Tag Archives: blogging

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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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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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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How Old Blog Posts Can be Like Old Home Movies

This fall, I celebrated my fifth year as a blogger with great joy (… and surprise) at having achieved this milestone.

From the beginning, I always thought of the blog as my rehearsal space to sharpen my creative writing skills, as I began the transition from full-time career #1 to full-time creative writer. The fact that many of you have joined me in that journey and encouraged me along the way has been incredibly heartwarming and a source of boundless gratitude. Thank you everyone!

I admit that some weeks it was incredibly difficult to find the time or inspiration (or both) to produce some fresh content, as well as to stay on top of my social media presence to get the word out there. But with only a few weeks off here and there, I managed to keep at it and to not give up. For that, I am incredibly proud!

When time has been in short supply, I had to focus my efforts on moving the blog forward, and not looking back. Then weeks turned into months, and months turned into years, and BOOM! Five years went by and I suddenly had a repertoire of almost 300 blog posts. How did that happen?

And that is where the fun began. When time finally permitted, I went back and read some posts from my first year. Continue reading

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When Art Takes Years to Complete

About 15 years ago, I was visiting the National Gallery of Canada, taking in the beauty of the permanent collection of artwork. As I was admiring the masterpieces, I was also examining the little cards next to them, taking note of the names of artists, the names of the artwork, the year the work was created and the backstory behind the masterpiece.

I noticed that some works did not have a single year next to them, but instead, a range of years like “1950-1952” was indicated, and I wondered to myself why would that be. For years after that, I kept wondering why it could take months or years to complete a work of art from beginning to end.

That was until I started blogging… then I completely got it!

In a perfect world, I could sit at my desk, write a blog post from beginning to end, proofread it and post it. In theory, it is a pretty simple process. But in reality, for me, that particular scenario might happen in 1 out of every 20 posts.

For the other 19, it is a process that takes time.

In the same way that visual artists need to sketch, that actors need to rehearse and that musicians need to jam, writers also require time to experiment with ideas to see what works. Continue reading

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50 Reasons Why I Love Writing

1. It allows me to express myself in ways that I can’t in my day-to-day life.
2. It allows me to use my imagination and to be as whimsical, as dramatic, as light or as dark as I want, when the world would typically frown upon it in my day-to-day dealings.
3. I can make characters say what I wouldn’t dare say in my own conversations.
4. I can infuse my characters with feelings that I wouldn’t necessarily reveal in my day-to-day life, a process which can be very cathartic.
5. It feeds my appetite for creation.
6. I like writing because in the journey of preparing a first draft, it is just me and my thoughts. The creative process of a first draft is not a collaborative effort, which allows the artist in me to bring my vision to fruition on my own.
7. In a manner of speaking, each writing project is “my baby”. It is a joy to see what happens to each one as time goes by.
8. It allows me to put my own particular fingerprint of style and perspective on something that may have been said 1000 times before, but in my voice, it can sound completely different.
9. It enables me to be open and receptive to sources of inspiration around me.
10. Because of writing, I find myself more open to serendipitous moments. Continue reading

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What Surprises Me Most After Four Years as a Blogger

Last year, I posted a blog entitled “The Ups and Downs of Blogging Statistics” in which I admitted to checking out my blog statistics and keeping an eye on trends, but not obsessing about them, given that this was “rehearsal” time for me.

Blogging was a building block for me to refine my writing creative skills in preparation for my aspirations as a creative writer. My blogging was for the fun of it, and you were more than welcome to join me along the way.

But four years into the blogging journey, there is one aspect that often surprises me: the posts that keep getting viewed weeks, months or even years after I have originally posted them, and getting fairly consistent views over the long term.

As a blogger, I don’t sit down and think to myself, “This post will get a thousand views”, it doesn’t work that way. And even after posting the link on Google, Twitter, Facebook, Flipboard and sometimes Pinterest, we are sometimes at the mercy of the algorithms for how much prominence (and page views) a post might get.

I have read a good number of articles on blog promotion, and I have definitely taken experts’ advice to try to maximize clicks whether through a well-chosen title, a sharp picture to accompany it, adherence to a consistent posting schedule, as well as seeking lessons learned by the most viewed posts. Continue reading

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