My First Script

I had been planning for it and talking about it long enough, it was time to roll my sleeves up and get to work on my first script.

The conditions were right:
– retired and having time on my hands,
– the right working environment (my studio),
– the right background music, and
– a number of completed blog posts, ready for posting, which frees my mind for other projects.

Whether you want to call it a New Year’s resolution or just simply a writing goal that happened to coincide with the New Year, my plan was to spend January in preparation mode for screenwriting.

Over the month, I absorbed training material like a sponge. I devoured every article, tweet and video I could find on the theme of screenwriting. Meanwhile, I jotted down several ideas for the outline for my first story. I also started the background research needed to fill in some of my knowledge gaps about my subject. It was a very productive month.

Then in February, it was time to start fleshing out the story. Given the amount of material that I could see flowing organically from my story, I set a target of eight episodes of roughly 40 minutes each.

I wouldn’t even rule out the idea of overwriting, creating more material than needed, and then trim back to what I think are the strongest story lines and subplots.

Does this project sound ambitious? It sure is! Continue reading

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Farewell My Long Johns

Scene of a winter wonderlandHave you ever noticed how there are some things that are so important at certain stages of our lives yet much less important in others?

This observation came to me when I unpacked a box marked “winter clothes” and discovered a veritable treasure trove of long underwear.

Given the number and variety of styles and fabrics contained in that box, you’d think I was stocking up for the next ice age or potentially planning to design a wardrobe of superhero costumes.

In the ensuing walk down memory lane, I recalled how “long johns”, as we referred to them, were an essential article of clothing in childhood.

Back in school, on winter days when Ottawa lived up to its title as one of the coldest capitals in the world, they offered an extra layer of protection under my clothing during recess.

On winter weekends, whether my family was outside, skating on the Rideau Canal or enjoying the fresh powder on the nearby ski slopes, long johns under my snow pants were an essential for keeping extra warm. Continue reading

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Managing Energy Vampires

An overhead shot of a writing desk, containing a pen, a pad of paper and a cup of coffee.You would think that given the almost perfect conditions I have set for myself for the purpose of writing, my writing sessions must be fruitful and uninterrupted.

First, I retired from a very busy career of 33 years, which has freed up several hours per day.

… I have time!

Also, following my retirement, I have had several months to relax, catch my breath and to recharge my batteries.

… I have energy!

Given our relocation to a rural property, I can feel my mind, body and soul slowing down with every breath. The profound calm and serenity of this great location allow my spirit to disconnect from the distractions that were always present when living and working in the city.

… I have peace and stillness!

The icing on the cake is that I have a comfortable studio in our home where I have the right ambiance and all of the tools I need to make my writing dreams come true.

… I have so much for which to be grateful!

But despite the best possible working conditions to keep me focused and on track, I admit that one of the challenges that still lurks in the background is my personal fight with energy vampires. Continue reading

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The Game of “Name Those Tracks”

animal tracks in the snowOnce we settled into our home the country, there has been no shortage of interesting discoveries when it came to the flora and fauna in the neighbourhood.

In winter, I find endless wonder and fascination in checking out the animal tracks in the snow in every corner of our property.

When I do, it turns into a bit of a CSI-style forensic game of “name those tracks”. While we have a number of regular visitors that make the short list of suspects, there are a few that stop by make one or two guest appearances, just to make the game more interesting.

Sometimes, the game is a bit of a throwback to primary school science classes when we learned about the wildlife that roams in this part of the country. I remember countless hours memorizing their unique characteristics, including the tracks that they leave behind.

The bird tracks are easy to pick out, as are those of our squirrels and chipmunks who must be suffering from insomnia this year as they aren’t really showing signs of hibernation. Their tracks are everywhere!

But there is evidence of other small animals that seem to visit us given the size of the tracks. I assume that they must be nocturnal critters, given how a morning stroll often yields new tracks to observe. Continue reading

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Any Time is Cereal Time

a bowl of Cheerios cerealIt’s only when you start living with someone that you find out that something that might appear perfectly normal to you, might look weird to someone else.

With my partner and me, one of those things is cereal.

My partner typically eats cereal in the morning as many people do. But for myself, any time is cereal time.

However, I had no idea that my way of consuming this crunchy goodness later in the day would raise eyebrows in the way that it did.

It was when I confessed to him that I rarely ate cereal before noon that I seemed to truly go… against the grain.

The reality is that while I was growing up, the health food store was a regular stop on our weekly errands, long before health food stores gained the popularity that they attract today.

On grocery day, it didn’t matter how many cereal commercials I could quote from my Saturday morning cartoons “as part of a balanced breakfast”, brown eggs, yogurt and protein shakes were the preferred breakfast options in our household. Continue reading

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What Day of the Week Is It?

clocksAt first, I started wondering if it was just me who was losing his marbles.

For someone who has always kept a close eye on the clock and the calendar to ensure the timely completion of tasks, rarely did I ever lose track of the day of the week… except maybe around national holidays which often messed up the natural order of things.

But in retirement, it’s a different story. With fewer deadlines to anchor my sense of time, there have been weeks when I couldn’t tell my Tuesday from my Wednesday.

It didn’t take long for me to see the sharp contrast between my work life and my retirement life to understand why this happens and how logically, it makes perfect sense… at least in my mind.

The routine before the pandemic

Before the pandemic, it would have been unthinkable to go a full work day without checking my calendar at least a few times. Just the process of keeping an eye out for that day’s deliverables and the ones in the coming days provided multiple reminders to reinforce what day of the week it was.

On top of that, each day of the week had its fixed milestones, such as weekly meetings, the delivery of weekly status updates on key files, or the completion of time sheets at the end of the week. Each of these tasks served as additional points of reference in the constant juggling act of time management. Continue reading

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My Car Booster Seat

Car cushionI admit that I have often chuckled at jokes referring to little old ladies who need to sit on telephone books to see over the car’s dash board. But karma has the last laugh when I open my car door and am reminded that I am the little old man who needs a booster seat.

Through my adult years, I can’t say that I have ever had an issue with my lack of height. I keep hoping for a sudden growth spurt – even at age 56 – but Mother Nature never seems to deliver.

When I do tell people exactly how tall I am, people have looked at me and said, “No way, I thought you were taller!” I guess all of those years of watching TLC’s “What Not to Wear” and incorporating wardrobe tricks for the vertically-challenged seem to have paid off. And I think that sometimes having a big personality probably helps too.

But whenever a friend or family member joined me for a ride in my car (pre-pandemic, of course), the wedge cushion that acted as my booster seat has been a conversation piece for the last four cars.

It doesn’t matter how compact my car might be and it doesn’t matter how many ways the seat can be moved up, forward or angled, the wedge cushion has been a necessity for me to get into the perfect position for driving. With a disc issue in my back that has lingered on and off for decades, my spine does not tolerate well the design of deep buckets in so many of today’s car seats. Continue reading

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Batman and Boundary Setting

A hospital sign indicating where the emergency department is locatedI don’t know whether it was nature, nurture, or maybe a bit of both that made me a “people pleaser.”

All I know is that deep down, I often felt a sense of responsibility towards other people’s happiness. It’s not a bad thing in itself to be sympathetic and empathetic towards others, but what an exhausting pursuit!

It was only later in life that I realized that the only way to mitigate my disappointment when I wasn’t able to please everyone (since as the adage says, “you can’t please all of the people all of the time”) was to develop better boundaries. When I did, not only was I better able to focus my attention where it mattered most, but it helped me to maintain a sense of harmony within myself.

But when I look back at my formative years, what pop culture role models did I have to understand the mechanics of boundary setting? When I think back to some of the TV shows I watched while growing up, boundary setting was certainly not a recurring theme. Continue reading

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Eight Benefits of Banking Blog Posts

piggy bankI’d like to let you in on a little behind-the-scenes secret. Since the summer of 2017, to stay on top of my blog’s weekly posting schedule, I have been maintaining a “bank” of completed blog posts.

The original intent was to have enough blog posts stored up for the summer to enable me to pursue another creative opportunity without having to step away from the blog and risk losing momentum or followers.

For more information on how I was able to accomplish this, check out my post: “My New Blogging Strategy: Banking Blog Posts.”

When the summer was over, with the satisfaction of having spread my wings creatively while still keeping the blog active, I appreciated how it improved my relationship with time and with my creativity.

Over time, the benefits of this practice started adding up:

1. Benefit: Ongoing adherence to my blog schedule
One would think that producing one quality story for the blog every week is pretty easy. For the most part, I think it is, but there are weeks when life presents other unexpected priorities.

Similarly, there are some weeks when inspiration is not at its peak. Haven’t we all been there at one time or another?

When that happens, instead of skipping a week, or posting at a different day or time, having a stock of material (completed ahead of time) allows me to continue posting new content each week at the same time.

2. Benefit: Better focus
Weeks when inspiration and free time are in abundance, the goal of developing a stock of extra stories provides a great outlet to channel any excess creative energy.

3. Benefit: Better quality
During a week when inspiration might not be at its best, having extra blog posts means I don’t have to force myself to produce a post when the words don’t come easily, and potentially, for it to not be my best work.

Also, by having a number of stories sitting at the finish line (sometimes for a few weeks at a time), it allows significantly more time to go back and review posts with a fresh pair of eyes.

By stepping away from a finalized post, I am better able to return and catch editorial details that might have otherwise slipped through the cracks for a post that was published soon after completion. It surprises me how I can still catch little things several weeks after a post was considered completed.

4. Benefit: Better adherence to my mission
Stepping away from a completed story and returning with a fresh pair of eyes also allows me to run the material through many personal filters, ensuring the post is consistent with the overall direction of the blog: light, fun, uplifting and kind.

Given the state of the world, news cycles can be pretty gloomy, day after day. The opportunity to reviews posts a few more times helps me to ensure that the negative energy of current events didn’t accidentally spill over into my content.

5. Benefit: “Oops! I forgot something”
In the early years of the blog, how many times have I published a post, only to be struck by an “aha!” moment a few minutes later? Having a post in queue for publishing allows the creativity to keep simmering on the back burner. If perfect wording only hits me later, the opportunity to adjust is still there. Conversely, I have also gone back and removed wording that didn’t sit well with me days or weeks later.

6. Benefit: Confidence
What surprised me was that after more significant “post-production” work has taken place, a sense of confidence sets in. When my blogging process has allowed for benefits #1 to #5 to take place, and I get to a point where I am no longer tweaking a given post, I can move on to other material and to truly feel in the moment when working on it.

7. Benefit: Spending more time on more challenging posts
When I know that the coming week’s blog post is taken care of, it allows me to clear my mind and not worry about the week’s deadline. With that clarity, I can truly give a more challenging post the time it needs, whether in the form of research or intense literary engineering, to keep working at it until it strikes the right chord.

8. Benefit: Opportunity to reject, revisit and rework
Similarly, a solid bank of blog posts also provides me with the freedom to take a draft that I am struggling with and to potentially return it to the “ideas” folder when it just isn’t coming together organically. I am convinced that inspiration will strike when I least expect it.

In retrospect, there was nothing wrong with the way I started my blogging process. Producing a blog post every week, for publication that same week, was a beneficial discipline building exercise in itself. It also helped me in learning how not to overthink a post and when to move on to the next one. However, it was not without its pressure cooker moments.

Over time I realized that working on the blog is not always a linear process of writing a post from beginning to end.

When I have an idea for a post, I never really know how long it will take to get from an idea to first draft to final. To give an idea its full due diligence can sometimes take longer than a week.

Also, the creative spirit has its own ebb and flow. Some weeks, I feel very inspired and can produce several first drafts. Other weeks, my frame of mind might lend itself better to editing those drafts and moving a story (or two) (or three) across the finish line.

By having several posts in queue, ready for publishing, I find myself feeling less pressure about deadlines and can truly focus on the craft of writing.

The bottom line is that when I know that my weekly post is polished and ready, whether I am more inspired to develop new ideas or to finalize posts that have been drafted, I have the peace of mind to go with the flow, creatively speaking, and to confidently produce my best work.

Did you enjoy this post? If you did, your likes and shares are most appreciated.
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.
Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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A Post about Toast

Two perfect toasted pieces of toast on a plateThey say that in life, you need goals, right?

It’s not that I lack ambition, but some days, just getting the perfect piece of toast is a major achievement.

It’s like a duel between me and the toaster. It’s like Wile E. Coyote versus the Road Runner… and this is from someone who doesn’t really have a competitive streak.

It really boils down to choosing the correct setting number on the toaster, based on the type of bread that I am using on that particular day. Given the variables involved, some days I feel like I am playing the “Safe Cracker” game on The Price is Right.

When I correctly choose the setting number and out comes a perfect piece of toast, I feel like Rocky in that scene when he successfully runs up that staircase at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

When I don’t get the right setting, the overcooked, petrified toast makes me feel defeated like Charlie Brown, after Lucy takes away the football just as he is about to kick it across the field.

Wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if we could just put bread into the slot, pull down the lever and walk away, knowing that a perfect piece of toast will be ready moments later?

I imagine that some of you might be asking, “Is your toaster broken? Mine comes out fine.”

I am pretty sure that my toaster works fine too. The problem is that my bread choices are constantly evolving. If I stuck to the same kind of bread every day, a perfect piece of toast could indeed be feasible. Continue reading

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