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

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

 

The Man At The Bus Stop

In our recent Creative Voice 2 classes, we’ve been using a variety of things as sources of inspiration. Last week it was dreams (the one time I desperately needed one, I didn’t have any, so I made something up instead), and the week before that we used old photographs. In the first week, we simply had to think of a person we knew or had encountered. There are many things I could have written about countless people I know, both good and bad, but I decided I’d pluck someone random out of thin air, and that’s how I came to write about the man at the bus stop. His story is a relatively simple one, but it isn’t something I’ll be forgetting in a hurry – it touched me and it might just touch you too.

In the autumn of 2016, when there was a 90-minute bus journey between me and my workplace at the time, I was shivering with my coat wrapped tightly around my body as I waited for the bus to arrive. It was nearing 7am and obviously still dark at that time of year, so you would be forgiven for thinking that I wouldn’t be up for talking – and I wasn’t, until the man beside me piped up. He was an elderly gentleman, and if I’m honest, he looked rather stereotypical complete with flat cap and walking stick. Even at the age of 85, though, he had lost none of his energy, and as we gradually established a conversation he exuded a great deal of warmth, particularly when he spoke about his wife.

I had noticed upon first seeing him that he had a bouquet of flowers in his hand, and he eventually told me that he was taking them to her. He’d been doing this, a four-hour round trip, six mornings a week for at least a couple of years, ever since she’d gone into a care home with dementia. He didn’t go on Sundays. They were his quiet days, which he spent alone in the house they shared – he never mentioned any children or grandchildren. I only ever knew him as a devoted husband, who told me about his wife with the kind of love I haven’t seen or heard anywhere since. He talked about their life together, what they’d done for a living, the places they’d travelled to, and what he did for her now she was in the home. He cooked for her, cleaned for her, made sure she always had clothes to wear – whatever it was, he’d help out. Apparently, she didn’t recognise him very often, but whenever there was a moment of lucidity, they could reminisce about some of their most precious moments together. Even though the woman he’d spent a lifetime with was ebbing away before his eyes, his enthusiasm for seeing her every day never seemed to waver once – I remember him telling me that despite everything, “she’s still my girl”. I couldn’t help but think that a lot of guys I knew could learn a thing or two from him.

These conversations continued for around three months, ending when the Christmas break arrived. When I started work again in January 2017, and arrived at the bus stop for my first day back, the man was nowhere to be seen. That didn’t seem like a good sign at all, since he had been so adamant about his determination to take the journey whenever he could. Then the bus pulled up, and the driver got out to help me aboard. “By the way”, he said, as he put the ramp down on the pavement, “the gentleman you’ve been speaking to wanted me to let you know his wife passed away over Christmas.”

My heart sank at that moment, as I know his will have done. We never even knew each other’s names, but I did feel like we’d established a nice little connection, and there was a definite dampener on the rest of that day for me. I haven’t seen the man anywhere since, and I don’t even know if he’s still with us. If he is, I hope he’s gotten to a place where he’s comfortable and content, and if he isn’t, I hope someone was there to show him love and support in the aftermath of his loss. It’s what he would have done for his wife, unquestionably and unconditionally. If you ask me, the man at the bus stop was the definition of true devotion.

Mason