The ECP Diaries, Part 8

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.

Mason

The ECP Diaries, Part 7

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.

Mason

Decoder

Last Sunday afternoon saw another very welcome Zoom game session between myself and the uni gang. After the resoundingly successful game of Trivial Pursuit we’d played in the first instance, we were all keen to pursue some more ways of keeping ourselves entertained, and thanks to Alysha we had something new to enjoy. This was 30 Seconds, a game which required players to pair up. Lara was unable to join us on this occasion, so we had six players rather than seven – and that meant we had three perfect pairs, with nobody left out. Before we started, Alysha told us she was concerned that it would be too easy and we’d quickly get bored with it, but it proved more of a challenge than she thought, and we found ourselves unearthing a new favourite.

The rules were simple. Each pair would take it in turns to describe five words to their partner, who would then have to guess them before the titular 30 seconds were up. At the end, the pair with the most correct answers would be victorious. The words in question looked easy to convey on paper, but tended to be harder in practice – especially seeing as they could be completely random. Something like ‘mattress’ (“the big thing you sleep on in bed”), ‘hospital’ (“the place you visit when you’re sick”), or even ‘Audi’ (“German car company – four rings”) could be followed by a word much more difficult that you never expected to see or just could not get across. Examples of those included ‘grasshopper’ – which I tried to explain to Ryan as “green insect which leaps through vegetation”, sadly to no avail – and, most infamously, ‘decoder’. I didn’t even know where to start with that, so I swiftly moved onto the next one. Thankfully, it wasn’t too detrimental to our points total!

I’m sure one of the others will correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe Ryan and I won that afternoon, and as I’ve already mentioned, we were all pleasantly surprised by how good the game was. I even suggested that we could play a homemade version using words we come up with ourselves. I’ve no idea if that’ll happen yet, but it’s definitely something to consider, and the trial of yet another well-received game has got us thinking once again about what we could do next. I’m sure that whatever it is, it’ll be great fun, and it’ll certainly help to relieve the sizeable amount of dissertation and assignment pressure that’ll be looming very soon…

Mason

The ECP Diaries, Part 6

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.

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

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

Keep Calm, Chop And Change

Hi everyone, my name’s Alex. I’m a friend of Mason’s and a fellow Creative Writing student. I’ve been fortunate enough to be offered a post on this blog, but I’ve never done a blog post about me as I’m used to telling other people’s stories, so bear with me!  

I decided to cut my hair from shoulder-length to pixie one Saturday night in January while I was alone in my uni house. I hadn’t planned to go that short when I picked up the Ikea scissors and faced my reflection. I hadn’t planned past the slightly bored thought of “I’ll give it a trim”, which I’d had for the past year. So I snipped in a few more layers, took a centimetre or so from the ends and found myself wondering – not for the first time – how it would look a bit shorter. Maybe a lob length. My sister had just started growing her pixie cut out and I’d admired her confidence when she got hers cut, but felt – because we have different bone structures – that I wouldn’t be able to carry one off. I put on a playlist – I can’t remember it now but it probably didn’t help to rationalise what I did next – took a handful of my hair and chopped it at my jaw. No turning back once you’ve done that, is there? It felt…empowering? Crazy? Like I’d stuck a metaphorical middle finger up? Of course, a lot was behind this, not just the desire to try a new look. I’d spent my whole life feeling self-conscious, awkward, like I didn’t belong anywhere, as though no matter how hard I tried I just didn’t fit in. Nothing really felt personalised in my physical identity.

I felt free to be so drastic partly because I wasn’t with anyone (so didn’t have to worry about being dumped because I’d changed), partly because I was no longer bothered if people didn’t like me (and if they cared then I no longer wanted them in my life), and partly because nothing else had worked. I don’t know how long that first chop took, but I’ve never regretted it. I love that I cut (and still maintain) it myself. No-one else had any part in creating it and there’s something really satisfying in that.

Changing to become more authentic is the most terrifying, empowering thing because it’s a leap of faith. Chopping my hair into a pixie cut challenged me – and not just in my cutting abilities! It challenged me to step out from a role I felt I’d been playing for years that had got good reviews, but wasn’t authentic. I didn’t want to be a carbon copy or a blend, I wanted to be me and I wanted to be that person unapologetically and honestly. Cutting my hair was the first major step towards cultivating a look, a lifestyle, a persona that suits and reflects me. Not society, not socially popular images, not stereotypes, not what’s seen as attractive. Just me.

Lots of people thought I was having a crisis, lots of people thought I was crazy. Lots of people probably still think all those things, but I’d rather be honest about who I am and what I want. Trying to stuff myself into an image that increased self-doubt and insecurities already in existence – due to constant comparisons with everyone else – hadn’t worked. But accepting those insecurities, owning them and stepping out from who I felt I’d always had to be helped to overcome a huge block. I realised that you can change but the people who like you for yourself won’t give a damn what you look like, and if they do? Well, there will be people out there who love who you really are, and you should look out for them.

So that’s the story behind the hair.

Thank you Mason for letting me contribute to your blog!

Alex

The Roaring Twenties

Happy New Year! It’s 2020 – and that sounds like a year from an old science-fiction film, doesn’t it? You might expect to look around and see people zooming this way and that with jetpacks or hoverboards. Unfortunately, though, technology has still not quite progressed far enough for that, and life goes on just as before. At around this time last year, I committed to two New Year’s resolutions, one of which was successful and the other less so. I am hesitant to establish any new ones this year, although it has been noted that as of now, I am exactly halfway through my degree. What that means is that sooner or later, I will have to look to the future – and so, after I go back to Winchester on Saturday, I intend to start working on what I’ll do and where I’ll go. In case progress is slow, though, I’m not going to keep you updated on that unless there’s actually something substantial to say!

I also want to make sure I have more to say about 2020 on here, and while that might not mean being massively prolific, I am going to try and post more than two or three times a month where I can. In the event of a shortage of anecdotes from my own life, it might be a good opportunity for me to branch out and include other voices and other things, which seems apt when you consider the blog will be five years old in August. I can’t make any promises, but you’ll have to watch this space. The year is a blank slate, and anything could happen.

Mason