In The Words Of The T-Shirt…

“…Just Do It.”

That’s what my old GCSE English teacher used to say, usually when we had to write an essay. Given that she had to mark so many of them, she never had much time for people who went “round the houses” – in other words, those of us who took ages to get past the introduction to the crux of the matter. All she wanted was for us to make and explain our point, and to do it promptly. To get the thing tied up and finished. It could still take me a while to hit the nail on the head, and I can remember writing many a long-winded paragraph, but I got there in the end – and that small quote is advice I’d do well to remember today.

As you’ll know by now, I’ve long wanted to be the most versatile writer possible, but I’m invariably held back by the belief that I’ll never write anything worth reading or watching, or that I’m too rusty to take on a specific project (such as scriptwriting, which – Jed Mercurio video lessons aside – I haven’t done since I left Winchester in the summer). I lack a certain amount of confidence, but I also know that I won’t regain it unless I press ahead and write regardless, so sometimes it seems like a somewhat impossible situation. There is, however, a light at the end of this particular tunnel.

My friend Abi works as a photographer down in Cornwall (sometimes she doubts her own ability too, but she really doesn’t need to – as you’ll find out for yourself if you contact her via social media). Her mind is endlessly inventive, and I admire how she always tries to push herself and her business further in colourful and distinctive ways in order to stand out from the crowd. This includes utilising film and the written word as well as imagery, and for her latest endeavour she’s decided to create a video featuring herself and her camera immersed in her beloved Cornish countryside, while she explains her motivations for doing what she does via voiceover. This element of the video needs to be personal, profound and sincere, it needs to delve deep into the effect her environment has on her wellbeing and creativity – and writing such a thing is no mean feat. I should know, because it’s a task she’s entrusted to me.

I’m in two minds about whether or not I should accept it, largely because the lines are meant to convey her own perspective – so surely they should come from her? Nevertheless, I think I will, firstly because I want to help a friend, and secondly because it’s still an opportunity to show someone what I can do, even if it’s not on a massive scale. Abi doesn’t need to use any of what I’ve written once she’s seen it, but it won’t hurt me at all to carry on, even if it is only 500 words, and just do it.

Mason

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The Last Present, Part 2

You may recall that recently, I started an online BBC Maestro course in writing television drama, presented by Jed Mercurio, the creator of Line of Duty. I got it for Christmas last year, and until the end of September was yet to start it – but now, as I write this post, I’ve made my way through six of the lessons. Of course, I have the advantage of a Creative Writing degree that included modules in screenwriting, but even so, it was fascinating to see Mercurio continue to break each element of the development process down in a way that I could easily record with bullet points. These latest videos covered how to develop ideas into workable projects, and establish whether they are worth spending time on in the long run. Distinguishing between a concept worth pursuing and one I should consider dropping has occasionally been a weakness of mine, so such guidance came in pretty handy – as did the notes that accompanied it.

As I went along, taking in each thing he said, I was thinking more and more about how I could apply it all to a script of my own. I don’t have an idea for anything that might be suitable for the small screen at the moment, but it has got me thinking about whether I could adapt something to it. After all, I’ve written more than my fair share of fragments that have been abandoned largely due to my own insecurities over them, or that were made short but could be expanded in one way or another. Whatever happens, though, it’ll be a good way to distract myself from the occasional pressures of my new job. It’s been going really well, I’m very fortunate to have it, and I know it’ll be invaluable, but it’ll also cause me stress at times (because of my own inexperience, if nothing else). Apart from that, it’ll allow me to write other, non-car-related things, so that I can keep on working towards the versatility as a writer that I’ve always strived for. Now it’s just a question of knowing what to work on – I feel like a mind-mapping exercise might be in order…

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

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

Deadline Deadlock

The peculiar circumstances we find ourselves living under at the moment have meant that every student at Winchester has been given two separate extensions on their assignments. As I write this now, my nearest deadline is two weeks away, and some of the others are five weeks in the distance. These great voids of time give us a lot of breathing space, for which we’re very grateful, but we’re also swiftly finding that it poses a problem of its own – that of my old nemesis, procrastination. Think about the fact I have a fortnight until my next assignment is due. Then think about how under the lockdown, with very little to do, I could use any¬†of the hours between now and then to get it done. Do you see my problem? There isn’t exactly a huge incentive to press ahead.

I’m certainly not rushing, but even so, I’d say I’m making good progress. I normally say that it’s better to complete work by doing a little bit here and there, and that’s the strategy I’m employing here, so I should be fine as long as I don’t completely take my eye off the ball! The dissertation wheels have now officially started turning too, and yesterday – as far as I’m aware – everyone on each Creative Writing course received an email revealing the identity of their supervisor. I’m pleased that I’ve been assigned someone who has really helped me to achieve good marks before now – and the fact they’re someone I already know in the first place is also reassuring. It looks like this news will bode well for the work that lies ahead. I’m sure not many other people will say this about their dissertations, but with an idea I’m passionate about and support I think will be excellent, I’m actually looking forward to getting started!

Mason

Grapeness

Just in case you aren’t friends with me on Facebook, or don’t follow me on Twitter, I thought I’d post this photo here (I couldn’t resist, frankly). In an ideal world, I’d have something mildly interesting to say about it as well, but the simple fact of the matter is that it just made me smile – and I hope it can have the same effect on you. Have some Monday motivation, courtesy of something I found on a university lift!

Mason