Category Archives: Writing

Creating Stock Photos for my Blog

When I first started blogging in 2013, it was for the pure enjoyment of the writing process and to work on my creative writing skills.

I was nervous at first. No… let’s say petrified, about putting my work out for public viewing. I worried about the content, whether anyone would be interested enough to read it, and the possibility of accidentally leaving spelling or grammatical mistakes, no matter how many times I would proofread it.

As time went on, those fears seemed to fade as my creative writing skills got sharper and my confidence gradually built up. With a clearer mind, I could focus better on other aspects of blogging.

A few months into the process, I started noticing how other bloggers were adding pictures to their posts. When the link to the blog is posted on Facebook or Twitter, a thumbnail of the picture is incorporated into the post (quite magically!) which, according to blogging experts, creates additional visual interest. In doing so, a well-chosen photo is said to help increase traffic to the blog.

For a novice blogger whose primary interest was writing, that extra time-consuming detail stressed me out at first. But after a couple of experiments in which I included a photo with a blog post and noticed the number of page hits increase, I was quickly convinced of the merits of that recommendation.

The question was where would I get the pictures for each and every blog post?

One option would have been to buy images from stock photography sites. I still have that option in my back pocket and I do consider it from time to time.

But because I have dabbled in photography since I was a kid, my hard drive contains thousands of images that I captured along life’s journey. Friends, family and strangers can rest assured, I would never use any candid or unflattering shots as an illustration for a blog. You would most definitely be consulted first before any photo is used.

Digital photography was a game changer. Taking a photo with a digital camera or a phone has become an affordable venture. It’s not like back in the days of bringing a roll of film to the pharmacy or to the Fotomat and paying $10 to $20 to process 24 photos. Today, you can snap hundreds of photos, select the best of the best, and keep them for years without having to empty your wallet to process each roll of film.

It seemed so natural for me to take a stroll down memory lane to review my archived photos and to copy into a separate folder the pictures that held some potential as a stock photo, whether depictions of inanimate objects, nature or landscapes.

Over time, I came to enjoy deciding what photo to use.

For posts about the writing process, I have used pictures of my computer keyboard, of typewriters I have spotted in my travels, and of course, my writing desk with a pad of paper, a pen and a coffee.

For a post about travel, I would hunt through my collection of vacation photos for images of interesting or recognizable landmarks (without tourists in the background).

Posts about life with a cat will feature some nice shots of Ivy the Wonder Cat. She seems OK with it.

Not too long ago, I posted a blog called “Running: The Slow Road to Recover”, in which I included a picture of a snail I captured during a lunch time walk a few weeks prior. It seemed quite fitting.

When I took the picture of the snail, I didn’t have that blog post in mind. As a matter of fact, the blog post didn’t exist yet. I was just capturing a unique moment, seeing a snail up close, crossing the sidewalk. But as I was writing the blog post, the photo came to mind and seemed like the obvious choice to complement the post.

This reinforced the idea of taking pictures without thinking about the blog specifically, just building up my reserve of assorted stock photos, without a specific purpose in mind. Without really realizing it, this became an extension of the creative process in itself.

Whether it was while exploring nature, touring a museum or checking out the sights while traveling (pre-Covid of course), I started routinely taking pictures for my stock photo collection. And even in day-to-day life, such as when doing home renovations, I started taking pictures of random tools and equipment, thinking that a given photo might come in handy someday… or not… and I’m OK with that.

To me, the trick has been to stay ahead of the blog posts and snapping pictures as I see them, rather than writing a post and then waiting days, weeks or months for the right picture to come along.

Collecting random shots of random things has become a fun hobby in itself, to the point that when I start taking pictures that may seem weird or of less-than-memorable subjects, my partner asks, “Stock photography?” to which I reply, “You know it!”

And with our recent move to the country, there is no shortage of beautiful scenery, wildlife and new photo opps I would not have normally seen within the city, so my cameras have been quite busy.

By using my own photos, I get to dabble in my photography hobby again, to think creatively beyond words, and frankly, it keeps things simpler than having to worry about licensing rights or maintaining a budget to purchase stock photos as I need them.

My stock photos may not be of a professional grade, but I get to post exactly what I want and how I want, whether a very literal depiction of the blog’s story or a more abstract one. Plus I get to refresh and stretch my skills as a photographer and as a photo editor at the same time.

Today, I definitely see photos as a natural extension of the blogging process and of my writer’s voice. And now, in my eighth year of blogging, I couldn’t imagine a blog post without an accompanying picture.

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 Writer’s Dilemma: Say It or Save It?

When I first started blogging almost seven years ago, the process was pretty straightforward: get an idea for a post; scribble it down; scribble more ideas; write the post; edit to make it sparkle; review again; if happy with the end result, post to the blog.

There is also a whole decision-making process surrounding the possibility of “if NOT happy with the end result”, but in the interest of not boring you with the 53 loops of reviewing, editing, overthinking and playing with Ivy the Wonder Cat, I’ll skip that part altogether.

I have been very proud of the content in my blog and in how it has connected with readers around the globe. The response has been heartwarming, deeply gratifying and a definite incentive to keep going.

Regular readers know that this blog has been a way for me to spread my creative wings and to keep practicing a form of creative writing until such time as I retire from my career of over 30 years, when I will switch to full-time writer.

With that finish line in sight scheduled for 2021, which isn’t too far off, I often find myself debating whether an idea should be articulated in a blog post now, or whether I should save it for one of the stories I will write later. That is a whole agonizing decision-making process on its own.

Again, in the interest of not boring you with that roller-coaster trajectory, a diagram that is sure to have you running away screaming, I’ll skip the specifics. Continue reading

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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. 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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The Moment I Became Picky About Pens

Like most of the people I know, through most of my adult life I bought pens by the dozen and never gave it much thought. I confess that I did develop a short list of favourites and bought some brands over and over, but I never really gave it much thought.

And truly, the only real criteria that ever dropped a certain one from my short list was if the pen repeatedly skipped, leaked, smeared, spit gobs of ink, or scraped the paper. But beyond that, I never really gave it much thought.

When my aspirations as a writer started surfacing, surprisingly, my position on pens never really changed even though I started going through them like tissues. As long as they were well-behaved and got the job done, why should I give it more thought?

True enough, much of my writing is done with a computer these days anyway, but there are times when I still enjoy the tactile experience of feeling like the writing instrument is an extension of the human body. And some of my notes still get entered in journals so writing tools are still an essential.

I forget what I was randomly Googling one day, but one of the suggested links provided was “ballpoint pen reviews.”

“That’s a thing?” I asked myself. So ever curious about tools for my craft I clicked on one of the links and started reading. This let me to another link… and another… Continue reading

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The Roving Writer

As much as I try to make my home a comfortable, quiet place to devote myself to the craft of writing, there are times when things fall out of the span of my control.

Whether it is a symphony of leaf blowers, a neighbour’s dog barking for hours, another neighbour’s ailing muffler, a charming visitor to the neighbourhood who needs to turn the car alarm on and off seven times, or the apparent decision to suddenly reroute all air traffic directly above my house, auditory distractions are a fact of life.

Then add to the mix an extroverted attention-seeking cat, a ringing home phone, an empty coffee cup, a ringing doorbell, a load of laundry ready for drying, and the ding to indicate that my gluten-free banana bread is ready to come out of the oven.

When I reach into my desk drawer for a USB stick, I find a pair of old glasses that needs to be donated, I spot the case for the iPhone I carried in 2009 (that won’t fit anything today) and before I know it, I am in spring cleaning mode.

As I head back to my desk, I notice the wall I have been meaning to spackle in preparation for painting.

Moments later, I remember that the litter box needs “refreshing”.

When I finally return to my blog post, I write a few words and then take a moment to stare off into the distance between paragraphs. My mind drifts and I ask myself, “when was the last time I dusted that shelf?”

When I look in the other direction, I see Ivy the Wonder Cat’s favourite blanket and think to myself that it is probably due for a thorough washing.

At this rate, it’s a wonder that I succeed in publishing a weekly blog post. Continue reading

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My Past Adventures in Recording and Dictation Tools

A secondary part of the writing journey seems to be the constant hunt for the perfect writing tools.

While committing words to paper is a pretty simple concept, the multitude of ways one can capture, retrieve, store and rearrange story ideas is very impressive. When I find ways to make things run more smoothly, the opportunity to spend more time actually writing than “maintaining” becomes a joy in itself.

Audio recording devices have always interested me. I have often thought that a recording device of some sort could be helpful in trying to capture those random writing ideas that seemingly hit at the least opportune moments.

When I think of prolific writer Dame Barbara Cartland who dictated to a secretary and was able to produce some 723 books and 160 unpublished works over her lifetime, I dream of how much more efficient I could be if I could incorporate some sort of dictation tool in my process.

A couple of decades ago, when I was first aware of my leaning toward creative writing, I got a good deal on a microcassette recorder. I admit that I had grand visions of capturing ideas on the run like some sort of secret agent writer. It seemed like a good idea at the time but unfortunately the only thing that ran were the batteries, as it sat in a drawer, mostly unused.

While in principle a microcassette recorder made a lot of sense, when I tried it, I felt like Cindy Brady in the “Brady Bunch” episode when she was on the show “Quiz the Kids”. When I hit the record button, I froze up. I don’t know why it is, but over the course of many attempts, I only captured a few words and the tidal wave of ideas I was hoping for produced only a mild drizzle. Continue reading

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What I Missed Most As a Manager

Over the span of my career, I was most fortunate in being asked a few times if I would be interested in a short term assignment as a manager, to fill a vacant position until it could be staffed permanently.

When that happened, I always felt like an award show nominee. The fact that someone thought highly enough of me and my work to extend such an invitation was a huge honour and for that I was most grateful.

I chose carefully and I accepted five times.

But looking back, even though I was told I did fine, I didn’t always think so. I was pretty hard on myself. I always thought I could have done better.

The bigger questions were why was I so exhausted when each assignment was over? Was it me? Would more training have helped? Was it a right fit for me? How did so many of the managers I looked up to make it look so easy?

As I reflected back over my agonizing decisions to accept, and the dissection of events when the assignments were over, I believe I should have paid more attention to my gut and to the struggle I was feeling.

After the last assignment, I realized that even though our society and our culture keeps telling us that climbing the ladder is a good thing, management might not be for everyone. I knew conclusively that it wasn’t for me and I finally knew the reasons why. Continue reading

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When My Retirement and Writing Dreams Got More Vivid

In February, there were two news items that hit the airwaves that made me feel goose bumps all over:

On February 19, 2019, it was the headline “Netflix to Open Dedicated Production Hub” followed closely on February 28, 2019, with the article “And, action! Filmmaking complex gets go-ahead”.

Regular readers and close friends know that my big plan for retirement is to write. The form of writing I might consider has yet to be determined. But I am convinced that once I have developed a few of my story ideas into outlines and then into drafts, the most appropriate format might become self-evident.

But if I listen to my gut now, something tells me it might be more along the lines of television, plays or movies, more than novels, just given the time I have spent studying television, as opposed to just watching it.

Plus I have always been fascinated by the process of making stories come to life in the television or cinematic medium, to the point of volunteering for my local community television station 20 years ago, and staying with it for 3 years.

Working in a creative medium with other like-minded people was an experience I will always fondly remember. At that point in my life, I didn’t realize the extent to which I was missing a creative component. When I found community TV, things really came together. Continue reading

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A Writer’s Nightmare: Losing Data

Last Saturday, when the weather outside was frightful due to the never-ending winter of 2019, I was overjoyed at the prospect of staying in for the morning and completing a few blog posts.

After two amazing hours where ideas flowed like a river, I stepped away from my desk to take care of a few things around the house.
When I returned to my desk, something strange had happened. The flash drive I was using just an hour prior, wasn’t being read by my computer. I tried inserting the flash drive into a different USB port. “Not recognized.” I tried another port. “Not recognized.” O-o-o-oh darn!

I tried inserting the flash drive into my laptop and still “Not recognized”. I checked my stash of flash drives for another one that was purchased in the same batch. Fortunately, the computer could read that one. I concluded that it was not a problem with that batch of keys, just the one I used for the blog.

I then took to YouTube to find videos on how to try to get the flash drive working again, or at a minimum, to try to recover the data on it and store it elsewhere. After an hour and three different technical recipes, the flash drive was still not recognized by my PC.

Moderately defeated, I said to myself that I should not be surprised. I have been using this particular flash drive every week for almost 6 years. If that’s the life expectancy of a flash drive, it’s a lesson learned for me. Continue reading

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