A Writing Contest?

A Writing Contest?

Dear friend,

Fiction is frequently a source of inspiration to me (especially considering I’m training to become a professional author.) Writing stories helps you see inspiration in the lives of strangers, in games you play with friends, in the what-ifs of the endings of other stories, in the gurgling of the sink as the dishwater drains.

My first book was a fanfiction of my favorite series when I was eight, Bruce Coville’s The Unicorn Chronicles. It was probably a total of half a page of writing, but I drew pictures to go with it and my mom bound it. I was so proud of that book.

The next story I wrote was inspired by a game my cousin and I played with her little stuffed monkey. It was a children’s picture book about a monkey superhero. I worked on a novel and several short stories throughout my teen years.

Once, I took a chance on one of those short stories (a retelling of the Bluebeard fairytale) and submitted it to a contest.

Did I make it? Absolutely not.

Was I disappointed? Absolutely.

Thankfully, I didn’t give up. I kept writing. I even moved to Ohio for an apprenticeship at The Company, which has helped me improve significantly.

Contests are great motivators.

The Company is putting on a short story contest this spring and it’s free to enter! (So there’s no risk in entering.)

Maybe you’re hoping to get published. Perhaps you are looking for an excuse to write a story. Or maybe you’re just looking for some practice with a due date.

Whatever the case may be, you should enter the contest.

The theme is “buried”. The story doesn’t have to have the word in it, just the concept. Perhaps you like pirates and buried treasure, burying seeds for a garden in the spring, or looking for buried information in a pile of books.

The cool thing about this contest? I’m one of the judges!

If you’ve never entered a writing contest or completed a project, this is a great first step to accomplish your writing dreams. It’s a small project and easily completed. The short story only needs to have under 1,500 words. You even have two whole months to finish it (enter by July 1, 2024.)

For more information about the rules and how to enter visit The Company’s article here.


R. J. Catlin

3 Ways to Make Cool Photos

3 Ways to Make Cool Photos

Dear friend,

My first camera was one of those Fujifilm disposable cameras that my parents got us kids when we went on a family vacation. Most of those photos turned out pretty bad. I was proud of the fact that I had a camera that I could take pictures with.

My dad got me my next camera when I was about eight. It was a miniature camera.

I’ll give you three guesses as to how fast I lost it. I will say, it was super cute and I was bummed when I misplaced it.

Finally, when I was in middle school, my parents gave me a little digital camera. It was blue and silver.

Around the same time, my mom had me take a kids’ photography class for a week in the summer. I had fun with it, but I didn’t do much with what I learned until I was seventeen.

When I was seventeen, I took a year-long college-level graphic design class. In that class, we had a few photography-based projects that I enjoyed.

It inspired me to pull out my camera more often than just the odd vacation. That year, my mom gave me her old Canon DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera which was much more powerful than the little digital camera I had up to then. I spent several hours playing with settings and taking pictures of things around the yard to figure out how to get things to look good.

The autumn after I graduated high school, my family and I went on a trip out west to see Yellowstone and Glacier National Park. It was on that trip that I really got to know my camera. There were so many interesting things to see with so many variables that I got to experiment with.

There were many interesting textures that made great macro photography opportunities. I took panoramic photos of stunning scenery. And my family was a great way for me to get fantastic candid pictures.

The first camera was made in 1816 by French inventor Joseph Nicephore Niepce. Since then, people have been fascinated by photography. It’s no wonder. Pictures tell stories and record history. Read more about the importance of photography in my article from last week.

The most important thing about photography is that you have a camera. When you first start out, you can even use your phone camera. If you decide that you want to get a better camera after a little while, see if you can borrow a friend or family member’s camera to see how you like it.

Here are some principles of photography that you can play around with.

1. Viewpoint

Or you may have heard it called “perspective.” When you take a picture of an object or person, your first instinct may be to take it face on and center in the image. Instead, try taking the picture from below, above, or from either side of (or even behind) it.  

2. Rule of thirds

Imagine a tick-tack-toe board overtop of the image you want to take. Line up the interesting parts of the picture to those imaginary intersecting lines. The human eye loves odd numbers, so aligning the object of an image with one of those thirds lines makes the photo far more interesting.

3. Pay attention to negative space

Negative space is the space not taken up by objects in the image. Also called white space, this negative space should take up approximately one-third or two-thirds of the image.

And the most important thing…

Have fun! This is your hobby. Make it fun. If there’s something you want to try, what’s stopping you?

Once the simple principles begin to come naturally to you, there are plenty of articles that talk about other good photography, like this one by Hartford Photography. The more you learn and experiment, the more you’ll find inspiration for your photography.

Well, what are you waiting for?

Go take some pictures!


R. J. Catlin

Would You Picture That?

Would You Picture That?

Dear friend,

When I was a kid, my mom was constantly taking pictures of us, especially on trips and vacations. I admit I sometimes got annoyed by it. Why she couldn’t just enjoy the moment without always taking pictures of it?

Then I got my own camera and I understood.

Me and my brother at a children’s museum in a giant bubble, at age six.

What’s the story?

There’s something inexplicable about capturing a moment in time that will never be captured again.

Recently, a photographer friend said photography captures the things and moments only you see.

Pictures preserve memories.

Remember going through your grandma’s old photo albums? Or the first time you saw your dad’s baby photo? What about a picture of your mom in her prom dress?

These are all moments in history that would be lost to time without photography.

Photos also tell stories. Take that picture of your dad as a baby, for example.

Was he crying and upset? Did he laugh at something behind the camera? Was he ready for a nap and staring into space?

What story does the picture below tell?

This is a picture that I took of my friend on a girls’ weekend. We spent an extended weekend visiting Sleeping Bear Dunes and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We both love taking pictures and it was a lovely October day.

It’s a creative point of view.

Like drawing, photography helps you look at the world differently. It helps you see inspiration in everything.

According to this Eksposure article, when you see the world from a different perspective it also increases your ability to enjoy it.

Photography grows your creativity. It fosters curiosity about the world around you. This article about creativity and photography by Steve Gosling from the School of Xcellence is fascinating.

How hard can it be?

Taking pictures isn’t difficult. Most phones, even dumb ones, have a camera built in. It takes very little effort to take a picture. Start with one.

Pose the fruit in the bowl on your table. Set it in front of a window. How does that look?

Sneak a picture of a friend or family member doing something mundane.

Try different angles. Bird’s eye view. Get one up close. Take a picture very far away.

What story are you trying to tell?

Next week I’ll post an article on basic principles of photography to get you started.

Get out there and take a picture.


R. J. Catlin

What In The World?

What In The World?

Dear friend,

In my freshman year of high school, my end-of-the-year history project was to replicate an antique map. I chose a map of Iceland. I will admit to many moments of frustration, but I absolutely loved that project. It took me four months to finish. As it turns out, cartography is incredibly time-consuming and very detail-oriented.

History of cartography

Maps have been used for thousands of years, beginning with maps of the night sky and localized maps. These were used for organizing societies around agricultural seasons.

According to this environmental website, “Surveying permitted the building of huge monuments, to plot how much land people owned and charge them tax.”

Maps have been used to show the predominance of religions. They were also used by many countries as propaganda to show political power, even as recently as World War II. It wasn’t until the 14th century A.D. that nautical charts were compiled for navigation.

The earliest known world map is the Imago Mundi. It is a circular Babylonian map on a clay tablet that portrays the Mesopotamian world of the ancient Middle East. The tablet dates back to just under three thousand years ago.

The first paper maps were done by the ancient Greeks. The Chinese were the first to utilize a grid system in mapping which increased the geographical accuracy of their maps significantly.

Photo by Ylanite Koppens

Do you love maps?

In order to thrive in a job like cartography, you should, first of all, love maps. You should also be detail-oriented and organized. The job requires analytical reasoning and technological skills for programs like GIS (geographic information system). If you are both an art and math enthusiast then cartography would be a great job for you to learn.

If you are interested in becoming a cartographer Indeed and bestcollegesonline.org have a list of things to do to become a cartographer. You can pursue a bachelor’s degree in cartography or a related field, like geography, computer science, or surveying.

If going to college is not your cup of tea (Noah Matthews an inspiring article on non-traditional education), there are certifications available like this one. The next step would be getting an initial license, gaining experience (like finding an internship or entry-level job), and then getting your final license.

If you are interested in learning about mapmaking but want to start smaller, there are plenty of resources to get started.

Check out atlases from the library and study them. Sketch your own maps. Or copy a pretty map like I did in high school. There are also plenty of websites that can connect you to the cartography community such as Map of the Week, The Map Room, and Something About Maps.

What are you waiting for?


R. J. Catlin

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