One of the most important skills for a writer? Survival skills

image Over the years, my wife has gotten used to my (admittedly bad) habit of leaning over and whispering “expendable character” whenever I see someone who I know is going to die. I should clarify I only make these predictions while watching movies, and not, as a general rule, at the grocery store, in hospital waiting rooms or at family reunions. That’s because in movies, these types of characters are easy to spot.

For example, the soldier who pulls out a photo of his “girl back home” while talking with his buddy on patrol — Spoiler Alert: He’s not making it through the next scene alive. And if he mentions he’s proposing to “his girl” after getting discharged tomorrow, chances are he won’t even finish his dinner rations before keeling over from sniper fire or eating expired creamed corn. The same goes for anyone who mentions having a “bad ticker” or who has a nagging cough; anyone who says they’ve stopped wearing a bullet-proof vest or life jacket because “you can’t cheat fate”; and definitely any character who keeps a mouse or baby bird in his shirt pocket. Continue reading

Want to keep your writing fresh? Start with regular flossing

image I’d like to thank the American Dental Association for sponsoring this week’s writing tip, which brings me to a startling statistic: 4-out-of-5 dentists have never recommended or even heard of this blog. The fifth dentist only heard about it when, moments after my lips went numb, I was trying to say “Ben Roethlisberger’s lob” and he thought I said “Ned’s worthless blog.” Regardless, there are many similarities between keeping a fresh feeling to your writing and avoiding gingivitis. So think of me as your “literary orthodontist” as I take you through a quick writer’s check-up.

(Please remember I don’t have a saliva vacuum…)

Flossing:
A good dentist will tell you it’s important to floss between meals, and will demonstrate its importance by flossing for you during your visit. That’s unless he also happens to be your proctologist, in which case I’d like to welcome you to the new National Health Care Plan. Continue reading

Tips to jump-start your writing (Unless you’re in Arkansas)

image There’s nothing quite like staring at a blank page, knowing that with a few strokes of the keyboard you will transform a landscape devoid of life into a living, breathing thing of your own creation. There’s also nothing quite like finishing that fourth cup of coffee only to find that same blank page staring back at you.

Sure, you may have typed several sentences — or maybe even the same sentence several times — in hopes of gaining some kind of momentum to carry you over that first hump, but the cursor repeatedly stalls out in the same spot, leaving you with the same blank page after riding the “delete” button back to the beginning.

Hey, that’s why it’s called a “cursor.”

I’ll be honest. I don’t necessarily subscribe to the notion of writer’s “block,” which suggests some kind of blockage — such as a cheese wedge or too many butter biscuits — restricting movement through a hypothetical colon of creativity. Although there are some books in print that offer evidence to support at least part of the colon theory, I prefer to think of the writing process as cells in a battery; when they are fully charged, things start easily. But if the alternator belt slips too much or the terminals get corroded, you end up without enough juice to turn the engine. Because we are writers and not mechanics, and because that last sentence exhausted the full extent of my automotive knowledge, I will sum up my analogy with this: When your battery is low, you get a jump, right?

Writing is no different. Continue reading

Writing tools for thought (or food for your tool box?)

image A while back, I talked about three of the most important tools a writer wields when it comes to establishing their “voice.” Does anyone remember what they were?

For the sake of time, let’s just assume all of you remember what those tools were and, in a series of uncontrollable outbursts, begin shouting out:

TIMING!

TRUTHFULNESS!

and…

CUERVO!

No, the third tool is RELATIVITY — not Cuervo. Even though I think we can all agree Cuervo does have a way of making even the most abstract things seem relevant.

In this case, however, Relativity means ensuring the reader can relate to what we’re writing about. This is especially true when it comes to personal experience and family anecdotes. For example, that hilarious story about how Aunt Frida got mad and stomped through the garden won’t be nearly as entertaining to readers as it is to you unless, like you, they already know Aunt Frida was a mule. I realize that’s an overstatement, but unless you take time to lay the foundation of your story in a way that involves the reader, they will likely sit down and refuse to follow. Continue reading

Forget about that image of Bruce Jenner and start writing

write write write copy Welcome to this week’s edition of Ned’s Nickel’s Worth on Writing, when I take the writing insights gained from 16 years as a columnist and, much like the first remnants of fruitcake to arrive this holiday season, offer slices to people despite their objections and threats of physical harm.

It’s a feature Writers Digest has called, “…Tips every writer should know if they want to be successful. But not necessarily as a writer…”

And what Oprah’s Book Club recently heralded as “…An important reminder as to why we have a book club…”

But enough accolades!

I’m going to open this week’s NWOW with a simple truth:

Step one to being a writer: Write!

That advice seems pretty straight forward. The kind of obvious straight forwardness that carries you with complete confidence toe-first into a brick. Like most advice we’re given, the wisdom behind it is simple; the problem comes in the execution. Continue reading

Finding a publisher: It’s a lot like trick-or-treating

image Welcome to a special Halloween Edition of Ned’s Nickel’s Worth on Writing! What makes this week’s NWOW special? In addition to offering writing tips gained from my 15 years as a columnist, I am in Maine this morning dressed as “Pennywise” and waiting in the bushes outside the home of Stephen King!

Why?

Because what better way to kick off a special Halloween NWOW than by scaring The Master of Horror® himself! I’ve been working all week on my scary clown voice and borrowed a costume from my neighbor, who, as I discovered, has a whole closet full of costumes. (I didn’t ask why.)

Shhhhh! Here he comes!

“HE-LLOOOO STEVIEEEEE!!… Ummmm, Mr. King?… Sir? oh crap…” Continue reading

Tips to jump-start your writing (unless you’re in Arkansas)

image It’s Friday, but this one is different! Why? No, not because I woke up with our dog’s nose somewhere we both regret. What makes this Friday different is that 47 years ago today my life got better without me even knowing it — because my wife was born! To celebrate, I’ve taken the next three days off, in part so I can apologize for the fact I just announced her age to more than 5,000 people.

Yeah, that was dumb.

However, I was smart enough to plan ahead and have a post ready for this week’s Nickel’s Worth On Writing which, in case you’re visiting for the first time, is when I take the wisdom gathered from 15 years as a columnist and share it much like U2’s latest album — no one asked for it but they’re getting it for free anyway.

Unlike U2’s album, my weekly feature has been heralded by Publishers Weekly as “…Writing advice to inspire your best work, assuming you stack hazard cones for a living…”

But enough accolades!

There’s nothing quite like staring at a blank page, knowing that with a few strokes of the keyboard you will transform a landscape devoid of life into a living, breathing thing of your own creation. There’s also nothing quite like finishing that fourth cup of coffee only to find that same blank page staring back at you. Continue reading

Don’t panic! That sound you heard was just my idea flopping

image Welcome to Ned’s Nickel’s Worth on Writing, that time each week when I gather the writing wisdom gained through 15 years as a columnist and share tips that Publisher’s Clearing House has called “A POTENTIAL WINNER!” and what Writer’s Monthly recently heralded as “Writing advice you can’t find anywhere else. And we’re making sure of it…”

But enough accolades!

Let’s be honest. Even a seasoned humor columnist sometimes has an idea that falls flat. And if last week’s NWOW idea had fallen any flatter the aftershocks would have been picked up by seismologists in China. As you might remember, last week I tried something different. Unfortunately, that’s an experience my wife would rather forget. However, you might also remember I tried something different with my Nickel’s Worth by attempting to make it an interactive post similar to a blog hop, with me posting part of a scene and then letting everyone else take a crack at finishing it — then sending me the link.

As of this morning I remain linkless.

And let me point out my being linkless has absolutely nothing to do with the other thing my wife asked me not to talk about. Continue reading

Who knew writing could actually give you a hernia?

image Welcome to Ned’s Nickel’s Worth on Writing! It’s that time each week when I offer writing wisdom gained from 15 years as a columnist who, until recently, has remained completely hernia-free! It’s a feature the American Journal of Medicine is calling, “Writing advice that gets results as quickly as bending over and coughing…” or what Dr. Oz has touted as “The only place I haven’t stuck my face yet. And by that I mean his blog, not pelvic area…”

But enough accolades!

As I’ve mentioned before, writing can be a dangerous business, particularly for columnists who find themselves coughing uncontrollably from a seated position. As much as I’d like to say I got my femoral hernia after a tap-out while dragging firehose into a burning structure, or because I’m an amazing lover, the truth is it happened while I was sitting exactly where I am — during a bad coughing fit. I’ve been nursing this cough for about a month, which began with a high fever at the end of my vacation in August. Naturally, I assumed it was just my body’s way of preparing to return to work.

Besides, as my wife knows, “I never get sick!”

These words are already being chiseled into my tombstone. Continue reading

Is there such a thing as too much climaxing? (In your manuscript, Jeez!)

image For those visiting for the first time because of the search term “climax,” welcome to Ned’s Nickel’s Worth on Writing! This weekly feature is when I share the writing wisdom gained from 15 years as a columnist by — much like a porn movie — quickly stripping things down to the bare essentials and offering techniques that hopefully lead to a lot of “oohing” and “awing.” It’s a weekly feature Publishers Digest has called, “Writing tips that will keep your manuscript out of the slush pile, especially if there’s return postage included…” and what porn star Ron Jeremy has touted as “Enormously engorging… Oops, I mean engaging.”

But enough accolades!

The climax.

For those who zoned out after discovering this is a post about writing, welcome back! For everyone else, especially those working on a manuscript, short story or article for publication, you already know the climax is that point in your piece that brings everything together in a way that leaves your reader feeling completely and utterly satisfied by someone who is, at least in literary terms, a giving lover skilled at pacing the climactic moment specifically to put the reader’s needs ahead of their own.

Needless to say, this can be challenging. And not just for male writers, many of whom have already skipped ahead looking for the next “climax” reference. Whether writing a mystery novel, erotica, a humorous magazine article or non-fiction blog post, a reader needs to feel a sense that they are working toward something — a big reveal, moment of enlightenment, resolution to a problem, punchline — in order to be fully engaged and eventually finish with that sense of satisfaction we strive for as husbands writers. Continue reading