Tag Archives: tips

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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Filed under Health and Wellness, mental health, Writing

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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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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Needs and Wants in the Covid-19 Era

Five years ago, I wrote a blog post called “The Conquering Clutter Resolution” in which I discussed my wake-up call when I replaced flooring throughout the house, which meant having to pack and relocate everything.

During the process, I could not believe how much “stuff” I had. It was nothing on the scale of an episode of “Hoarders”, it was just mystifying how much I could hide in a closet when it was neatly and efficiently organized.

This prompted me to start a purging habit of getting rid of one cubic foot of “stuff” (aside from the regular garbage and recycling) every week. This was definitely an easy and achievable goal, even on the busiest of weeks, to see slow and steady progress.

Gone were the kitchen gadgets that got little use. Gone were the hobby items that never developed into an actual hobby. Gone were the collectibles that never really turned into a collection.

As the months went by, I patted myself on the back as I felt lighter with each donation and each extra garbage bag. I thought that by the next time something like that came up, moving my “stuff” should be a breeze.

But when I moved this past spring, despite my best purging efforts, my moving van was still astonishingly full. How did that happen? Continue reading

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Filed under 50+, home

Pre-Christmas Crowd Avoidance

It is a little silly the lengths to which I will go to avoid getting stuck in a pre-Christmas crowd.

The reality is that I don’t fear crowds. I just don’t happen to like what happens to certain people trapped in their hot parkas for too long, among dozens of other people trapped in their hot parkas for too long. It creates a bit of a pressure cooker effect that raises blood pressures and potentially spills over into an eruption of strong negative emotions.

When you add to the mix the ticking clock of Christmas approaching and stock flying off the shelf, it’s that wild card of not knowing when you might get caught in the crossfire of people whose attitude would get them a permanent placement (with glittering gold stars) on Santa’s naughty list, and a free gift card for anger management training.

Despite buying my first presents in August, making about a hundred lists and checking them twice, and stocking up on anything and everything that doesn’t go bad to reduce my number of store visits in December, there are still things that need to be bought at the last minute for the sake of freshness. I accept that.

But to minimize my exposure to people whose tempers need tempering requires strategy, problem-solving skills and a strong Internet connection. Not only does it demand shopping at off-peak times, but around here it also means dodging snowstorms, freezing rain and Ottawa Senators game night traffic.

To calculate the logistics of this early morning weekend run, it starts with a chart of the last minute items, the location of where I expect to find them, and Google searches to verify at what time each store opens.

I’ll then rearrange the order chronologically to try to be at each stop shortly after they open, to zip in and out before the crowds begin, and before the parking lots turn into inescapable mazes of vehicles parked in improvised spots. Continue reading

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Filed under 50+, Christmas, Humour

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 led me to another link… and another… 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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Filed under stories, Writing

When Life Gets in the Way of Writing

In the fourth season of Bewitched, in an episode called “No Zip in My Zap”, Samantha is in a bit of a conundrum as her magical powers are clogged given Darren’s insistence that she live a mortal life.

In that episode, when “the dam breaks”, the accumulation of spells that didn’t conjure up anything all bear fruit at the same time, creating chaos in the Stephens’ household. “Doctor Bombay, Calling Doctor Bombay…”

As a writer, has that ever happened to you?

I am delighted that at this time in my life I am able to keep sharpening my writing skills in the corporate environment, while in my free time, producing a steady stream of blog posts, while working (slowly) on a few creative writing projects.

I am very happy with that combination and am not pressuring myself to do more. This works for me, right now.

By regularly tapping into my creative spirit in different ways, I feel that I am answering my calling and preparing for the next chapter in my writing life. But that has not always been possible.

Have you ever had those times when the ideas are flowing and you are yearning to write, but life just keeps throwing you curve balls preventing you from doing what you love most? Continue reading

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When the Cat Hates Car Rides

I am not certain which is worse: driving in freezing rain, driving in poor visibility conditions, or driving with a cat that does not like car rides.

Regular readers will know that I adore my cat, Ivy, and despite a few feline eccentricities, she is an absolute angel. But nothing turns her into the devil’s child faster than taking her out for a car ride.

From what I understand, cats aren’t fans of change to begin with. Then, to place them in a crate, going to places unknown, can be a scary prospect for certain cats.

The first time I took her to the vet, she didn’t just cry, she meowed in repeated shrieks at the top of her lungs. It was horrible. Thankfully, the vet is just 5 minutes away, but that was the longest 5 minutes of my life.

I often wonder what must be running through her mind through her persistent meows.

But what is it that elicits this strong reaction? Is it the sound of the engine? Is it the tires against the pavement? Is it the motion? Is it the displacement from her cozy routine? Is it a little bit of everything? Continue reading

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Filed under Cats, How to, Travel

A Bucket List Trip to Las Vegas

A busy evening on Las Vegas Blvd.

When it comes to Las Vegas, I am definitely no stranger. Despite the distance from Ottawa, I have been there enough times over the years that I seem to have lost count.

It’s not that I consider myself a big gambler. It’s quite the contrary. There are so many things to see and do, whether you like entertainment, food, shopping, sightseeing or just the dry warm weather, Las Vegas can appeal on so many levels.

Back in the early 2000’s I wrote a “Vegas Top 10” email that I kept in my drafts folder for whenever friends and colleagues asked what they should see on their visit. I guess you could consider that my first travel blog entry, before blogs became popular.

The challenge now is that after a decade’s absence, I suspected that my list was getting out of date and not worthy of posting, given the pace at which Las Vegas seems to reinvent itself and to update its attractions.

The opportunity to visit Las Vegas, and to potentially validate my Top 10 list, presented itself last fall as my partner and I decided to treat ourselves and to celebrate our birthdays with tickets to see Cher and Céline Dion in their residency shows.

We were fortunate that our late November travel dates are not considered high tourist season. We believe that this played in our favour as we got pretty good deals on the points required to fly, as well as for our “once-in-a-lifetime” bucket list stay at the Bellagio Hotel. Continue reading

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