Why “1000 Words per Day” Might Not Be for Everyone

With the finish line in sight for retirement from career #1 and my transition to career #2 as a writer, I look forward to some solid years of finally getting a lifetime of ideas, plots and characters committed to paper.

Some of those characters (and their families) have been taking up residence in my head for so long that I look forward to sending them eviction notices from my brain.

But in writing circles, I often hear why wait until tomorrow what you can do today? …Why wait until retirement?

The answer is a pretty simple one: at the end of most work days, I’m tapped out.

I am extremely fortunate that my career already offers me the opportunity to create, write, proofread and edit a variety of corporate documents.

That is a choice I made and I stand by it, as it has offered me the gift of thirty years of challenging emails, memos, presentations and user manuals. What is most rewarding is that in writing for different target audiences and on behalf of a variety of executives with differing styles and approaches, my creative muscles have been stretched like silly putty in multiple directions. I couldn’t have asked for better training in writing.

Even at this point, I am still learning and I still have moments when the word nerd in me gets goose bumps when a finished product comes together really nicely. For example, a couple of months ago, I coughed up a Standard Operating Procedure in under two hours that brought me a huge sense of satisfaction for having downloaded some of the contents of my brain into a living document that will be used by my colleagues for years to come.

But at the end of the day, when I am in heavy production of the written word, often with short deadlines (which is also a challenge that gets my creative juices flowing), as much as I love every moment of the process, there isn’t much writing energy to spare for personal projects.

On numerous occasions over the span of my career, I have tried to commit to myself to personal writing quotas, whether that was 1000 words, 500 words, an hour, or even just half an hour. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t.

The times the word quotas worked were usually preceded by work days where I felt like I was using a different part of the brain, whether that was number crunching, problem solving or attending meetings.

But the days when I was wearing the corporate writer hat all day, it was a challenge to keep the writing neurons firing after more than eight consecutive hours… at least for me it is. Even if I did persevere, would it be quality work?

I recall a time when there was a 150 page bilingual document that needed proofreading on a short deadline. By blocking out interruptions and having the quiet time I needed, I was able to get the continuity, flow and momentum to increase my revision speed. But at the end of an intense day, as much as I was euphoric with what I accomplished, my brain was very tired.

I believe that it would have been a mistake to work on my own creative projects that night, if I needed to wake up refreshed and to remain vigilant to continue proofreading the next day.

I am not suggesting for a moment that setting writing goals or quotas are a bad thing. In fact, I fully expect that when writing becomes my full-time gig, I will indeed be setting goals for myself. If I was on contract to a publisher to deliver a written product by a certain date, then you better believe that I’d be working on a daily quota system to ensure I meet my target.

I am just suggesting that when we don’t have a pressing, revenue generating, bound-by-law commitment, as writers, we shouldn’t feel discouraged if at times, this popular and widely-used practice doesn’t mesh well with our personal lives. For that reason, I have been careful in not committing to writing projects outside of my career or my blog, to ensure I had the creative energy to still deliver my best work to the priorities before me.

We all have so many responsibilities, sometimes conflicting ones, which are draining on our creative energy. When that happens, sometimes writing quotas are the solution to keep us on track. Other times, we just need to be patient and ride out the busy periods until the time is right. The bright side is that during that time, characters, plots and ideas have a chance to take root in our minds and to mature, which can sometimes be as beneficial as the actual writing itself.

On social media, I like the positive and encouraging messaging when people are successful in making a personal writing goal work for them. I fully support that movement.

We shouldn’t feel guilty when life’s demands get in the way. Personal writing quotas are indeed a fantastic tool, we just need to work within our circumstances and to do the best that we can. I also think we need to cut ourselves some slack in recognizing that we are human, we are not machines.

If my career was completely unrelated to writing and consistently worked a different part of the brain, I’m sure I would already be producing vast quantities of creative content in my free time.

In the meantime, I still write, but my goals are very flexible and very relaxed. I am perfectly happy with producing one quality blog post per week. Meanwhile, I constantly scribble creative writing ideas on index cards. Those ideas will keep until I retire and will help me hit the ground running when I transition to full-time creative writer.

As much as I have yearned for more time for creative writing over the years, for now I feel deep gratitude for the writing opportunity that life has handed me: an opportunity that puts food on the table, a roof over my head, clothes on my back and offers me the best training in the world.

Did you enjoy this post? If you haven’t already, please check out the rest of my blog at andrebegin.blog. From there, you can click on the “Follow” button to receive future posts directly in your inbox. Also, don’t be shy, feel free to tell a friend or to share the link.
Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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Giving the Cat a Bath

When we put up Ivy the Wonder Cat at her cat hotel during our recent move, I thought that Miss Ivy might enjoy a little extra attention and pampering during this challenging time. I signed her up for a “spa treatment” in the form of a feline version of a shampoo and blow dry.

When I picked up Ivy, the spa owner advised that Ivy responded well to the bath as she was purring contentedly when it was over. She noted that during the service, a lot of hair came off.

The last comment wasn’t a surprise. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times I might brush Miss Ivy, I always seem able to collect enough hair to potentially knit together another kitten.

When I brought Ivy home, I couldn’t get over how fresh she smelled. To be clear, she was never a “smelly cat” like Phoebe Buffay sang about in the TV show “Friends”, but the light fragrance from the shampoo was delightful and stayed with her for more than a week.

What was odd was that after her arrival in our new home, whenever she seemed to be cozy and in a relaxed mood, I would try brushing her, as was always our routine. Maybe it was the stress of the move talking, but she got up and walked away. After five years, I have learned to take signs like that at face value. For some reason she wasn’t interested, so I let it go and tried again another time. However the reaction was the same.

I didn’t worry about it too much as she had been through a huge transition period and some significant changes to the routine and living arrangement.

But about four weeks later, as I woke up one morning, bleary eyed, getting her breakfast bowl ready, I found myself stepping in a puddle in the kitchen. Miss Ivy coughed up a hairball. Continue reading

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Savouring the Calm Country Life

When my partner first suggested moving to the country, I cannot say I was hugely conflicted by the question.

There were indeed a number of factors to consider and this move would be a pretty big change for this city boy. But the part that required no thought whatsoever was the prospect of having almost no neighbours… and almost no neighbour noise. That part sounded like heaven to me.

I could write a book about my dealings with noisy neighbours, having experienced the good, the bad and the ugly over the last 30 years.

When we pick a place to live, there is always a package deal of pros and cons to consider before signing on the dotted line. No matter how perfect a place may seem, there will be irritants for which patience and some degree of compromise will be needed on both parts.

And just like anything in life, nothing is really certain nor permanent. Great neighbours, as well as the lousy ones, come and go.

As much as I enjoyed my last house for 19 years, it wasn’t without its moments of blaring stereos, roaring cars, screaming kids, disobedient dogs, industrial vehicles and 3:00 a.m. parties, but that’s life in the city when you have neighbours. Part of that package deal was ideal proximity to transit, shopping and an abundance of cultural events.

It didn’t matter if “quiet enjoyment of premises” was supposed to be a reassuring clause in each of my apartment leases or in the big book of condo rules, but someone’s urge to make noise always seemed greater than my craving for the calm to recover from the roar of city life. Continue reading

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How I Suddenly Found Myself in the Gutter

When moving into a new house, it is amazing what we discover in those first few days. It only took one rainfall to notice that something was off with the universe.

At the back of the house, as a gentle rain fell onto the roof, the eavestrough system seemingly couldn’t keep up as a torrent of water overflowed over the side of the eavestrough, falling like a sheet.

The odd part was that there seemed to be more rain falling off the eaves system than was actually falling from the sky. The math didn’t quite add up, but then again there were a few things about this house that elicited moments of squint-inducing confusion.

When my partner mentioned it in passing to his parents, his father diagnosed the problem as a blocked gutter system. What we didn’t know was that something of this nature would actually keep his father up at night with worry, as in the days that followed, he kept asking if we took care of it yet.

I took a moment to count my blessings. Given that my own father and grandfathers have not been with us for some time, I forgot what it was like to have a family member take such a keen interest in my home maintenance issues… and to such an extreme. It was heartwarming to have someone who cared like that.

I understood that misdirected water could impact several other things in and around the house if not taken care of soon. And for the water to be falling in strong cascades off the side of the eavestrough, we realized that we probably should move it up our lengthy to-do list. But between unpacking and still putting in full days at work, energy and time was in limited supply. Continue reading

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How My Cat Survived the Big Move

In the five years since Ivy the Wonder Cat’s adoption, most days I would think that Ivy is one of the coolest, calmest and most predictable cats on the planet, given her innate ability to stick to a schedule which includes 14 hours of sleep per day.

When I say stick to a schedule, I mean you can set your watch by her. God forbid if I should miss her 9:00 p.m. treat time or should slip by more than five minutes for her regularly scheduled feeding times. Let’s just say my extroverted cat is not terribly subtle and if I am ever late, her mild meow builds up to a full ambulance siren within a matter of minutes.

I often ask myself who is the trainer and who is the student?

With a cat whose routine is so deeply entrenched, we are fortunate that harmony is a two way street. She knows when it’s her humans’ bedtime and she doesn’t typically wail by the door. She seems to understand our work-from-home routine and keeps herself quietly entertained during business hours. And she doesn’t usually beg for food outside of her appointed meal times.

But with that strong sense of structure, a sensitivity to disruption may be part of the package deal. Every November and December, as the holiday decorations go up and our schedules stray from the normal routine, she does get a little discombobulated, but then again, don’t we all to some extent? Continue reading

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Moving and Exceeding My Quota of Swear Words

The recent move reminded me of how the stress associated with it can change me from a relaxed, calm, mild-mannered fellow who uses swear words very sparingly, to a sleep-deprived hothead whose foul mouth could have him locked up in a confessional for hours.

Even though I thought that I was pretty well-organized from the very beginning and mindfully committing time consistently to the packing process, the journey still presented its share of unexpected surprises.

When that happened, when combined with the looming deadline of the closing date, anything that required extra time for which I hadn’t budgeted became a trigger for a swear word… or two… or three.
But in the privacy of my own home, with the windows closed, who would know the difference?

Have you ever tried to neatly pack a set of anything, only to discover you are missing one piece? And then you locate the missing piece within five minutes of sealing the box? And then there isn’t enough room in the box when trying to add the piece to keep the set together?

Have you ever packed something with full conviction that you wouldn’t need it until after the move, only to realize you needed it a day or two later? When Mother Nature kept changing her mind and kept returning to frosty temperatures, it was a challenge to try to get the winter gear washed and definitively packed.

During my packing, there were many boxes for which I was mentally high-fiving myself for achieving a perfect Tetris game for my optimal use of space within a box. And then there were the ones that weren’t so perfect that had me persistently attempting to repack the box multiple times. What it is about packing that brings out a streak so competitive that we won’t let ourselves be defeated by a cardboard box? Continue reading

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The Moving Diet and Exercise Plan

Upon opening a box marked “OFF65” containing items for the home office, I discovered my bathroom scale that was slightly misfiled in my last minute haste.

I laid the scale on the floor and hopped on to confirm what I had suspected for the last few weeks, as I noticed that my jeans were getting progressively looser.

From the moment we put the offer in on the house, I secretly hoped that the stress of the legal paperwork, the preparation, the packing and the move itself would help me shed a couple of pounds (as it did the last time I moved, 19 years ago).

Well, it worked… almost ten pounds dropped!

In some ways I was happy as it meant that I will likely fit into some summer clothes that have been at the back of the closet for a while… as soon as I locate the box in which they are stored. But in other ways, it was also a reminder of the ways that stress impacts my body.

Even though the home purchase, the home sale and the move were indeed joyful, positive events, the trajectory did present moments of late nights, early mornings, not-so-restful sleep and sometimes uncomfortable adrenaline rushes through my midsection, like a case of feral butterflies in the tummy.

The sensation of knots in the stomach in stressful times is normal for me and, not surprisingly, acts as an appetite suppressant. It has been that way since I was very young. Every major life event whether it involved school exams, job interviews, important work presentations, or just rites of passage in general, usually meant a few pounds dropped along the way.

I think it is just my body’s way of dealing with the “fight or flight” response to what life throws at me. By not ingesting more food than necessary, I don’t turn into the “Stan” character from the “South Park” cartoon series and throw up when stress gets the best of me. Continue reading

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The Challenge of Writing Funny Stories During Covid-19

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, I have often wondered how other artists were coping with it, and how their creative processes were impacted.

In the beginning of the self-isolation period, this was all very new to us and like most people, I turned to the news to remain informed and to try to make sense of it. But it didn’t matter which channel I watched, even when the coverage was seemingly balanced and factual, it was scary. For an empathetic, sensitive person, the statistics alone drew very strong emotions.

In trying to find levity, I turned to social media only to find many people posting the same news articles that were starting to get me down in the first place. In the spirit of psychological self-preservation, I had to taper my news consumption and to self-isolate from social media.

When times get tough, I have the honour of being able to say that I can turn to my art to try to keep my mind occupied and to centre myself.

In the early years of writing this blog, I made the conscious decision that I wanted this to be a light, safe and fun place for people to turn. This was as much for the readers as it was for me. Once I reached that decision and found my voice, the stories followed without having to look too hard for them.

As the pandemic struck, I already had several blog posts in first draft, recounting the stories of stress, anxiety and unexpected humour behind the recent purchase of a home and the selling of my current home.

Finalizing those blog posts and keeping to my usual posting schedule was relatively easy. Coming up with new material after that series was surprisingly challenging.

I think it would be fair to say that for writing, inspiration can sometimes be a tricky thing. The “Eureka!” moment of a viable story idea and the discipline to write come from within. But the content that goes into the story often comes from threads of human experience. Continue reading

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What I Surprisingly Missed During Covid-19

With the recent announcements about gradually reopening the economy, I look forward to seeing how the new normal will unfold, even though we have already been adapting to progressive new normals like mice working their way through a maze.

By necessity, for the health and safety of employees and customers alike, businesses that were able to remain open have had to make significant adjustments.

This was also true for citizens being told to only go out for groceries and pharmacy items, and to only step out once per week to accomplish that if possible.

For me, cutting back on shopping trips wasn’t so challenging in itself because as I get older and more practical, the urge to shop seems to be on a downward slope. Similarly, with the finish line to retirement clearly within sight, it’s not like I need to stock up on collared shirts, pants or dress shoes. For those reasons, shopping only for the essentials wasn’t a huge adjustment.

The big adjustment was in HOW I shopped for the essentials.

The first thing to go was my ability to casually and spontaneously do errands. In the old normal, after my work day, if there was a traffic tie-up on the highway (which, due to a major construction project, was becoming most nights), I would make the best of it and use the time constructively to do errands in the neighbourhoods around the office, picking up a few items here and there. By the time I hit the highway later, with less traffic, I could actually be home in less time.

Also, with only a few items in hand, I could swiftly pay for my purchases through the stores’ express lanes.

The other benefit to my approach was that with the help of sales flyers, I could plan an itinerary to pick up items on sale at different stores on my way home, which helped to stretch my shopping dollars.

And for someone with recurring back issues, running smaller errands was ideal because I would be walking out with only one bag.

The experts’ advice to try to buy everything at one store was a bit of a struggle for me. Let’s be honest, no matter how many acres a single store may occupy, walking out with absolutely everything on one’s list is not a guarantee. When compounded by people grabbing enough staples for a six month isolation, the resulting shortages had me editing the week’s menu plans and rejigging grocery lists on the fly.

And when heeding the advice to buy from only one place, my treasure hunt for picking up sale items at different stores was no longer possible.

My small errands at multiple stores at short internals usually yielded individual totals in the 20 to 40 dollar range. The first time I had a grocery order that crossed over the three digits, I could feel the beads of sweat popping out of my forehead. The last time I had a total that high was Easter 2014, when I was preparing a dinner for 15 guests.

One week, I had an 8 day interval between shopping trips in which I had used up many staples. When the cashier announced my total was over $170, I asked her to repeat it… twice! Admittedly, if I took the time to add up my receipts from my old method with the multiple stops, it probably would have added up to something close to that, but I never really saw it.

Becoming a list keeper is not new to me. I’m usually pretty good about keeping a grocery list and to note items as they are close to running out. But in the first few weeks, I was tormented repeatedly when discovering that I forgot a key ingredient within minutes after returning home. With practice, I got pretty good at taking quick inventory of all staples and anticipating what might need replenishing.

The security briefings before stepping into stores were appreciated but so unlike our usual way of doing things. I remember one clerk advising I should “shop with your eyes, not with your hands.” I thought that was wise advice and hoped everyone else did the same. But trying to pick firm oranges with your eyes is not easy. When the first three I picked up with my freshly sanitized hand deflated on contact, I stepped away from the display and concluded that risking scurvy was the lesser evil when compared to risking Covid-19.

With grocery aisles not quite allowing two metres for social distancing, I appreciated the arrows on the ground that turned each row into a one-way street. But they didn’t come without their own share of issues like the dude parked in the middle of the aisle calling “Honey” to find out which flavour to buy. There was no way to get around him safely to respect social distancing rules and I feared the dire repercussions of doing a three point turn and going down a one-way aisle illegally. Who knew that my new normal would become this kind of traffic tie up?

With a full cartload of groceries, the express lane was out of the question, as I stood semi-patiently on my red dot, two metres behind another frowning shopper with a full cartload of groceries, grunting as he threw his items on the conveyor belt.

And then it was the production of hauling multiple grocery bags back to the car and then into the house. Every step felt infinitely more cumbersome and time consuming. Oh, and I found out the hard way that paper bags are crap on a rainy day.

And then when I got home it was the decontamination process of the items, of me, of the car, of the front door, of the entry hall, of the doorknobs, of the light switch, of the railings, etc. That, in itself, was enough reason to reduce the number of shopping trips.

Between the sanitizing, the social distancing, the bombardment of signage and the multitude of lines, arrows, dots and crosses on the ground, doing groceries wasn’t a heck of a lot of fun. But each time, I recognized the need for all of these precautions, to remain safe, healthy and to not become a community transmitter.

Through the first two months of the outbreak, I didn’t realize how much I would miss something as simple as breezing in and out of stores to run quick errands. Getting into the habit of less frequent trips to acquire more items was indeed a significant adjustment, but given the risks to staff and my fellow shoppers, the adjustment was worth it in the long run to do my part to help flatten the curve.

Did you enjoy this post? If you haven’t already, please check out the rest of my blog at andrebegin.blog. From there, you can click on the “Follow” button to receive future posts directly in your inbox. Also, don’t be shy, feel free to tell a friend or to share the link.
Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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The Housing Market Roller Coaster (Episode 8)

When my house sold, I no longer had to live within the boundaries of a home staged for showings. I could finally spread out, enjoy my space and not obsessively pick up crumbs before they hit the floor.

It was finally time to go back to “normal” life and to start preparing for the move to our home in the country.

The drive to my cat’s hotel was an opportunity to reflect on the emotional ups and downs of the process and the huge milestones that were behind us.

It was also an opportunity to “high-5” myself, psychologically speaking. The nervousness and the anxiety I felt before we put in the offer on our future home was off the charts, and rightfully so. It’s not like we buy or sell houses every day. The last time I did this was 19 years ago, and much has changed in the industry in that time.

For someone who likes to be organized and whose pride wanted his home to show as well as possible, there was indeed a lot of work required to be prepared and to do it right.

But the reassurance from my real estate agent that this could all be accomplished within reasonable time frames was the antidote to my nervousness and the encouragement to face my fears.

Just the same, I was guarded as I knew that once the train left the station, there wouldn’t be much opportunity to slow down until we were comfortably seated in our new home with the cat purring contentedly in my lap… in about 3 months. This period also came with Julie Chen’s Big Brother voice permanently in my subconscious saying “Expect the unexpected” at least a few times per day, just to keep me on my toes.

That was when I put into practice what I know works best for me: I made a list… several lists, actually. I broke down the large tasks of buying and selling into smaller sub-steps, laid out in chronological order, and scratched items off the list as I completed them.

This method works for me because I am not looking at a mountain of activity as one large unmanageable obstacle. I seem better able to wrap my head around many small tasks and to accomplish a few each day with steady and consistent action. If I don’t, that is when the racing thoughts can take over and rob me of valuable sleep.

Another element to trying to remain composed through it all was laying appropriate boundaries around my worry, and not letting a 5 minute task occupy an hour’s worth of head space. It sounds obvious, but sometimes the “what ifs” can get the best of me. It’s just part of my professional programming and a reflex to be prepared for any eventuality. Shutting it off can be a challenge sometimes.

This major life event was the ultimate test of my “list method”, and it seemed to work, even though it wasn’t without its share of smaller-scale freaking out moments anyway.

I was pleased that the humour in some of the situations encountered along the way was not lost on me, even when I accidentally locked myself in my own powder room while changing the doorknob.

Of course, I couldn’t have made it through without the moral support of family, friends and colleagues, the expertise of the professionals we hired at critical decision points, and of course, the best partner in the world.

It really was cause for celebration to be on the other side of the mountain, to resume a new normal and to start the countdown to the big move.

When I brought Ivy the Wonder Cat home, her standard operating procedure for rediscovering her surroundings was pretty much the same as any other time I brought her home from her cat hotel. She walked around the entire house a few times, sniffing every step of the way. She located her food, her litter box and her sleeping quarters, which all seemed to meet with her approval. Before I knew it, she was pretty much back on track and in her usual routine.

However with the dawn of COVID-19, it appeared that the rest of the process of preparing for the big move would be anything but normal. With stay-at-home advisories, social distancing and lockdown procedures, was it going to be business as usual for the big move? How long would these measures be in place?

Fortunately many of the services required to prepare were deemed essential by the province, much to my relief, including booking movers for our closing date.

I was also able to purchase a huge stack of boxes and packing supplies with the intention of using free time constructively, and to get as much packing completed in the time that we were told to stay home.

Nevertheless, the realization that the biggest steps, the buying and selling, were well behind us brought huge pride and gratitude. Unfortunately, under this new normal, the celebration of these milestones would have to wait a little.

To return to Episode 7 of the Housing Market Roller Coaster, click here.

Did you enjoy this post? If you haven’t already, please check out the rest of my blog at andrebegin.blog. From there, you can click on the “Follow” button to receive future posts directly in your inbox. Also, don’t be shy, feel free to tell a friend or to share the link.
Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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