Tag Archives: process

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…

What a revelation! There are some hard core pen users out there with specific evaluation criteria, a comprehensive scoring scheme, laboratory-grade tests and ranked lists for different categories and price points. They even had a full technical vocabulary for each individual part of the pen. Who knew?

Just for fun, I took note of one of the highly recommended, modestly priced pens (3 for the same price as the dozen I was buying previously) and strolled into my nearest office supply store. When I got home, I broke the new pens out of their packaging, grabbed an index card and started scribbling gibberish.

“Oh my God,” I thought to myself, “they ARE on to something!” These hard core pen lovers knew what they were talking about. The ink flowed magically and ever so smoothly, capturing perfectly every dot, every loop, every line and every curl.

When I apply myself and when I take my time, my penmanship is actually pretty clear and understandable. But by the end of just one index card, I impressed myself with the improvement. It was like my writing was in high definition! I will even admit that a few “oohs” and “aahs” were uttered.

I continued the experiment for a few days, using only these new pens, and loved the feeling of such sharp, crisp lettering with ink that flowed flawlessly.

But the game changer came along unexpectedly, when I absent-mindedly picked up one of my former pens to scribble a few things on my grocery list.

I immediately felt the difference. I came to the realization that while the cheaper pens I was using were indeed functional and did a decent job, the feeling while writing was completely different.

Plus it was in that moment (while I was having an arthritic flare up) that I realized I had to put more effort in writing with the old pens than with the new ones. I also recalled times when after a prolonged period of writing, my arm, hand or wrist (or all of the above) did get tired.

I would equate it to the difference between slicing something with a dull knife versus one that has just been sharpened. They still both do the job, but the latter just makes it easier.

I remembered that in my writing desk, I had a brand name boxed pen that someone offered me as a gift many years ago. I ran upstairs to give it a try in the name of literary science. It wrote beautifully and effortlessly as well.

And that was what sold me on the merits of paying a little more for pens, especially ones where refills are available rather than throwing out the whole pen.

A few days later I tried another premium pen gifted to me by a colleague several years ago, that was sitting in my office drawer. While the ink flowed beautifully in that one too, I found that one a little heavy for me, for writing for long periods of time. Just the same, I could appreciate the difference in the quality and could see how people could develop strong preferences.

Let’s face it, there is nothing wrong with pens sold by the dozen and I will continue to use the ones I have for everyday writing until they run out. They have served me well for nearly 50 years and probably could for another 50.

Maybe it took the first signs of arthritis to increase my sensitivity to the difference a pen can make to the complex network of bones, muscles and connective tissue contained in these aging hands and fingers. When the ink flows so smoothly with less manual effort or pressure, it is definitely something to consider for someone who is constantly writing.

We are most fortunate that there are so many great pens out there, it can be fun to switch it up and try different ones, for a different feeling and a different writing experience. If one pen is more comfortable to use than another, why not use it?

I don’t think a change in pen will make me a better writer, but if my energy is completely focused on putting words to paper, the lack of distractions probably lends itself to a more enjoyable writing process.

In retrospect, maybe I should have played with the various options a little more… and maybe I should have given my writing instruments a little more thought.

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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Filed under 50+, Writing

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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Filed under Humour, Writing

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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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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Ruminating, Racing Thoughts and Overthinking

… or does “Overthinking, Racing Thoughts and Ruminating” sound better?

… or should I say, “Racing Thoughts, Ruminating and Overthinking”?

… or perhaps “Ruminating, Overthinking and Racing Thoughts?”

As someone who considers himself a proactive person, it is well within my nature to think things through before acting.

Not only do I want to avoid making mistakes, but when I make a decision, I’d like to think that I have been responsible, thoughtful, balanced, sensitive and kind.

I admit it, I don’t deal well with surprises. Getting blindsided sends steam shooting out of my ears. Getting pressed for quick decisions and reactions without the proper time to process the situation sends my blood pressure through the roof.

While I think others have more confidence in my handling of things than I do myself, perhaps it is a sense of not wanting to let people down by appearing unprepared, that I try to eradicate surprises before they happen.

But that’s exhausting. Anticipating every possible outcome is next to impossible and developing an action plan for every negative scenario is hard on the mind, body and spirit.
This is not to say I can’t be impulsive or spontaneous. I have a pretty good sense of what works for me and what doesn’t. Over 52 years, my gut has rarely steered me wrong. I just need to trust that instinct. Continue reading

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Filed under 50+, Health and Wellness, mental health

How Creating a Character’s Family Tree is Like Sudoku

It’s midnight and I’m not sure whether it’s every writer’s dream or every writer’s nightmare, but the little writer’s voice is babbling details about the family tree for the characters in my screenplay.

On one hand, I am a little annoyed because it is a “school night” and I have a busy work day planned for tomorrow. On the other hand, with the heartbreak of writer’s block going on around the world, I really can’t complain when my own writer’s voice is in overdrive with ideas.

I grab a pen and a pad (tucked neatly in my nightstand for just such a literary emergency) and I start sketching out the ideas as they come to me.

Given that this is my first screenplay, this is all new to me, but if it’s anything like my process for writing blog posts, this probably won’t be a linear process from start to end.

The main characters start identifying themselves to me. Then, the main sources of tension between the characters form a neatly bulleted list. The resulting struggles are identified and even the desired end result becomes crystal clear to me.

Now… how do we get from “once upon a time” to “and they lived happily ever after”, while hitting all those marks along the way? Continue reading

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Filed under Humour, Misc blogs, Writing

Thank You! 10,000 Page Views!

10000cakeWhen I first started the blog in 2013, I went in with no expectations other than a place I could use as a rehearsal space to practice, practice, practice for my retirement plan for writing. I even had no expectations when it came to how long I would stick with it.

Yet, somehow, 180 blog posts later I am still here and 10,000 page views later you are still there. From the bottom of my heart THANK YOU for your kindness, your generosity and your encouragement.

It has been an absolute pleasure sharing my stories with you. The icing on the cake was discovering when a given post struck a chord, made you laugh or resonated with you on a deeper level.

I know people are busy, so when someone takes a few minutes out of their busy schedule to read the blog, I am very thankful. When a reader takes the time to offer kind words, the gesture is that much more meaningful. It encourages me to keep going.

In my first aspirations as a writer, I could never have imagined the potential and the possibilities that social media would eventually bring. Could there be a better time to be a writer? Continue reading

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