Writing sense out of chaos

A relatively brief blog post, back on the subject of writing having spent the most part of the last two hours writing a 3333-word race report on Sunday’s Canadian Grand Prix. (Again, don’t worry, this is about writing rather than about motor sport per se, I promise.)

I’d taken the last couple of Grands Prix off in terms of writing a post-race report on what happened. It’s not because I’m losing interest in F1 or that the races themselves weren’t very good (Barcelona is usually a bit of a snoozer but was enlivened immeasurably by new technology and a new tyre provider, while Monaco is my favourite race of the year and was packed with incident and controversy) – but simply that May got so overcrowded with motor racing that I had to prioritise my work for crash.net instead and put GP2, IndyCar and NASCAR first as explained in last week’s post.

Strangely, though, after just two races “off” on hiatus, I found my attachment to F1 wobbling despite how good the races themselves were. Without the investment of writing about it afterwards, I felt strangely removed from it, as though F1 was becoming a “secondary” interest compared with those that I was still covering and writing up. It made me realise how much the process of writing about it now connects me with the event and the sport itself: because I was still doing that for GP2, NASCAR and IndyCar, they were becoming closer and more pre-eminent to me.

I even doubted that I would get around to writing up this weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix; having been on hiatus for two races, surely another one wouldn’t matter? Especially because, thanks to the IndyCar event at the weekend being in the middle of Saturday night, I was feeling a bit tired and wiped out by the evening and wondered whether I would just doze off – especially when the race was interrupted by a two hour rain delay that must have infuriated BBC1 viewers wondering what had happened to the 8.15pm showing of Antiques Roadshow just to make way for grown men staring at rain puddles.

Actually my big problem after the race itself was: how to write about four hours of events that made absolutely no sense? Far from the old processional days of old when I first started to do these reports in the 90s that made for easy translations into a linear narrative, recent races have thrown up so many incidents that whole theses could be written about any one of two dozen race incidents. How to boil that down to a single race report that made any sort of sense and yet still do the race as a whole sufficient justice?

This is of course a universal problem facing any writer: how to take any story and characters that the writer has in their mind and chip away all the other details that aren’t quite so important in order to leave the best possible end result? It’s like a sculptor chipping away at the marble in order to reveal the statue of David that he knows is within, if only he can get rid of the distractions; but that means discarding so much fine marble in the process that you could weep for the waste, which to another artist could have been a different wonderful piece altogether.

So it is with a Grand Prix, and especially so with this week’s where there was just so much to cover than you just have to absorb it all and decide which pieces of the marble raw material you wish to keep, and which – sadly – have to go.

So I decided early on that this would be a story of one team – of McLaren. The story would be from their view, from the depths of despair in the early laps when their drivers took each other out, to the heights of the most extraordinary victory. But so do that I knew I was leaving to one side just as many if not more amazing stories, such as Michael Schumacher’s dramatic return to form after looking on the verge of quitting (again) because he wasn’t enjoying his return from retirement; of the travails of the Ferrari team; or the heartbreak for Sebastian Vettel who threw away a race win. All of these were secondary footnotes in the service of the McLaren story and many others not mentioned at all, but someone is sure to be writing an account which centres on them which is wholly different to my version.

I’m not pretending that the end result is some work of art comparable with David, it’s “Just Another F1 Race Report” at the end of the day. But I’m pretty pleased with it, not least because when I started I genuinely didn’t know how on earth to even begin capturing the events and the sense of the afternoon – most of which had gone by so fast that I could barely remember it let alone keep it straight in my head – and yet by the end it it was all there, on paper. All the key facts, but also all brought to life. It’s this challenge of bringing some sense and order to complete chaos, no matter how overwhelming the basic initial pool of facts and events is at the start, that gives me a real sense of achievement by the end.

It’s actually not unlike the type of work I used to do in the past: as a digital media consultant, I’d go into a situation and be presented with a load of facts info-dumped on me and be expected to make sense of them, form a narrative and be able to not just understand and interpret them but come up with some sort of “answer” to boot. That was the job, and no matter how difficult or how unlikely it seemed to be at the start, we did exactly that each and every time – just like the process of taking a real life event such as a Grand Prix and making order out of chaos there, too.

Whether writing or consultancy, when it all goes right, it’s really one of the best feelings you can have. Although I’d imagine Jenson Button would say there are even better legal highs and that he’s in the middle of one after his Canadian victory!

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