Quick Question Over Coffee

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I’m current focusing most of my creative writing efforts on a single novel, but my creative energy keeps pushing me to jump around to different ideas.  I’ve always read that I should simply jot down a few notes when new ideas pop up but remain focused on one project until completion.

I recently took a week break from my novel so I could dive deep in a short story I wrote for a contest.  Maintaining focus was easier, probably due to the short timeframe, but it may not be indicative of how I function best on more expansive works.

How do you work best?  Fitting your own style into a three answer poll isn’t always inclusive enough, so if you would like to expand your answer, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

The Entries Are In…

and the waiting begins.

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Judging for the Summer Writing Contest from The Write Practice and Short Fiction Break  has begun.  Our entries were due over a week ago and earlier this week the authors who chose to have their stories published are now available for your reading pleasure here.

This season’s theme is “Redemption” and the stories are limited to 1,500 words.  All entries are workshopped with the other authors for a week before the final versions are submitted for judging.  I received nothing but constructive and supportive feedback and had the opportunity to return the favor to other authors.  The contests are seasonal if you are interested and I posted more about them here.

You can link directly to my short story by clicking the book cover above or through this link – Against the Current.  I would love to hear what you think about my entry whether good or bad as any criticism can only serve to help me improve my future writing.  If you have time to read an add a comment below, I would greatly appreciate it.

I hope to meet you in one of the future writing contest workshops.  Thank you for reading and, just by reaching the end of this post, thank you for supporting my writing.  I make every effort to visit the sites of anyone who comments and perhaps I can return the favor.

Reading Only Act I

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Photo by Mikes Photos on Pexels.com

As I continue outlining the novel that I originally started as a pantster, I’ve developed a strange obsession.  I keep starting new books, only reading through the end of Act I and starting a new one.

I’m hung up on seeing how other authors are building their opening act.

  • Is the opening scene an introduction to the character or can I see bits and pieces hiding among the description and action that will be important to remember in Act II or III?
  • What is the call to action?  Is it strong enough to keep the protagonist in the game?
  • Is a mentor introduced?  How natural or forced is her relationship with the protagonist?
  • Is the point of no return really a line in the sand that the protagonist can never cross back?

So many questions and they all come back to structure!

What at first seemed like losing interest early on has turned into a writing tool.  I’ve always read that I should keep reading other author’s works while I am in the midst of writing.  On the surface I had considered reading while writing to be a distraction and feared I’d subconsciously steal ideas from the book I was reading.  This experience has opened my eyes to the real reason we should read while writing and for me it’s all about understanding structure.

Are you an avid reader when deep in writing mode?  I’ve been mixing up genres from the one I’m writing.  Do you think you should stick with your writing genre or do you think varying reading genres can offer some interesting insights into your own work?

Yearning to Learn

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Ever since I can remember I’ve always had a strong desire to learn new things.  In the past few years I have been diving deep into learning how to write a novel—structuring plot, building tension, crafting scenes and developing great characters.  Writing, whether a novel, short story or this blog, has been my creative outlet for a while now.

Lately writing alone has not been enough to fill my learning needs.  You’d think with all there is to learn about structure and style, brainstorming ideas, and sitting down to actually write would fulfill my learning needs.

Yet, I still needed something more, something different.  Setting aside any requisite skills and abilities to venture into other creative avenues, I thought about adding one of several options to my creative repertoire.

Music, Guitar?

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I’m no musician but I do love music.  I played the piano when I was young, but was never very good.

When I ventured back into piano lesson in high school, I learned to improvise the rhythm of the left hand by reading chord notation and playing the right hand as written.  This method provided me with the opportunity few of my piano playing fiends every had—to play popular music and make it somewhat recognizable to the listener.

Learning to play guitar seems somewhat similar, but it will need a dedicated regular schedule of lessons and a bit of an investment.  Guitar probably isn’t in my near future.

Drawing, Illustrations, Art?

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Photo by Alena Koval on Pexels.com

My dad’s mother was an artist.  She painted beautiful Michigan forest-scapes generally with a smattering of birch trees.

One day after dinner, I was probably in middle school, she taught me to draw my subject upside-down.  We pulled a Donald Duck rubber magnet off the fridge, turned Donald on his head and she had me replicate it on paper.  The result ended up to be far more accurate than had I drawn it from the correct perspective.

I have since learned that drawing a subject upside-down uses your visual right brain leaving the rational, thinking left brain that keeps telling you “that doesn’t look right” mostly out of the activity.

I need to learn more technical skills to improve my drawing abilities rather than simple practice.  I enjoy doodling, but I think I’ll leave illustrating to trained professionals.

Finding the Right Fit

These are just a couple of choices I considered, choosing two where I would likely have the best chance for success based on my interest level and limited history.  Whatever choice I made would need to fit my style and not be a burden on my other responsibilities and interests.

Although I yearn for another creative activity I feel I already have a lot going on.  If I could learn guitar using headphones, I think I’d pick up the guitar, although I’d prefer to learn acoustic.  I wouldn’t want my family suffer the sounds of my “learning”.

App Development, Coding

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I’m certainly dating myself when I tell you that I learned BASIC programming on my own using a TRS-80.  Then in sixth grade we were taught using Apple II+ and Apple IIe computers.  I still regret not taking more advanced programming courses (do you remember PASCAL and FORTRAN?) when I was in high school.

I’ve always been a math and logic based thinker which is probably why learning to code is so appealing to me.  As with other creative pursuits, I love the idea of creating something tangible from my own idea.  With coding there are loads of resources on-line, and I pretty much already have the software and equipment needed.

With the influx of apps created in basements or dorm rooms, on lunch breaks from work, by friends in bedrooms or a continent away, the flexibility checks another box on my next project evaluation list.

All that remains is coming up with that wonderful, exciting, stupendous idea.  But, isn’t that half the fun?

Choosing Your Next Undertaking

Selecting new skills and abilities to learn can be a tricky task.  In addition to showing an interest, you will need to evaluate whether you can put the time into learning that the new skills deserve.  Weighing your commitments to family, friends and work as well as those you have made to yourself for other pursuits must be done prior to embarking on such a journey.

Sometimes it can be appealing to dive right in, but your success with any new undertaking hinges on whether you can put forth the effort necessary.

I’m all for learning new things to make my own world a more interesting place.  I just want to make sure I’m not cluttering up the place with a bunch of half-baked attempts.

What new skills are you eager to learn?  Do you have any skills you started to learn then pushed them aside?  I’m interested to know what took precedence and whether you think you’ll pick them up again.

Motion: Testing Ideas

As I mentioned in my Friday post, I am working on a Motion project for the senior pet rescue where my wife works and where I volunteer.  I am still drafting the final script, but in the meantime, I am doing some test work in Motion.

A frequent part of the action will be characters moving on and off screen.  I am anticipating simple characters with few animated parts but I want their movement to be more realistic and less “riding on a skateboard” as they move around screen.

To accomplish this I added a wave motion path to my character with a very low amplitude and frequency.  I snapped the alignment of my character to the path keeping the character’s vertical axis perpendicular to the wave path.  This resulted in a subtle rock forward and backward as of the character moved.  The more I rewatch, the more I realize the action needs some tweaking, but overall I’m happy how it turned out so far.  Plus, it should be easy to replicate with slight variations for each new character.

For the idea clouds, I used a particle generator.  Again, I need to do some more tweaking to make the initial flow from the character’s head smoother.  I also want to add a second generator flipping the idea cloud so the trail of small bubbles points left or right depending on which side of the head the cloud emerges.  I’m not sure if I can figure it out, but I’d love to have the clouds pop rather than drift off the top of the screen.

Finally, the final idea cloud follows a motion path before coming to rest in the upper left portion of the screen.  Right now, the path is too long and complex as compared to the particle flow which makes the final cloud immediately stand out form the generated ones.  If I can simplify the flow and path to naturally follow the generated idea clouds, I hope it appear to drift off the expected path as the cloud generator stops.

I have loads more work to create my full vision, so I’ll keep posting more of my tests and any completed sequences as I push forward on this project.

Are you an expert with Motion?  I’d love to hear any tips or ideas you may have that will make this project better.

Photo Creativity: Affinity Photo

There is something to be said about an authentic, unretouched, undoctored photo. But, as we look back at many of our photos, do they truly represent the color,s brightness, contrast, clarity and details that we saw, or at least what we remembered seeing?

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Matching Memories

Whether we rely on the camera’s automatic settings or expertly fine tune them before snapping away, often the end result does not live up to our recollection of the scene. Maybe it’s washed out or so dark we cannot see many of the details. Do spots of overexposure that draw your eye away from other areas? Are the colors slightly off, especially in the skin tones, creating a slight alien aura to the shot?

Whether fixing a photo because it’s just off or because it doesn’t live up to our recalled expectations, digital photographers have so many tools available. Almost all free photo software—designed mostly for storing, tagging and logging photos—has some type of editing feature. These are generally limited to the basics of exposure, brightness, hues, contrast and maybe some red-eye corrections.

Once you make the leap to professional software, the number of tools increases exponentially. With infinite ways the tools can be applied, layered, and masked, any photo can be corrected to a more realistic representation of your subject or converted to a less realistic work of art.

So Much To Learn

I am a novice in this arena. I could never get the adjustments right in most of the basic software I have used, although Apple’s current version of their Photos app has far more editing features as well as the ability to add extensions (free or purchased) to further expand these capabilities.

Having so many tools is all well and good, but without some guidance as to what the features do and how to use them, most of us are stuck in a trial and error loop until miraculously the photo comes out as expected, or more likely we repetitively reset and fidget with the adjustments until we get something we think looks better but hasn’t necessarily reached perfection.

A Reasonably Priced Professional Option

When I first saw Affinity Photo demoed I assumed it would be out of my hobbyist budget since its features and technical abilities appeared to be on par with Adobe Photoshop. Then the demo revealed the price—$49.99 in the Mac App store and on their website and it doesn’t require a subscription.

In addition to the reasonable price, Affinity Photo offers a huge library of video tutorials covering everything from basics of using the software and simply adjustments to more complex layering and complete workflows. Most videos are less than ten minutes long but pack a ton of great instructions. What is harder to pull from these and so many tutorials is the reasoning behind applying each tool and the order in which they should be layered. The good news is this limitation does not detract from the usefulness of the tutorials because I was able to apply what I learned to my own photos, usually by following along step by step.

According to the documentation, Affinity Photo can read and export to Photoshop files, so in theory, you could use Affinity Photo and collaborate with Photoshop users or companies that require submissions in Photoshop file formats. I have not done this, so I cannot confirm how well the import or exports work, but many online forum responses indicate this feature works quite well.

The Choice Is Yours

I’ve never used Photoshop so I am not suggesting Affinity Photo is better or worse. I can propose an equitable alternative to the subscription based, top rated graphic and image editing software.

I’ve already learned so much, but have a long way to go until I feel comfortable in my editing. The image above is one of my recent attempts at improving one of my photos. Here is a side by side comparison of the before and after.

And, here is my attempt at a stylized version of the same photo.

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If you are interested in image editing, I encourage you to give Affinity Photo a try. They even offer a free trial of the software on their website.

Are you into image editing? Do you have a software preference? Let me know what you think in the comments.

 

 

I have no relationship with and have not been compensated in any way from Affinity Photo or Serif for this review.

Something New: Video Color Correction

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Photo by Pixabay on Pixabay.com

Today’s post is the first in a series about something new I’ve learned this week.

I’ve been a frequent visitor to Izzy Video for over a year now and relatively recently became a full fledged Mastery Group Member. One of my renewed creative pursuits is videography and editing.

Color Correction

I spent last week taking Izzy’s latest course on Color Correction in Final Cut Pro.  Even if you have been working with Final Cut Pro for a while, using and understanding all the color correction filters, effects and features may be something you have skipped over or haven’t had time to learn.

The new color correction course is awesome.  Izzy demonstrates the basic color correction techniques before plunging into more advanced topics including blending, masking and setting up your own presets that can be used on different clips or even completely separate projects.  I love Izzy’s training style.  He doesn’t just show you how to use the tools but weaves the whys and whens of an experienced editor so you can also understand the thought process in play with each color adjustment.

If you have been looking to add Color a Correction skills to your digital editing bag of tricks, I highly recommend checking out this course. Even if you don’t use Final Cut Pro, many of the skills will likely cross over to other editing software.  I even learned a few things that I am certain can translate to photo editing, too.

How I Found Izzy

I’ve been creating the annual fundraising video for the animal rescue where my wife works for the past couple of years.  I used Final Cut Express years ago and various versions of iMovie more recently.  For last year’s video, I made the leap to professional software.  I wanted finer control and added flexibility so I could produce a more professional and engaging final product.

Although I’ve had a decent amount of experience with digital editing, I needed a quick course to familiarize myself with Final Cut Pro.  That’s when I discovered Izzy Video.

Izzy offers a free Basic Final Cut Pro course covering everything from understanding the interface to exporting your final project in thirty-six video clips spanning over two and a half hours.  The intro course got me up to speed enough to complete my project while showing me there was so much more to learn.

If you have a chance to jump over to Izzy’s site, check out all his course offerings and his blog.  Occasionally he will offer a new course that includes both prerecorded clips as well as a couple live workshops where you can complete the project along side Izzy while having your questions answered live.  If you cannot make the live sessions, he provides recorded versions so you can follow long on your own schedule.  I loved his Intro to Motion Course and hope he offers an Advanced Motion course soon.

If you want to learn more about Final Cut, Motion or digital editing in general, I encourage you check out Izzy Video.  If you have other sources for digital editing training, I’d love to read your recommendations in the comments section.

If you are interested in the senior pet rescue I mentioned above, please visit Young At Heart Senior Pet Adoptions at  www.adoptaseniorpet.com.  The video I produced last year, There’s No Place Like Home, can be found on Young At Heart’s YouTube page

 

I have no relationship with and have not been compensated in any way from Izzy Video. I just love the work he is doing.

Why Midlife Creativity

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I started Midlife Creativity because I needed a place to be more creativity than I could be in my career and busy home life. I missed my creative side which I mostly forced to the back of my personality since graduating from college. Recently, I longed to express my creative side which re-emerged through writing, something I never explored much in my younger days. I could feel it growing inside me. It was something I yearned to do.

Beginnings

My creative path through life stemmed from being a child of the 70s, a teen of the 80s and emerging into adulthood in the 90s. As a child creativity was ingrained in me. Parents and teachers encouraged our imaginations, exploration, and questions. They left us to figure out life by being kids. We had some responsibilities, but nothing like what you see with some kids today. We were kids, and we acted like it.
Moving into the teen years, the world changed around us. It became more of a push to discover what career you wanted followed by years of studying to make your career choice a reality. The pressure was on to be more successful than your family before you. I never felt that pressure from my family but in many respects I felt it from my peers, teachers and other grown-ups.
In college, even creative subjects were about turning these skills into a career. As a film/television major it didn’t seem like the best way to develop creativity in society. Luckily this approach has changed in the twenty-five years since I graduated. My focus at the time, from the pressure I felt to build a career, had always been on the business side of film. I used my creative side for the required individual and group projects, but, looking back, I never expressed it to its full potential at the time.

What is Midlife Creativity?

Everyone needs creative outlets. Life cannot be all work and responsibilities. Creativity is fun. It’s new. It’s originating. It’s problem solving. Creativity is too many things to name but emerges through your passions and your interests. It’s vital to a well rounded life regardless of how you personally express your own creativity.
“Midlife” means accepting that no matter your current stage in life, whether you’re twenty-something or ninety-something, you can always reignite your creative spark. Forget that you may have pushed creativity out of your life due to time and other commitments. The time is now to take it back.
I don’t think of “midlife” as a midpoint in time. I think of “midlife” as a turning point, a fork in life’s road. It is here where we make a choice to commit some of the time in our busy schedules to develop, grow and learn new or old creative pursuits, giving them the time they deserve.

Which fork will I take?

I’ve committed myself to the several creative pursuits; probably too many to take on at one time but they have all become my passions—writing, coding, videography and photography. Who knows what I may take up next year.
I have two main goals for this blog. First, to scream to the world that it doesn’t matter when you begin or restart your creative journey. What matters is that you take that first step and every step thereafter to create the best work you can.
Second, to develop a creative community. Creativity can be lonely. We create within ourselves before putting the ideas to canvas, paper, clay, or the pixels of an electronic device. Having a community to support and provide feedback before releasing our work into the world can make all the difference to one’s success. Midlife Creativity can be such a community by helping each other experience the freeing sensation of letting our work out into the world where it can have an impact others.
I want this site to be a beacon of hope for those who need to express their creative side but feel it may be too late. It’s never too late to do what you want in life. Pick up your pen, brush or stylus. Turn to a blank page in a notebook, open a laptop, set up your tripod or place a canvas on an easel. You’re Ready. You’re Set. Now Go! Be creative.

Will you join me on this journey? What creative pursuits ignite your passions and what new ones have you longed to learn?

Resolution Time, Again

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2018 is going to be a new year for me. I’ve said it before (probably even on this blog). You may have said it before, and we all could probably name a few people who we’ve heard say it before. For me, this year is going to be different for a couple of reasons. I have a new attitude and a new approach to making positive changes in my life.

The skeptic in me keeps asking, “how could your attitude transform as simply as the year changes on the calendar?” As I ponder his query (and yes, I’m aware arguing with myself is not always the best use of my time), I realize my attitudue has been evolving over several months now. Due to a very emotionally exhausting experience early this fall, my attitude has fluctuated between investing more time in my creative pursuits or just pluggin through life at my normal job. What the change in year gives us is a powerful line in the sand past which we can fully enact a change. Its a fresh start, a new beginning, or it can even be a do over.

I’m a goal setter and a resolution maker. This year it occurred to me that apparently I am better at establishing personal levels of achievement more than actually fulfilling these goals. I don’t beat myself up when I miss them because I can seemingly rationalize away the defeat by focusing on the other things I have achieved or new goals I have already set in my mind.

I am bound and determined to make a change in this personal process this year so I am taking a new approach. Rather than set very specific goals as I have done in prior years I am taking the lead from Scott Adams’ book “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life”. Adams says in his book, “goals are for lossers”, so this year I will establish systems. The difference between goals and systems, Adams explains, is that goals have a very specific outcome or ending while systems are things or processes you carry out every day that could, and in many cases should, go on indefinitely.

For 2018, I choose to focus on three systems – Learning, Organization, Completion. Rather than set a list of highly specific goals at the beginning of a long year bound and determined to morph from month to month, I changing my approach to set up three systems that will allow me to succeed this year even as my ideas, interest and available “me” time adjusts under the influence of external stimuli.

As of today, some of the things I would like to learn this year are Apple’s Motion software, Affinity Photo (an affordable Photoshop alternative), and advanced Swift programming. I’m afraid if I set out specific goals for all three items I would not sufficiently succeed in some of these goals. I might also purposely avoid an opportunity to switch gears should a new interest arise. By focusing on “Learning” I will be successful when I make progress on each and every new task I undertake related to learning.

I chose organization and completion as two additional systems. To make lifestyle improvements I see these system going together like peanut butter and jelly. I tend to jump around from task to task in both my profesional and personal responsibilities., so improving my organzational abilities will lead to seeing more projects all the way through to completion.

Even though this first post of the year is over a week past that all important calendar change, I have already made strides toward these goals. So far this year, I have been excited everyday to put my new systems to use. The key to my success is execution, continued execution.

Have you set any resolutions this year? I’d love to hear about your approach to success in 2018 in the comments section.