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 Teams Experience

WordPress seems to have a new layout, so I thought I’d start this post with a nice drop capital (and some white boxes, although those might only be temporary). As it happens, now seems an appropriate time to try something new. In what has seemed like the blink of an eye, the third and final year of my degree has already arrived, and in light of the unprecedented times we’re living in, it’s already proving to be very different to either of the previous two. As I write this, we have completed one full week of lectures, and have experienced the first taste of what we can expect from teaching, at least until Christmas.

It now relies heavily on rotation, and our timetables have been designed to allow us all to be both present in class and remotely via Microsoft Teams. When we’re there in person, we enter, sit at socially-distanced desks around the room and the session proceeds more or less as normal, with us making sure to wipe down our desks before and after using them.

Ours is a course that benefits greatly from face to face interaction (particularly when critiquing work), so it’s a shame that that has been (understandably) reduced, but within every Teams meeting are smaller ‘breakout groups’, which we can enter with two or three other people to share files. I haven’t had much experience of them yet, but I have found them to be a source of the teething troubles tutors and students have been having with the software. In a session last Wednesday I went into one with three people, only two of whom could show what they’d written – the other file was nowhere to be found, even after it had supposedly been uploaded more than once. In addition to that, we only tentatively added comments to one another’s work because we weren’t sure that our edits would be saved, although we eventually discovered that the documents save themselves automatically whenever changes are made, so we left that group with our confidence boosted for the rest of the semester.

Certain people I’ve spoken to have been sceptical of the tutors’ ability to get on top of Teams, but I think they’ll find it easier to get to grips with as the weeks go on. They can only prepare for so much beforehand, after all. On Tuesday last week, in my very first class of the year, three of them had difficulty seeing and hearing each other as they introduced one of my modules, and struggled to adjust to a few of its features, which they’d anticipated in their training over the summer – but everything came together in the end, just as I knew it would. These minor hurdles will be overcome, and the new methods will be second nature to us all. I for one already feel very comfortable, and ready to tackle whatever the next three months bring, just as I always have been.

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

 

Going Beyond The Comfort Zone

Hello!

My name is Emily. I’m a friend of Mason’s and a fellow student, and he’s kindly invited me to write a post of my choice for his blog. It’s been a while since I’ve written anything on a blog. The feeling of just letting my thoughts flow and allowing my fingers to just do the typing is all coming back to me now. So let’s see how this goes…

I remember the pre-university excitement as though it was yesterday. The mental lists I made of all the social interaction I was going to do, how many friends I was going to make, how many Freshers’ parties I was attending, and of course, how much fun I was going to have before the semester started. Did any of that go to plan?

Absolutely not.

When I turned eighteen and started university, I thought that was it – that my independent, anxious phase was over. I was going to enjoy myself with my new flatmates, and actually try to socialise. Little did I know that what I thought was an anxious phase is just who I am as a person and cannot be easily fixed with social interaction. I’ve always been the type of girl who would rather spend an evening at home with a good movie or book rather than going out and getting totally shitfaced. However, I thought that for the sake of university, I’d get out of my comfort zone.

That went down like a lead balloon…

It was the first day of Freshers’ Week and the university was holding a Full Moon Party. My flatmates and I had pre-booked tickets to go together, to get to know each other a little better. It came to my attention that this wasn’t their first party, by how they were chugging back shots like it was nobody’s business. I, on the other hand, was younger and was never popular enough for house parties, and hardly drank. So you can already see why this was a bad idea. Flash forward to an hour or two later when the doors finally opened, and the anxiety and panic had set in. I just felt so out of place, I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t just go up to my flatmates after just getting in and saying “I want to go back”. I decided to give it a chance. Maybe I would like it?

Wrong again.

It got to the point where I felt the anxiety rising and rising until it bubbled over and I started to panic. There were too many people. I didn’t belong there. I felt unsafe. All I knew was that I needed to get out. One of my flatmates noticed I was panicking and helped me get back to the flat safely by calling my friend on campus. I’m pretty sure I ruined his match on Call of Duty.

So why am I telling this story? Well, as someone who has been anxious their entire life and wondered whether university life wasn’t for them, I’m here to say that despite the drinking, the partying and the social interaction, university life can still be for you.

After that night, I was embarrassed to show my face to my flatmates, and even though their personalities were lovely, I knew I wasn’t going to get on well with them because we were different people. On a Wednesday night when they’d have pre-drinks and go out to BOP, I was sat on my bed with a blanket, eating spaghetti bolognese whilst watching Celebrity MasterChef…you see?

If you, an independent individual, end up sharing a flat with party animals, you can still find your own ways to enjoy yourself. On those Wednesday evenings, I had the flat to myself and didn’t have to press my ear to my bedroom door to hear if anyone was in the kitchen because everyone was out. Sometimes I baked cookies and cakes, or went for a walk into Winchester to pick up any food I needed, or just to get some fresh air and be alone with my thoughts for a while. It’s the little things that can sometimes have the biggest impact.

Having said all this, though, the one thing that kept me going was seeing my family at the end of the week. I was lucky enough to get into a university relatively close to home – only 60-90 minutes away on the train (God knows what I would’ve done if I went to my insurance choice, Bangor). So, if like me, you are the type of person who loves their home comforts, applying to a university close to you is probably the most important tip, as at the end of the week, you get to crash on your own bed and realise just how quiet it is within your own four walls.

Emily G

 

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

The Isolation Station

A fortnight ago, as the world became increasingly swamped by the coronavirus pandemic, the university abruptly halted all of its face to face teaching, with two weeks of the semester still to go. I understand why, of course, but I still felt a certain emptiness as a result of not being able to see the term through to its end. Several strange and uncertain months now lie ahead before my third year begins, but I’m entering that period working on some of my current assignments on a rather empty campus. I’ve also chosen all of my modules for next year and written my dissertation proposal – there’ll be more on both of those later, no doubt – but I also have even more free time on my hands, as do a lot of us.

Before I came home from Winchester last Wednesday, I didn’t leave my flat or the campus unless it was absolutely necessary, and that policy has obviously continued back in Somerset too. My total screen time has been even higher than it usually is. I’ve watched, chatted, written and played, and as you may have gathered recently, I’ve listened to a lot of music too. I’m still working my way through the list of albums I mentioned before, but I also got bored enough one day to create an isolation-themed playlist on Spotify. To keep the musical thread going in this blog, I thought I’d include a link. My friends seem to like it, and Lara suggested I share it, if only for what I hope will be your listening pleasure. Click here to get started – alternatively, go to Spotify and search for The Isolation Station. We’re living in strange times, so if this playlist puts even the slightest smile on your face, it will have been a worthwhile use of my time. Dig in – there’s plenty to listen to!

Mason

Bearing Up

This week has been one marked by contrasts. I entered it on a high, having taken full advantage of the isolation imposed by Storm Dennis to shut myself in the library and get as much work done as I possibly could. At the time of writing, on Saturday evening, I feel I’m leaving it on a slightly lower note – a low-pitched squeaking, rubbing and rattling note, to be precise. That’s the noise currently making my eardrums bleed from an unspecified location. Despite my valiant efforts to trace the source by getting on my hands and knees and shining my iPhone torch into the chair’s inner workings, I am so far at a loss to explain it (although I do think something connected to the wheel could be loose), and since everything is packed into it so tightly, I can’t reach any of the parts. That means I have to leave it to the professionals and wait until an engineer turns up at some stage next week. By that time, I may well have scratched my own ears off. Oh well, at least I’ve got a quiz at the noodle bar where Lara works to look forward to tomorrow night. Let’s just hope I don’t manage to deafen the entire restaurant on my way in!

In the meantime, I’ve returned to the library, and I have a nice quiet booth all to myself. I’ve started listening to music as I work now – I never really did that before as I always felt slightly conspicuous wearing headphones in public – but it’s so much easier to get settled in a little cocoon of sound. I’m trying to use it as an opportunity to discover new music, as I find it too easy to slip into the habit of listening to the same artists, songs and playlists over and over again. Since Spotify offers such a wide-ranging array of lists, I’ve simply taken to reading their names, deciding whether I’ll like them based on that alone, and then pressing play and seeing what happens. It’s been quite exciting so far – maybe I’ll list some of my better discoveries in a future post (leaving out the more embarrassing ones)?

Mason