding my portfolio, albeit more gradually than I would like.
As I’ve said, it could come in especially handy over the next few months while I’m back in Somerset for the summer. It’s fair to say that I’ve been more than a little bit apprehensive about returning from Winchester and facing numerous questions about what I plan to do with myself. I’ve been embarrassed about admitting that right now, there are no plans to speak of – but I’m hoping that writing and the ideas I have will help to ease that as I work on making some. It doesn’t matter whether they manifest themselves as bigger things or smaller ones, or in three lines or more.
My line of work, like many people’s, involves answering the telephone on an hourly basis. As I’ve explained before, this is something fairly nerve-wracking for me, but there’s also a substantial amount of curiosity to be found in the task. Recently, at one of my two workplaces, we’ve been receiving a steady and noticeable stream of wrong number calls from various people. When you answer the phone to them, some pre-empt what you are going to say, admit their mistake and immediately hang up on you. Others are ensnared in a moment of confusion; I will open with my usual professional greeting, and they will question why they aren’t speaking to their mate Derek before the penny quickly drops and they leave me be. In my particular experience, there have even been elderly people who – mistaking my workplace for the local hospital – have proceeded to describe gruesome ailments in considerable detail before my awkward admission that I am not medically qualified to deal with their complaint. They can put you off your lunch at times, as it happens.
Whatever their reasons for calling (albeit unintentionally), these people do all have one thing in common, at least in my view. Because they’re totally anonymous – the calls generally don’t last long enough for me to establish their identities – I always do wonder who they are, and what their stories are. Why might a phone call to the aforementioned Derek be so important? Was it intended as a simple catch-up between friends, or was he being sought out as part of the resolution to a life or death situation? When I am mistakenly contacted by confused hospital-goers, how worried are they about the problems they face? Are they looking for an answer to a simple question, or are they frantically searching for a second opinion on something that could potentially change life forever? All I can do is ponder, as any writer might. Whatever the truth may be, that’s what this is good for – imagination and inspiration. As annoying, inconvenient and brief as some wrong number calls may be, they do make me think – so maybe the people on the end, whom I generally speak to for no more than a split second each time, do have a much bigger impact on my day than I could ever have anticipated.
I often look through some of my past notebooks on a hunt for blog inspiration, and it was on the very last page of one particular book that I found the scribblings I wanted you all to read about here. They came from the last year of sixth form – 19 November 2014, to be precise – and an A2 Media lesson that saw us focus on “citizen journalism”, something defined by a quick Google search as “the collection, dissemination, and analysis of news and information by the general public, especially by means of the Internet.” I remember that it was a concept I found intriguing at the time, and something I definitely wanted to know more about. I liked the idea of these news vigilantes getting their hands dirty and plucking things the world needs to know about from under the noses of the big media corporations. Who wouldn’t want to be involved in something like that? Whatever we were saying about it in the lesson, we were obviously writing down some of the pros and cons associated with it, because these are what I found in my book in all of their black Biro glory.
The first pro I wrote is the one that caught my eye the most – it quite simply says that citizen journalism “allows normal people to create and collaborate”, and that this has the potential to “educate them in the process”. I like the fact that this is the first note on my list, because it immediately establishes that citizen journalism is a concept open to everyone, no matter who they may be. Furthermore, the “collaborative creativity” aspect of the whole thing is something I wanted this blog to aspire to when Will, Emily and Tamara all came on board, and I hope it can continue to do so as more people get involved in the future. Citizen journalism is already setting a few good examples for us, and we’re still only on the first bullet point on the page. The second says that it “reverses long-standing media hierarchies”. There’s a lot of very interesting stuff in the news, but we all know that there’s also a lot of bullshit which can heavily influence the unsuspecting victims reading it through widespread hegemony. With that in mind, it’s good to know that those who partake in citizen journalism can challenge this by taking it upon themselves to go solo and find out the truth. Maybe it’s not such a bad thing that my notes end after this point and there are no cons in my book – because, unless everything goes catastrophically wrong, how many downsides to citizen journalism are there?
As a pair of budding writers, Will and I often discuss the ways in which we hone our craft. He does so in his screenwriting degree (being in his third and final year already), while I do so mainly here, on this blog for all of you. I find the idea that each writer has their own individual style very interesting, because – in my case at least – it was developed subconsciously. Not for one minute did I think “I want to write in this way” or “I want people to take this from what I write”. I obviously never fully recognised what was influencing me in each piece of work, but it was there, albeit in a behind-the-scenes role that almost allowed my supposed style to shape itself. But is it the same for others? What are their styles, and do they come about in the same way, or are they more consciously designed?
Before I go any further, I should explain how this train of thought came about. It actually emerged from a “senior moment” for Will, if I can call it that. When we were exchanging our latest opinions on one another’s writing, he happened to enquire after a blog post I had written comparing our respective styles. The only problem was that it didn’t exist – but I swiftly decided that perhaps it should. So, upon announcing this post’s imminent arrival, I asked Will again what he thought the differences between us were as writers. In a nutshell, he believes trial and error is at the heart of his own creative process. When he is writing a script, the dialogue he uses will most likely come spontaneously, but everything else he writes is derived from his own personality. “I often don’t know how my sentence is going to end as I’m starting it,” he says of the way in which he talks. He redrafts, of course, but you never quite know what the destination of his material is going to be – and that’s what makes it such a rollercoaster ride to read, with comedy and drama often in unequal measure.
The fact that Will was able to properly explain his writing style would suggest that he’s been able to actively build it to some extent. I, however, have much less control over the direction of what I produce. I told Will that whenever someone compliments my style I never quite know how to respond, because although I appreciate the fact they like it, I have no idea what I actually did! I suppose it’ll always be interesting to keep on finding out. “You seem to analyse every word you write,” Will said to me, “leading it to be more straightforward.” Then he paused for a moment. “Not straightforward, but streamlined,” he added. Streamlined. Blimey, that’s a cool way of putting it, whether it’s true or not. I’ll take that!
So, Third Year. The year where everything gets serious. Where your work suddenly becomes important and should be given a lot of attention. I should probably get to it then. Yeah…
My work ethic is terrible. This is evident as Mason asked me to write this post weeks ago. For some reason, even if it’s doing something I love, I can never build up the energy to do it. I have a feature length script, a dissertation, a monologue and a script report to write. And yet I can’t bring myself to get started. I can sit down in front of my laptop to start writing, and yet my mind will wander away from the task at hand. This is all well and good until you spend 15+ hours in the library to write the end of a script. That’s an example I made up. It didn’t actually happen. Honest.
When it comes to writing, nothing makes me happier. Except when it doesn’t. My low self-esteem and sometimes crippling doubt often lead to me questioning myself. Am I a good writer? Have I wasted my life? Am I a failure? This doesn’t help my motivation. I can be in these slumps for a couple of days. And then I’ll watch a brilliant film\TV show, or I’ll think of an idea that I just can’t wait to put down on paper, and my passion will return. And then I’ll sit down in front of my laptop and the cycle will begin anew.
This blog post isn’t a ‘how to avoid procrastination’ guide. If I knew how to be more productive, I wouldn’t have to write this, and I could go back to calling giraffes bastards. Hopefully, over this next year, my resolve and motivation will increase, and I can write a more cheerful post. I’ll get back to you on that.
“Procrastination is like a credit card: it’s a lot of fun until you get the bill.” – Christopher Parker
The central character that I created for Excludable was one Jim Rossiter, originally named Jake. He was “born” on 30 March 2013, the day I started writing, and from the outset he was intended to be an alter ego in the truest sense of the word. Like me, he used a wheelchair (although I never specified his disability) and tended not to be very forthcoming towards those around him, because he was always afraid of being a nuisance. He could be dishevelled at times, and was prone to overthinking and the occasional social faux pas. Despite these shared qualities, however, I was very careful not to make Excludable a script all about me. When somebody once asked me if it was, I quickly clarified that it was only about someone like me – a relatable character in whom I could place some of my most closely-held thoughts and feelings without it being obvious they were mine.
It seemed to work pretty well. Jim became not only a reliable fictional confidant, but also a decent testing ground for new ideas I considered putting into his story. I spent so much time thinking about Jim and his progression through Excludable that he became almost like an imaginary friend, albeit a more useful one. If something particularly thought-provoking happened in my real life, I might find myself thinking of my new project: “Jim could do that”, I would say to myself. It took a while to piece something together, as you all know, but I knew the waiting and endless thought would pay off in the end, and indeed it did. I am the biggest critic of my own writing, and especially of this, but at least I’d finished it. Some of my rawest and most personal emotions had manifested themselves creatively onto paper, which I would now have to hand whenever I wanted to develop it. And it might never have seen the light of day if I didn’t have Jim at the centre of it – a character perfectly placed to finally show me, after so much time spent thinking rather than doing, what I was actually capable of completing. All that’s left now is for you all to meet him one day.
Writing prompts are amazing things. I know that a simple phrase or group of words always has the potential to spawn a much longer and more imaginative piece of work, but just how little you need to create something never ceases to astound me. I took part in a creative writing exercise yesterday along with a group of other people, and we were encouraged to come up with a range of short stories using only a few photographs and objects. They seemed simple and self-explanatory at first, but then we started digging. One of the photos was of a city being bombed by fighter jets. Fire and thick black smoke dominated the image, and anybody’s natural response to this would have been to see it from a civilian’s perspective – all of the horror and devastation that comes with losing your home and livelihood. However, we were presented with something different, namely the question of how the pilot dropping the bombs may be feeling as he presses the big red button. It only took the addition of a second point of view, and a small alteration to the original viewpoint, to make the possibilities seem endless – but it would be the objects that intrigued me the most.
Each person in the group was asked to take a card at random that had an equally random object written on it. One person was left with a highwayman’s mask, another with a fortune teller’s crystal ball. I, meanwhile, took one that read “an original vinyl ABBA recording”. I felt confident about my ability to write something from this, being a record collector myself, and I quickly discovered that even from these five words, I already had a fully-formed character in my mind who would feature in my short story – to consist of no more than four or five lines. I pictured a lonely man, single, tired and perhaps middle-aged, who struggled to find solace in anything except buying music. The reader needed to feel sympathy for him, and pleased that he had – at long last – found the rare record he so dearly wanted, since it would be key to his happiness. But then they needed to stifle a guilty giggle at the dark humour to follow when he proudly placed it amongst all his other LPs, only for them to topple over and crush his prized new addition along with all his hopes and dreams. This all had to happen, as aforementioned, in the space of only a few lines – and, to my delight, they seemed to flow in exactly the way I had hoped.
I wasn’t brave enough to read what I had written out once everyone had finished their stories, but I was quietly rather proud of what I’d come up with in two minutes. I was also greatly impressed by the fact that a clear character and scenario had both been incorporated – along with a late twist of humour – into a text shorter than this paragraph. Mind blown. And it was all thanks to that ABBA record. Who would really dare say that the English language is boring? To use an unusual analogy, it’s like chicken – Dad says you can do anything with it…