Getting started as a columnist (or why I avoid Rhode Island)

I don’t know if it’s the change of the seasons, the approaching zombie apocalypse or a tainted batch of Lay’s Chicken and Waffles potato chips. Whatever the reason, a lot of folks have been asking the question, “How did you get started?” Not to sound presumptuous, but I assume they mean “as a columnist,” and not “as a father” or “turning grey” — which, I’d like to point out, are directly related. Because of this, I thought it might be a good time to revisit my very first Nickel’s Worth on Writing, which covers the basics on how to get a jumpstart your rejection letters writing career. I should point out that some of today’s best-selling authors got their start after reading this post, prompting writers like J.K. Rowling to call Ned’s Nickel’s Worth on Writing, “Just the advice I needed to realize my potential within the food service industry. You know, until the book thing came along.”

Coffee knocked over copy When I first started querying newspapers about carrying my column, I was getting one or two rejections in my email box every week. In frustration, I turned to the Internet and discovered, with a little planning and organization, I could be rejected by every newspaper in the state of Louisiana all in one afternoon.

In 2002, I began my unofficial “Internet promotional tour” across the United States by emailing a basic cover letter and a few sample columns to newspapers here in my home state of Oregon. Today, the column is running in 60 papers in 11 states and Canada. What follows are a few simple truths, mixed with some suggestions, that will help distinguish your email query from the hundreds of male enhancement offers editors receive each day. Continue reading

Zombie apocalypse or writing world: survival skills are essentially the same

image Before we get to this week’s Nickels Worth on Writing, I have been told by the U.S. Postal Service that sending me your nickels taped to postcards is not acceptable. Apparently, it really messes with the sorting machines, which mistakenly re-direct them to the “Clothes for Miley Cyrus Fund.” So, until we get this figured out, hold on to your nickels; my NWOW is on the house!

Does that mean my advice, gleaned from 15 years as a columnist and referred to by some of today’s most influential writers as “the fertilizer in the garden of writing,” will be any less insightful?

Of course not.

Money or no money, I promise you my weekly advice could not be any less insightful — which is why authors like Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, John Grisham and E.L. James receive this post in their spam email every Friday, and why this weekly feature was recognized by Writers Digest magazine as “One of the few blogs that illustrates, with absolute clarity, why writers such as Hemingway became alcoholics.” Continue reading

Occasionally, you need to write naked… or at least out of your comfort zone

Writing naked is a great way to challenge yourself. It can also get you a private cubicle.

Writing naked is a great way to challenge yourself. It can also get you a private cubicle.

That unmistakable sound of jingling pocket change on Friday can only mean one thing: It’s time for Ned’s Nickel’s Worth on Writing! Unless Friday is your laundry day. Or the day you treat yourself to breakfast from the vending machine at work.

But let’s assume you’re here for my weekly writing tip, which is offered up from 15 years as a newspaper columnist. And let’s further assume that kind of writing pedigree was extremely impressive. Then you would understand why some of today’s most respected fictional writers and equally fictional educators have referred to my NWOW as:

Advice you’d expect from someone who is indeed a professional. Wait, I said in need of a professional…

and

Required reading for my students whenever I’m mad at them or too hung over to actually teach…

Admittedly, I am a bit embarrassed. Not only by those gushing accolades, but also because I am writing this post while naked — which brings us to this week’s Nickel’s Worth. At this moment, you’re probably asking yourself, “Why is he writing naked?!” Unless of course — and this is understandable — you didn’t actually notice. I should clarify the sum of 5 cents and my being naked aren’t related. At least not directly. What I will say is this: If I were a stripper, I would be the only one with a change belt instead of a money pouch. And we’ll just leave it at that. Continue reading

Four members every good writers’ group should avoid

image If you are at this very moment digging between the couch cushions for coins, or replacing the Tooth Fairy change under your child’s pillow for an “IOU,” then you already know it’s time for Ned’s Nickel’s Worth on Writing.

OK, sure. It could also mean you’re short on cash for a Starbuck’s, or trying to scrounge up gas money for your morning commute. Whatever the reason, please stop immediately because this week’s NWOW is on the house.

That’s right! You can save your nickel towards that next mocha Grande!

I realize some of you are looking at me as if to say:

Is this going to be like the time I “won” a free getaway weekend and ended up buying a time share in Rotgut, Alabama?

No. I assure you this week’s Nickel’s Worth is absolutely free. So don’t bother taping that nickel to a post card and sending it in. Why? Because last week many of you were left standing nickel-in-hand after I failed to get my post up. This has never happened to me before. Although many of you told me it’s nothing to be embarrassed about, and that it happens to everyone from time to time, it’s never happened to me — and I felt the least I could do is offer an apology with a complementary look at my NWOW. Continue reading

It’s my 47th birthday and the excitement is tangible

As you can see, these kids who crashed my birthday party can barely contain their enthusiasm.

As you can see, these kids who crashed my birthday party can barely contain their enthusiasm.

This week’s edition of Ned’s Nickel’s Worth on Writing is brought to you by a 47-year-old man! [Please note the exclamation point! (Hey, there’s another one!)] Why am I excited about this? And why am I not calling in sick while lining up shot glasses on the kitchen table?!? Because, in addition to my birthday falling on an NWOW Friday, I feel GREAT!

I’m in my PRIME!

And I want the whole world to know how, through positive thinking and the repetitious use of exclamation points, you can believe it too!!

To celebrate, I dressed in my favorite AC/DC T-shirt, jeans and smokey grey Vans. Oh, and Dos Equis underwear. Um, to clarify, those are underneath my jeans, not on top (I haven’t had that much to drink). I also took a moment to record the occasion for posterity by taking a photo. Which isn’t to say I took a picture of my butt. But I did stand next to the only other thing in our newsroom older than me (until my editor gets here), which is The Door (of Shame, Blame and Brilliance). Continue reading

If you want to be a writer, you really need to talk to someone

image Yes, it’s true: Friday is finally here! And so is Ned’s Nickel’s Worth on Writing, both of which are awaited for with equal amounts of anticipation! Just like French toast and mustard; your favorite TV show and a power outage; or a great hair day and tornado warning. Why so much anticipation? Because this weekly feature on writing, culled from my 15 years as a columnist and presented to readers for a mere nickel, has been referred to by Consumer Reports as “worth every penny, unless it’s Canadian.” That’s right. Many of today’s most influential writers got their start right HERE. Or at least in this general vicinity, most definitely somewhere on the planet. Here’s what some of them have to say… (and by “them,” I mean some of the greatest fictitious writers of our time):

“I set my clock by his post. Without it, I wouldn’t know when my Matlock reruns come on…”

“Each week, he offers an oyster with a pearl inside. And each week I say to myself, ‘shuck it.'”

“If you have writing questions, Ned’s Nickel’s Worth has answers. Just not about writing…”

The accolades go on, but enough of that! Let’s get to this week’s edition of Ned’s NWOW, brought to you by this yesterday’s coffee, today’s deadline and my friends at Gliterary Girl, where my NWOW also appears each week. At least until they change the passcode… Continue reading

Part two: My interview with self-proclaimed best-selling author Ima Knowitall

Fifty Shades of Time-Traveling Vampire Love, is going live on self-publishing sites everywhere tomorrow. As one agent at Random Day said, “this book has caused a buzz in the publishing world louder than a circling fly…”)

image As I mentioned in my first interview, Ima Knowitall is the author of more than 40 online novels this past year, and was recently honored by the Society of Illiterate Columnists (SIC) for her contributions to “…the advancement of people who write without the shackles of proper grammar.” So landing an interview with an author of this caliber on the eve of her latest release was — as Ima described something she found in her taco — a total surprise.

For those of you who might’ve missed the first part of my interview with Ima because, for example, you just recently gave up life as a Quaker, I should explain that our breakfast interview had been interrupted by the untimely arrival of the health department while waiting for a taco omelette at Sam N’ Ella’s restaurant. Since there was no time to get anything to-go because Sam and Ella had already left through the back window, we had decided to take our interview somewhere else. Continue reading

Why this week’s ‘Nickel’s Worth on Writing’ isn’t worth a dime

My Engine 2 crew, in position for July Fourth;  all dressed up and no where to go — which wasn't a bad thing...

My Engine 2 crew, in position for July Fourth; all dressed up and no where to go — which wasn’t a bad thing…

As everyone knows — and by “everyone,” I mean anyone who thinks today should really be Saturday — this is normally the day I post Ned’s Nickel’s Worth on Writing, my weekly feature on writing tips authors and publishers have heralded as “Insightful reading that should be a part of every bathroom library,” and “Tips that have helped countless aspiring authors establish themselves as parking attendants.

This week, however, I’m asking you to hold on to your nickels. Not just because the postmaster here is getting annoyed sorting postcards with a nickel’s worth of change taped to them; and not just because the second part of my follow-up interview with self-proclaimed best-selling author Ima Knowitall was delayed by food poisoning while eating at The Enfermo Taco; and not just because the holiday put me so far behind here in the newsroom that I may need to call a proctologist to get me out. Continue reading

Following up with self-proclaimed best-selling author Ima Knowitall!

image With the release of her highly anticipated online novel Time-Traveling Vampires of Love just a few days away, I held little hope of getting a second interview with Ima Knowitall when I called her private number this morning. As I mentioned in my first interview, she is the author of more than 40 online novels this past year, and has received multiple awards, including the coveted Prolific Speller Award, the Hemmingway Award for “longest run-on sentence of 2012 and 2013” (same sentence) and, most recently, was honored by the Society of Illiterate Columnists (SIC) for her contributions to “…the advancement of people who write without the shackles of proper grammar.

Despite knowing I had almost no chance of landing a second interview with an author of Knowitall’s caliber on the eve of her latest release, the fact that she had given me her private number meant I had to at least try. During our initial interview a month ago at a nondescript Del Taco location, she explained that her secret phone number is part of an elaborate system of security measures to protect her from hoards of overzealous paparazzi and fans. Nervously, I called the number and was ready when a man who identified himself as “Shizzle” answered from what sounded like the inside of a phone booth. Continue reading

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

They say change is good, especially if there’s a nickel involved. Why a nickel? Because that’s all you need each Friday for Ned’s Nickel’s Worth on Writing! For newcomers, this is the day I share my collective wisdom from 15 years as a columnist and share it with you, at half the price of my hourly wage! Here are a just a couple of testimonials from regular readers of Ned’s NWOW…

I discovered this website totally by accident — I haven’t slept since
Thanks to what I’ve learned from Ned’s NWOW, I’m now pursuing a rewarding career cleaning hazard cones!

Enough accolades! Let’s get to it…

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.

That’s why it’s called a “cursor.” Continue reading