One of the biggest mistakes in my life? The time I quit writing

image Hello and welcome to what Modern Blogger Magazine has called “The Most Popular Weekly Feature on the Internet, at least on Fridays, for sites named Ned’s Blog, and not counting porn sites with the same name.” I’m obviously VERY excited about this distinction! Although, not being one of those sites, my excitement is a little more discreet. Not to say my excitement isn’t enormous! It’s actually huge!

Wait… this isn’t coming out right at all. I just mean that if you could see me right now, you’d know I’m very happy… DANG IT! I’m going to quit while I’m a head.

Anyway, for those who might be visiting for the first time, assuming you are still reading after that opening, my Nickel’s Worth on Writing is that day each week when I take insights gained through 15 years as a newspaper columnist and offer them up, much like a sampler platter at Applebee’s, except without one of those mysterious extra crispy French fries mixed in with your chicken strips. In fact, my NWOW has been mentioned by best-selling author John Grisham as “The first place I go when I need ideas for new lawsuit stories.”

High praise indeed! But enough with the accolades!

Some of you may have noticed the title to this week’s NWOW, which mentions a time I quit writing — and I did, back in 2006. For almost a year. It had nothing to do with the typical kind of frustrations every writer faces, such as not having a readership or being told it’s time to “get serious” with your life by family, friends or every publisher on the West coast. It wasn’t the result of drug addiction or alcohol abuse, although I did find myself addicted to watching Grey’s Anatomy, which made me WANT to drink.

Things were going well with my writing. My readership was growing and I had an agent working to get me signed with a large publishing house.

The problem came on my 40th birthday, when I was given the ultimate surprise gift: divorce papers and single parenthood. Though I can look back on it now and see it for the gift it was, at the time it was like George Clooney showing up on Grey’s Anatomy: Unexpected and surreal, yet with the underlying knowledge that it was always a possibility, depending on how other opportunities panned out.

In the span of 24 hours I had gone from celebrating 40 years of life, to life as a single father with two young children. And let me just say right now, Thank God for them. Nothing funny here, just fact: They saved me and were my daily inspiration. But to make ends meet, I left the editorial department at our newspaper and went into sales for almost a year. I also put my column on hiatus by being honest with readers, letting them know what was going on in my life and, for the time being, that I was having a hard time finding my “funny.” I also needed to focus on this transition in my life and the lives of my children. Most newspapers and their readers were understanding. Even supportive. But not all of them were, and I lost about 20 spots — which I understood; I’ve never fostered any hard feelings about that, EVER! I SWEAR!


My book deal also fell through. Probably because of the new intro I wrote, which began: I’m actually pretty funny, but let me tell you what I don’t like about my ex-wife…

Ok, not really. But the book deal was put on the back burner, where it eventually evaporated, much like my desire to write during that period. On the surface, it seemed like the perfect inspiration for a columnist — at least until I sat down to write about it. I didn’t want to become “the guy who writes about being divorced,” but my life completely evolved around that subject at that point in my life. At the same time, writing about superheated pickles and glow-in-the-dark mice seemed… trivial.

Silly, I know — but I wasn’t myself then.

Because of the importance of that last statement, I’m going to repeat it: I wasn’t myself then.

Even as I moved forward with my life, meeting and marrying the amazing woman I’ve been fortunate enough to call my wife for five years now, something was still missing (and no, it has nothing to do with male pattern baldness):

It was me.

Not until the following summer did I find that piece of myself, when I returned to the newsroom and began writing my weekly column for the first time in nearly a year. A few weeks later, on my 41st birthday, I started this blog as part of a gradual return to what I love:

Writing about my editor behind her back.

Ha Ha! Just kidding! I do that on Twitter.

What I discovered between those two summers was how giving up my writing meant giving up that part of myself that makes me whole. For writers, the written word is how we process the world around us and, perhaps more importantly, how we define ourselves within it. While most people are content experiencing life with their five senses, writers have a sixth sense that has nothing to do with ghosts or M. Night Shamalon Shamellon Shahma The Sixth Sense guy. It’s about taking those other five senses and interpreting them for ourselves and, if we’re fortunate enough, sharing that with others in a meaningful way — either through serious reflection, humor, fiction or poetry.

In the same way that sharing this life with my wife makes it real and complete, writing makes me real and complete. It’s not that I couldn’t survive without either one, I just don’t ever want to.

Nor do I ever plan to again. Together, life and writing make me very happy.

I think the size of my blog makes it pretty obvious…

(Ned Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, will be released this December from Port Hole Publications. You can write to him at, or at Siuslaw News, P.O. Box 10, Florence, Ore. 97439)

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Ned's Blog

I was a journalist, humor columnist, writer and editor at Siuslaw News for 23 years. The next chapter in my own writer’s journey is helping other writers prepare their manuscript for the road ahead. I'm married to the perfect woman, have four great kids, and a tenuous grip on my sanity...

64 thoughts on “One of the biggest mistakes in my life? The time I quit writing”

  1. Just kidding! I totally understand what you’re saying. I stopped writing for quite some time, as I used to journal. After an abusive ex-boyfriend got ahold of my journals and started using them against me, I stopped writing. A couple years ago I discovered this blog thing, and have been able to write my way back to “me” more than once. 🙂

  2. I’m with snoozing on the sofa on this one. Without returning to the creative outlet that keeps you fulfilled, you might have fallen into an even darker state, and by that I mean becoming a congressman.

  3. I like this article, Ned. More than just clicking the like button, but not in a way that I feel like I have anything to comment on. I just like it on a human level. From reading your stuff for almost a year now I’ve come to decide you are good at being human. I like that in a humor columnist.

  4. Ned,
    Sometimes, you just cant write. Something like divorce, lawyers, money living arrangements provide people with uncertainty and reasons to commit suicide. They do not serve to write about things people want to read. I have woke up inspired to write and then later disappointed my wife. I was useless as a writer until i got this fixed. What many of us do here is personal and if your life is not right, how do you find the motivation to write? I guess selling advertising for a newspaper helps.

          1. OK WOW!!! Now i get it. You were finding other ways in which to disappoint her. I got it now thanks for helping me figure this out myself I feel like less of an a##hole now.

            I was however, seriously asking, as a writer how do you make yourself write when you have life stuff hogging all of your brains resources. I struggle with this from time to time and I legitamitely wonder if you have any “An-NED-dotes”. You can have that by the way. 🙂

            1. Haha! I probably shouldn’t have been so vague 😉

              When it comes to writing when your brain is not in the creative “zone,” there are a few tricks you can use, like always leaving off in the middle of a sentence or paragraph so you can start right in the middle of a thought instead of from scratch. But ultimately it comes down to the kind of writer you are. Some people write to escape, others write to experience or entertain. I’m making an assumption here, but you seem to be the latter two: you’re inspired by experiences and write about them to inform and entertain. The key is being inspired. All writers have days when they need to “re-charge” — which is to be expected. When I need to “re-charge,” I read other people’s stuff. It inspires me and, in some cases, challenges me to do something better.

              We all know life stuff happens. We just need to remember that, ultimately, it all becomes fertilizer for our writing. Which is a nice way of saying, even at our shittiest, we’re still writers.

  5. On your birthday? Double OUCH! I’m glad you got through it without sinking into the cesspool of depression and self-doubt, and wading in it. (Been there – done that) You’ve no-doubt shown your children how to come back when life throws a fastball at your head and strikes you between the eyes. That speaks volumes of you.

    One of my most favorite quotes from one of my most favorite authors:

    “There are two insults no human being will endure: that he has no sense of humor, and that he has never known trouble.” Sinclair Lewis

    Finally, I’ve been writing, so you can send your ex my fruitcake, 😉

    1. Thanks, Colleen 😉 I know things worked out the way they should have, and my kids and I are even closer because of it. They also adore my wife, and our blended family is a wonder. Again, just clear signs that life has a way of working out for the best when you stay positive and avoid fruitcake 😉

  6. Holy crap Happy Birthday I’m out? No wonder you weren’t yourself for a minute. That will rock anyone at their foundation. But hooray you came back to writing! Your blog is one of my very favorite places to visit on the entire internet including Prada and Gawker…Your kids are lucky to have such a fantastic human for a dad. And yay on your fabulous wife – you deserve all the happiness you can stand : ) Also? This post made me laugh out loud more than once, as usual, because you ROCK.

  7. Glad you didn’t give it up for good, Ned. You can’t escape your talent, no matter how much you try to ignore it, at times.

      1. I really would like to plan a trip back to Oregon, someday. There are a lot of towns I grew up in that I’d like to see from the eyes of an adult. If I ever do, I’ll call you up. 🙂

  8. Thanks for this. Very honest. I’ve managed to push through with writing on bad days (thank you, deadline) but can’t imagine how I could possibly make with the funny if (God forbid) my life or that of a loved one fell apart. Glad you found your way back.

    1. Thanks, Ross. Having a deadline can do wonders for sure. Inside, I always knew I would find my way back. Then again, that’s what Moses kept saying. I’m glad it only took me a year.

      Cheers, my friend. And I’ll contacting you soon to get some info… 😉

        1. Damn, that Aaron Sorkin is gooood.

          I’ve managed to hold the proof copy, which is almost the real thing. The final copies are supposed to arrive Christmas Eve. Just like Jesus…

  9. Think I get it. My personal life has been becoming more and more unglued as the year has progressed. Thought maybe I should turn to serious writing (hopefully people would be able to tell the difference). Decided that was too much work. I’m banking on things improving soon enough that I can make fun of them while I still remember the details. Otherwise, I’ll lie :).

  10. Hi Ned!
    This is favorite post yet. You have a true gift that successfully marries (pun intended!) humor, vulnerability and a genuine spirit that draws readers (me) in. So glad you returned to writing, but as often is the case, time off was probably very much needed. I’m so happy you came back, but I’m most happy to find at least one other writer I read that’s a year older than I am!

    1. Thank you so much for those kind words, Michelle. Somewhere inside, I knew I needed to just trust my instincts; that I’d know when I was ready. I think trusting our instincts as writers is an important message.

      And as for my age… Lol! I have a tendency to forget how old I am. I suppose that’s a good thing— at least until I break a hip 😉

  11. Ned, you make me laugh. You are like the writer I want to be, so as selfish as it is, I’m glad you blog because if you didn’t, where the heck would I get inspiration? Probably from someone else! You see how it is?

  12. At one point while in the Navy, they took me out of my field and also put me into sales. My pitch was equally atrocious: Don’t get Pissed! Re-enlist!

    I was surprised to find out that I was responsible for a 20 percent retention rate increase in my division and partly responsible for an overall increase of re-enlistments within the department of 12 percent. However, because of my slogan. I didn’t receive even a letter of appreciation.

    The leading chief of the division thought I was a genius for using that play. I only told him that I followed it up with “What do you think you’ll do on the outside? You’ll have civilians to compete with, you know.”

  13. I came this way through Angela Jardine’s blog. I’m so glad that you got back to writing again, but it does seem like this experience (of not writing) was good for you. Sometimes we forget how much ink is in our blood, especially when those around us don’t take our writing as seriously as we do. Your experience is also validating for me. I’ve found that I tend *not* to write when I’m going through a crisis. The energy I need for writing is sucked up into trying to survive the crisis. And then I also don’t care to relive the crisis through my writing, at least not while I’m still in the midst of it. One does what one has to do to survive. You did well, very well. I look forward to reading more 🙂

    1. I think you’re absolutely right, Marie Ann; “absence makes the heart grow fodder,” or something like that. Thanks for stopping in, and for the kind words.

      Cheers to us survivors in 2014 😉

  14. I must say, I am quite pleased you came back to writing, otherwise I would not have this blog to read, I’d be somewhere else and trying to find funny blogs is not that easy.

  15. The fact that I’m leaving a comment five months later is proof that those embedded links really do work. Or at the very least that I’ve always been in the “slow” group. I relate to much of what you said about divorce but the comment about your kids really resonates with me. I lived with my sister’s family while divorcing, and I maintain that my then 8 and 7 year-old niece and nephew kept me going. They loved me with a fierceness, protectiveness and purity that blew me away, and I don’t think they ever knew what they were doing or its effect on me.

    1. It’s a beautiful thing, isn’t it? My kids really did save me emotionally. And like your neice and nephew, they may not have known what they were doing or how it effected me, I have no doubt they will always remember how Dad smiled a lot more because of the things they did and said 😉

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