Category Archives: Writing

The Origins of My “50 Reasons” Blog Posts

An overhead shot of a writing desk, containing a pen, a pad of paper and a cup of coffee. Those who follow my blog regularly may have noticed that some of my blog posts have had titles starting with the number “50” and contained a list of fifty thoughts on a given topic.

For example, you might have read:

50 Reasons Why I Love Baking;
50 Reasons Why I Love Writing;
50 Reasons Why I Enjoy Running;
50 Reasons to Love Travel;
50 Reasons to Love Music;
50 Reasons to Love a Good Book;

How did this series of posts start?

There are some mornings when despite the best of intentions, I might be having a hard time getting into the flow of writing. When that happens, getting into a wrestling match with words before the coffee has properly kicked in sometimes feels like I am setting myself up for a struggle.

Starting with a more gentle writing activity where ideas can flow freely is one way that I can offset that struggle. Once the creative energy is flowing and momentum is building, I can then tackle more challenging writing tasks.

Coming up with fifty ideas on a given theme was the challenge I presented to myself to get the creative juices flowing. Continue reading

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A Love of Writing or Storytelling?

A close up shot of a computer keyboardOn the approach to retirement, when I was asked what my future plans were, without really thinking about it, I always answered “writing”.

For as long as I can remember, with every passing year, I became increasingly aware that writing was my life’s purpose.

I was the kid whose bedroom was referred to as a “firetrap” due to the abundance of paper “masterpieces” scattered everywhere. I was the budding (but bad) poet in university. I was also the employee who raised his hand when management was looking for volunteers for challenging writing assignments.

Over the course of producing and editing thousands of pages of material for different executives and for different target audiences, I always felt more energized when completing writing assignments than with any other tasks. To me, that was a clear sign.

But it was only recently, during a drive to the city, that I realized that I might not have accurately articulated my retirement plans. Someone on the radio mentioned the word “storyteller”. This was a mind blowing moment for me, as it offered an important distinction I was missing.

In retirement, the suggestion comes up from time to time that if I love writing so much, why don’t I offer my services as a writer, either as a consultant or for community work. When that happens, in my head, I hear tires screeching to a sudden stop. Why is that? Continue reading

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Music for Writing

A close up shot of piano keys. When I look back on my high school and university years, I am astounded that I was able to get my homework done with the radio, the stereo or the television on.

I remember that the music helped me keep the neurons firing, especially after a full day of classes. The background noise also helped keep me company through a lonely night of homework, keeping the borderline extrovert in me happy.

While I don’t seem to have a vivid recollection of the homework process in itself (and truly, who would?) I seem to remember that for most tasks, I could multi-task with music playing in the background.

Did I have music on to study for tests? My memory is a little fuzzy on that question, but I would be inclined to think that I didn’t. I can’t imagine that I could successfully memorize if I had lyrics or radio chatter playing interference with the words on the written page. Today, I definitely can’t.

But did I have music on for writing essays? I am pretty sure that the answer is yes, as this is a habit that still holds true today for my writing projects. However, the music that forms the soundtrack of my writing is very carefully chosen.

Finding the perfect writing tunes has been a fascinating and fun journey in itself. As an all-around music lover, I have thoroughly enjoyed the process of listening to different artists and trying different genres of music to see what works best. Continue reading

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The Writer’s Studio

I have always envied artists when they made reference to their “studio”.

When a recording artist referred to “time in the studio”, it always inspired me as that special place where the magic of creativity happened. It was the incubator where ideas were hatched and where new sounds were created. It was the place where the collective creativity of songwriters, producers, engineers, musicians and singers culminated in the birth of new musical material.

Similarly, when seeing visual artists working in their studio, it struck me as a sacred place that gave them a chance to play, to experiment and to work in their chosen medium, to translate vision, imagination and creativity into physical form.

It didn’t matter whether actors, photographers or fashion designers mentioned “studio”, the word itself was to me like an incantation invoking the spirit of the creative masters of the centuries. The term “studio” always gave me palpitations.

But I have often asked myself, “Do writers have studios too?”

Why shouldn’t they?

While on the one hand, I could refer to my writing room as an “office”, I just concluded a 33 year administrative career, working in offices. To me, the term office doesn’t necessarily associate itself to a space for deep creativity, but that’s just me and my baggage talking. Continue reading

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The Language of Rural Life

Over the course of our first year following our move from the city to the country, it became apparent that I was lacking one asset: vocabulary.

For someone who loves words, who writes a weekly blog post and who aspires to become a screenwriter in retirement, who basically eats, sleeps and dreams about writing, how can that be?

The reality is that I grew up in the suburbs of Ottawa. And by suburbs, I mean outlying parts of the city, but leaning more toward the city than the country.

Up until last year, I hadn’t been fully aware of the differences, intricacies and nuances of language simply by moving from an urban to a rural postal code. As a result, the gaps in my lexicon have left my interlocutors with squints and raised eyebrows.

The first glaring problem was my inadequate ability to distinguish between conveyances.

For example, if I was ever arriving home a little late from an errand in a neighbouring village, I might say, “Sorry, I was stuck behind a slow-moving truck on the highway.” My partner realized that I used “truck” for just about any vehicle that didn’t qualify as a car, as I later used the term to also describe every type of construction vehicle that ran across our lawn when we built our garage.

Upon realizing that “truck” was pretty vague to someone born and raised in the country, I adopted the expression “agricultural vehicle” as a seemingly more accurate catch-all term for farm vehicles. At least that would distinguish the conveyance from let’s say, a pick-up truck, a dump truck or a tractor trailer hauling “stuff” (which I should also more accurately describe as goods, crops, livestock or building supplies, as appropriate). Continue reading

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What I Know For Sure About Writing

When I attended retirement planning seminars over the course of my career, the psychologists who provided guidance on how to mentally prepare for the transition always seemed to ask the same question: What do you want to do in retirement?

To me, the answer has always been a no-brainer: writing.

My first glimmers of self-awareness about writing came in high school and university. Of all of the assignments in a students’ life, I enjoyed writing essays and compositions the most – and the longer the better – despite the groans from my fellow classmates.

When I stepped into the career world, by some strange stroke of luck, I often ended up in work teams where my colleagues were more than happy to let me raise my hand and volunteer to write lengthy reports, business cases, user manuals and web content while others would probably rather raise their hand and volunteer for root canals.

Writing tasks made me so happy because they presented learning opportunities in an area for which I held a keen interest in becoming better and better.

I enjoyed writing for my managers and executives, as it presented a unique learning opportunity to learn and adapt to their respective writing styles. With the knowledge that I wasn’t writing for me, I was writing for them, I never took personally any comments about what I produced. In fact, after working on a few memos, I truly relished getting to a point where I could receive a request, get a few key points about what is intended in the message, and go back to my desk to draft, edit and return a product that was exactly what they wanted and in their own voice. There was no greater compliment to me than when they said “André, this is like I wrote it myself!” Continue reading

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Because I Said So!

When I was a kid, when dealing with grown-ups, there was nothing that exasperated me more than to be told “because I said so!”

As an inquisitive child, trying to understand the world, I think I had a pretty good sense of cause and effect. When I asked “Why?” it wasn’t to challenge authority, it was simply to connect the dots to understand the motivation behind the grown-up’s answer to the preceding question.

I also think it was a disservice to shut down conversations in this way and deprive me of the opportunity to develop valuable negotiation skills and propose counteroffers such as “I’ll go rake the leaves just as soon as (insert TV show name) is over.”

On a personal level, when a conversation ended with “because I said so!” I sometimes felt hurt. I worked hard for the acceptance of grown-ups, and to not provide any elaboration seemed to discredit those efforts even though I am certain that there were times that “because I said so!” had nothing to do with me, but rather, other related circumstances. But that wasn’t always conveyed.

I vividly remember vowing that when I grew up, I would never shut down conversations with “because I said so!” To this day, I am pretty sure that I kept to my vow, but I know that there have been times I went too far the other way.

As I grew up, I developed a reflex for not only explaining an answer, but over-explaining. I partly blame the math teachers who always insisted on “showing your work”… Careful what you wish for!

I admit that as my reasoning and communication skills developed, my reasons may not have been air-tight, but hey, it was a process like everything in life. Continue reading

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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. Continue reading

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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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