Proven tips on how to fail at your New Year’s writing resolutions!

For those who might be visiting for the first time, I should explain that I literally wrote the book on how to fail at writing. No, seriously. It’s an actual book. In it, I drew upon my 16 years as a columnist to offer tips that Writer’s Digest once called “… a shining example of why some writers go on to have successful careers as plumbers…” and what Master of Horror™ Stephen King has described as “The antithesis of precise literary implosion.”

See? I’m shucking an oyster, so it HAS to be good!

But enough with the accolades! 

No doubt, many of you have begun formulating your New Year’s resolutions: 

“I’m going to lose weight.”
“I’m going to drink less.”
“I’m going to change careers.”
“Ned is going to stop referring to himself in the third person.”

Ok, maybe that last one was just me. Regardless, I think we can all agree resolutions are a great way to jump-start goals for personal improvement and life changes. At least until the end of February, at which point we often “re-evaluate” our goals and make “more realistic” adjustments to those goals by “dropping them completely.” For this reason, as writers, we need to be careful about the resolutions we make regarding literary goals and, in some cases, we shouldn’t make them at all.

Many of you are probably saying, “Sure Ned, that’s easy for you to say!”

Oops, sorry — That was me speaking in third-person again. Still, it raises a point: I’m fortunate enough to write full-time while also helping other writers through my editing service, so who am I to tell you not to set lofty goals for yourself?

All I can say is that I’m the guy without a college education who spent 10 years cooking in kitchens before being mistakenly hired enthusiastically added to the editorial staff at Siuslaw News 23 years ago. I can tell you from experience that reaching this level of success — which includes not two but three readers from Florida who are willing to admit they follow this blog — only came after making several important realizations (and failures) regarding New Year’s resolutions and goal setting for my writing.

Here are my Top Three writing resolution mistakes:

1) Waiting for Jan. 1
What I came to realize after several attempts to “start and complete that novel” was that the mere fact I was waiting for a start date doomed me to failure. I can honestly say the best things that have happened in my life — including meeting my wife on Match.com, landing in journalism, getting a syndicated column, writing three books and starting my own editing business — didn’t come by way of setting goals as much as they came from acting on them instinctively and following through, regardless of the date. The decision to start pursuing your goals as a writer — whether it’s to start a blog or publish a blockbuster — shouldn’t hinge on the New Year. 

The only exception might be if your goal is writing for a calendar company. 

So, am I saying NOT to start pursuing your writing goals this Sunday? Not at all. But you should probably ask yourself, “Ned, why are you waiting?”

Sorry, I’m still working on that “third person” thing…

2) Setting resolution goals that include things beyond your control:
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to write a blockbuster, land a book deal or increase blog followers by 1,000 or more. But don’t make them goals. Ultimately, just like the women The Bachelor will decide not to send home this season no matter how much you yell at the TV, you have no control over those kinds of things. As a writer, all you can do is focus on what you’re putting on the page and have faith in what happens next. In short, set goals that are within your realm of control — the most important of which is the quality of what you write. Like a successful restaurant, people don’t come because of the flatware — they come for the food.

Unless you own a Hooters.…

3) Lumping too many resolutions together
“I’m going to lose 30 pounds, write a novel and give up bacon!” Let’s face it, if those are your resolutions you’re doomed once again. Why? While it’s true that resolutions are supposed to be difficult and life changing, even if you could drop 30 pounds and write that novel all in the same year, what’s the point if you can’t eat bacon? Whatever your resolution is, in order for it to be successful it needs your full attention. Remember that a root word of resolution is “resolute,” which means “determined and of singular focus,” and “lute,” which is “a guitar-like instrument with a pear-shaped body.

What does this mean? Clearly, writers who set resolutions for themselves should be “singularly focused” and should not simultaneously diet, even if they have a pear-shaped body.

In short, keep your resolution exactly that: singular. That way you can give it your complete focus and not be distracted by the success or failure of other goals you promised yourself. 

My intention isn’t to dissuade anyone from pursuing resolutions into the New Year, or setting lofty goals for themselves. Though I had my share a failures with resolutions over the years when it came to my writing, I don’t regret them (except for that time I tried to learn how to play the lute).

Whether you start that novel, memoir or screenplay today, tomorrow or Sunday, trust your instincts and remain resolute in your pursuit of your goal.

And never, ever give up bacon. That’s just silly.

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Are you a writer embarking on the journey of turning their manuscript into a published book or memoir? Easy Writer can help assure your manuscript is tuned up, strapped down, shiny clean and gassed up for the road ahead.  Find out more HERE

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Never turn your back on a turkey

Inquisitive?

Naw, this bird is just sizing you up.

In my early days as a reporter at Siuslaw News, I was once given the assignment of visiting a local turkey farm to write up a special Thanksgiving piece. As it turned out, “special” wasn’t really the right word after becoming the victim of an unprovoked turkey attack. In my defense, there were five of them (technically known as a “gang” of turkeys) involved in the assault, which started because of my proximity to a preening female turkey named Lucy who had apparently snubbed her suitors in favor of me.

Possibly because she was confused by my chicken legs.

Whatever the reason, the male turkeys didn’t take well to this and decided the best way to handle the situation was to join forces and — one by one — take turns flapping their giant wings at my [censored]. Before I knew it, I was being circled by an agitated turkey gang and wishing my editor had assigned me to something less dangerous, like maybe a Blind Axe Throwers convention. 

The reason I was in this situation was because I was a journalist committed to getting the story, even if it meant risking my own safety by putting myself in harm’s way on the front lines just like those reporters in Ukraine, South Africa or Black Friday shopping at Walmart.

OK, fine. So it was a turkey farm.

And yes, I was under the watchful eye of a highly capable turkey wrangler named Dirk: a man confident in his ability to “throw down” against even the largest bird, including, once, a stray ostrich that had gotten confused and wandered over from a nearby farm. As Dirk explained, he knew something was wrong almost immediately when he noticed, “One of the turkeys looked way too big.”

That’s when he swung into action and, drawing on years of wrangling experience, diffused the situation by calmly approaching the bird… gaining its trust… and then suddenly throwing it into a headlock.

“And when I woke up, the ostrich was gone,” said Dirk.

Secure in the knowledge that my back was covered by Dirk the Turkey Wrangler, I had entered the large pen of turkeys in hopes of getting firsthand experience, which I could use to enhance my story (or possibly my obituary, depending on how quickly things deteriorated.) I should mention that I had been made aware of the potential dangers that arise when turkeys adopt a mob mentality, then signed a waver releasing the farm of any liability should I be: Injured or otherwise decapitated.

“Don’t you mean ‘incapacitated?’” I asked.

“Yeah — that too,” said Dirk.

Standing in the middle of the pen a short time later, the turkeys didn’t seem to be paying much attention to me. This prompted me to engage them so I could get a better feel for their personalities. I crouched; bobbed my head; gobbled a little.

“Ummmm, I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” said Dirk.

At that very instant one turkey, Lucy, extended her head above the others.

“Yirp. Yirp. Yirp.”

As I discovered, this is turkey talk for, “Just because we are two completely different species doesn’t mean we can’t be lovers.”

I suddenly realized I had the attention of every turkey in the pen, particularly five who had been strutting around, chests puffed out, trying to win the affections of “Lucy.”

“Too late,” Dirk said helpfully. “Cover your privates!”

“WHAT..?!?”

Next thing I knew, I was surrounded, dust and feathers flying while trying to avoid five aggressive peckers going after my, well…

I’m happy to say I survived, thanks in part to Dirk’s quick thinking, which was to yell “Get out of there — but keep your privates covered!” over and over until I could get back to the gate.

Admittedly, the experience left me shaken. But it hasn’t keep me from having turkey on Thanksgiving. 

Although I’m still wearing an athletic cup…

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This story was originally published in Siuslaw News in 2015. The names have been changed to protect the innocent. Although I should’ve changed mine too, just in case those turkeys are still looking for me…

Are you a writer embarking on the journey of turning their manuscript into a published book or memoir? Easy Writer can help assure your manuscript is tuned up, strapped down, shiny clean and gassed up for the road ahead.  Find out more HERE

Bad hair is better than no hair… uh, right?

Sometimes, a long look in the mirror is more frightening than you expected…

I start each morning by taking a long look in the mirror and reminding myself of the goals I have for the day, whether it be “Take out the trash,” “Be the change you want to see in the world,” “Chew your food before swallowing,” “Don’t run a social media platform into the ground in less than a week” or, as with this morning, “Dude, do something with that HAIR!

In my defense, I am growing it out for our upcoming community Christmas show where I play an Elvis-like elf named (what else?) “Elfis.” I will also be dying my hair black which, while adding a level of believability to my character for those three performances, will undoubtedly fuel rumors that I am suffering from a midlife crisis every day between now and opening night. I briefly considered just wearing my Elfis jumpsuit any time I have to go out but, as my wife thoughtfully explained, “That is a really terrible idea.”

I’ve simply accepted that my hair will remain taking on a life of its own, growing like a nesting tribble on my head for the next three weeks. But as they say, “When life gives you melons, you might have dyslexia.”

Or that other famous saying, “When life gives you lemons, blah, blah blah.” In that spirit, I used the tornado hair to my advantage by utilizing it in one of the writing tip memes I share for my editing service each day.

How can this be a writing tip and not a promotion for Hair Club for Men, you ask? (You know who you are.)

By comparing a bad hair day to a bad writing day! [Insert thunderclap here]

I know what you’re thinking: How can I get these insightful writing memes in my feed every day?!? (Or possibly: What are the names of his social media sites so I can avoid them and any more hair pictures?)

It’s easy! Not the hair, but finding (or avoiding) my pages on Instagram or Facebook. And because I’m a marketing genius despite the growing pressure on my brain caused by follicle tendrils invading my already undersized cranium, you can also find the link to my editing services website — get this! — on my social media pages! For those who have been following me for a while (Don’t worry, it’s our little secret), you can see I’ve come a long way since promoting my first book back in 2013 by offering a bite of my blueberry scone with every purchase.

The corners went fast. Coincidentally, it was also the number of books I sold during that first festival.

What does all of this mean, aside from a potential endorsement from Hair Club for Men? It means every one of you who made it past the initial photo of my frightening Don King hair is now a witness that I’m NOT having a midlife crisis despite my ever-growing mane of (soon to be) jet black hair. When the rumors begin to spread in our small town, I’m giving you a heads-up that you may receive a phone call or DM from a complete stranger in Florence, Oregon asking to verify this.

As an incentive for your help, I still have some scone left over…

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For any writer embarking on the journey of turning their manuscript into a published book or memoir, Easy Writer can help assure your manuscript is tuned up, strapped down, shiny clean and gassed up for the road ahead.  Find out more HERE

For better or worse, this elf is OFF the shelf

“Prissy,” “Elfis” and “Sarge” who, unlike my wife’s character, doesn’t swoon or faint whenever I shake my hips — which is probably a good thing…

It’s been two years since I slipped into my sequined, teddy bear-caped, light-up jumpsuit (not to be confused with a different outfit my wife likes me to wear sometimes) to portray “Elfis,” a recurring character each year in our local production of the Holly Jolly Follies. My favorite reason for playing this Elvis-like elf (besides all the ‘nanner sandwiches and hip wiggling) is that I get to play opposite my amazing wife, who portrays “Prissy,” my sweet and completely lovable girlfriend.

Oh, and whenever I shake my hips, Prissy swoons and faints. This is compared to real life, when my wife just asks if I need some prune juice from the store.

The Follies is part variety show, part inspirational holiday story, woven together through the antics of the elves. Because of the large lapse of time since our last production, I had some concerns about re-discovering my “inner Elvis” although, thanks to working out regularly the last two years, my “outer Elvis” has left the building. Playing this character requires a Tennessee accent mixed with Elvis’ own unique speech cadence. It also includes a lot of hip shaking, hand gestures, Elvis poses and a clean shave.

Not to mention having to wear these shoes…

No arch support, traction or even room for Odor Eaters in these babies…

When we showed up for the cast read-through I was a little nervous, wondering if my inner Elvis would, like riding a bicycle, come naturally despite being dormant for so long.

Or if — also like riding a bicycle — I could ride headfirst into a parked car.

I listened as characters “Ruby,” “Sarge,” “Tinsel” and “Prissy” said their lines in perfect elf delivery leading up to my first words: “Well, if I know anything about Santa, it’s that he likes people to figure things out for themselves. That’s how we learn the most important lessons in life — uh-HUH!” (Swivel hips and strike pose)

Our full compliment of elves reacting to a magically appearing apple, which was similar to the reaction they gave to my magically disappearing beard…

I’m happy to say my inner Elvis (not to be confused with “little Elvis”) popped out like an old friend, complete with Tennessee drawl and the King’s distinctive cadence — albeit a little exaggerated because, well… theater. I’m also happy to say that my hip swiveling didn’t lead to an emergency chiropractor visit or even a slathering of Aspercreme.

We’ll be rehearsing through Thanksgiving before moving into tech week and then opening night Dec. 2 at our community event hub, the Florence Events Center. If you happen to be in Florence, Ore., that weekend (or want tickets to livestream the show from anywhere), I hope you’ll grab a seat and kick off your holiday season with the Follies.

Or at the very least, send your wishes to “break a leg” and prayers that I don’t break a hip.

Although, with all these rehearsals, my hip shaking is getting pretty darned good. In fact, I think my wife — while not exactly swooning and fainting — might’ve actually faintly swooned…

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For any writer embarking on the journey of turning their manuscript into a published book or memoir, Easy Writer can help assure your manuscript is tuned up, strapped down, shiny clean and gassed up for the road ahead. https://easywriternovelmanuscripteditingservices.com

I’m sorry, where were we..?

Sooo where were we..? Let’s see, last time we talked I had dark hair. And was flexible enough to sit headfirst on an ergonomic chair. That’s not so say I couldn’t do it now. It’s just that I’d need to see a chiropractor or, preferably, have one standing by after being dislodged using the jaws of life. I’ve lost some weight, gained a future son-in-law, slowed down life in general while speeding up my road to retirement.

I’m also sporting some ink in tribute to my friend Jason, shaved my beard, celebrated five more wonderful years with my amazing wife, finally got a Harley, survived a pandemic…

Let’s see… what else… what else…

I know I’m forgetting something…

OH YA! I retired from the Siuslaw News a little over a year ago.

It’s hard to believe my first blog post was 10 years ago last January — and equally hard to believe my last post was 5 YEARS ago this past June. Since then, there are folks who began following this blog who haven’t seen a new post since I was in a red thong. That seems particularly cruel. Sort of like witnessing something horrible — like a Tofurkey dinner — moments before losing your sight. I’m sure somewhere out there is a class-action lawsuit waiting for me…

From: Bill Schlependorf, Attorney at Law

Have you lost your sight since seeing this man in a red thong? Do you suffer from any of the following: Nightmares, anxiety, vomiting, loss of appetite, memory loss, diarrhea, acid reflux or erectile dysfunction (we’ve included those last three just to cover all the bases.) Then you may be entitled to monetary compensation! Or at least a bag of Flaming Hot Cheetos for your pain and suffering…

So what brings me back (fully clothed)? I think I should probably explain why I left in the first place. It wasn’t you; it was me. After becoming editor-in-chief at our local newspaper in 2016, I felt it was important that I give myself completely to the position. I had a responsibility to focus on what was happening in our community and to assure our paper was a non-biased voice offering honest, neutral truth during a time politics was creating division like I’d never seen before. To do that meant putting aside a part of myself in order to be taken seriously in the editor’s seat. It’s hard to do that while writing a syndicated humor column that talks about things like glow-in-the-dark mice and how the Oscar Meyer Weiner Mobile left me feeling inadequate.

I made the decision to end my column and, ultimately, put the blog on hiatus. I had always intended to come back; I just wasn’t sure when. In the meantime, I served as editor for five years during a turbulent period that included the 2018 mid-term elections, 2020 presidential election and the pandemic. I’m proud to say our coverage won multiple awards, including “Best Editorial” in 2020. In May of 2021, after 23 years at Siuslaw News, it was time for a change and to get back to that part of myself that I’d put aside. I worked as a mail carrier the past year (I was the one in the vehicle with the squeaky brakes) while I decompressed from journalism and figured out what came next.

On Sept. 30, I left the postal service to get back to my writing roots by — how else? — drinking heavily and taking up smoking!

Ok, not really. I launched my own editing business: Easy Writer Novel & Manuscript Editing Services.

Establishing this business was always going to be my end game once I fully retired. But then I thought: Why wait? I can start my own business and put our financial future in jeopardy RIGHT NOW!

Seriously though, ever since I began posting my weekly Nickel’s Worth on Writing and published my book offering writing tips and inspiration, I’ve wanted to move in the direction of being able to help other writers full time with everything from basic line editing and proofing, to manuscript critique and online coaching. Easy Writer is the culmination of 23 years as a writer, journalist, syndicated columnist and editor, allowing me to take what I’ve learned over the past two decades and share it with other writers. And just like Hair Club for Men, “I’m not just the founder — I’m a client!” Which is to say, while I’m offering advice and direction, I’m also back in the trenches working on my third novel.

All this being said, I just want to thank everyone — readers of this blog, fellow bloggers, the person who messaged me asking “WTF is up with your blog, dude?” — for their support and patience while I seemingly entered a vortex five years ago before returning like Steve Rogers in the last “Avengers” movie with grey hair, age lines and a whole other life lived in the meantime.

I have no idea who of the 8,000 or so people who followed this blog are still doing so. If you are, I hope you’ll drop me a line in the comments. If you’re not, I completely understand and will write something for you.

Regardless, it’s nice to be back at the keyboard and this blog, moving onto the next chapter with you. I promise it’ll be a page-turner…

— Ned

October 29, 2022 (Sheesh! Really?!?)

It’s been two years since I wore a thong; here’s why

imageWe all have skeletons in our closet. Mine just happens to be wearing a red thong.

Two years ago this Friday, hundreds of people tragically lost their eyesight as a result seeing me in a red thong for my role in “The Nedinator,” a 6-minute movie spoof that premiered in our local theater the same night as “The Terminator: Genysis.”

The movie was heralded by critics as “Ned’s best 6-minute performance.”

And my wife agrees.

For anyone who started following this blog since then, or who has wondered why there are so many references in the comments section about my red thong, rest assured you haven’t stumbled into a hive a kinky people. This is where it started. And, thanks to a court order siting “codes of human decency,” also where it ended.

The story behind the mini-movie is a long one, and is just as drama-filled as any Hollywood production — except with less silicone, money, sex, tantrums, Perrier, etc.

So, to celebrate the one-year anniversary…

Actually, “celebrate” might be a bit strong. How about “commemorate?” Like when there’s a tragedy?  Continue reading It’s been two years since I wore a thong; here’s why

Why a good ergonomic chair comes with a chiropractor

A year ago today I was attacked by an ergonomic chair in our office. The following surveillance photos are proof of how dangerous these chairs can be. Especially if you don’t actually know how to sit in one… 

imageBeing a journalist, I am trained to notice the most subtle signs of something amiss.

A hesitant glance.

A bead of sweat.

A chair that appears to be built backwards.

So, as I walked through our composition department this morning on my way to the news room, I immediately noticed that Peggy’s standard-issue office chair had been replaced with a broken piece of furniture. Who would do this to poor Peggy with the lower back problems? Why not replace her desk with a TV tray while you’re at it? Maybe we could move the copy machine on top of a book shelf so she has to use a ladder!

Poor, poor Peggy.

Then I remembered her mentioning she was getting a new “ergonomic” chair. Using the deductive skills I’ve developed over 16 years as a journalist,  I came to the following conclusion:

This must be her new chair.

I stared at it for a moment, trying to picture how one would ergonomically sit in it. I decided there was only one way to find out — a process that was captured by one of our office’s surveillence cameras…  Continue reading Why a good ergonomic chair comes with a chiropractor

Things I wish I didn’t overhear at the carnival

imageAs I’ve mentioned, during our town’s annual spring Rhododendron Festival, the carnival sets up across the street from our home.

Literally.

If it were any closer, I could high-five everyone on the tilt-a-whirl without leaving the couch.  So each night after work, I walk two blocks home and pass through the carnival, enjoying the fact that the sound of screaming teenagers — for once — isn’t coming from any of mine. I take time to watch the interactions of people, the motion of the rides, the flashing lights, and take in the carnival-specific aroma of frying corn dogs and sweet cotton candy mixed with freshly spewed vomit from the squirrel cages.

Being a writer, this is a target-rich environment of atmosphere, character and dialogue that I store in my memory to either draw from later or, as in the case of what I’m about to share with you, eventually discuss with my psychiatrist or lawyer.

For example…  Continue reading Things I wish I didn’t overhear at the carnival

My commencement speech (that no one asked for)

imageTo the Class of 2017, faculty members, parents, dignitaries, mis-informed wedding crashers, and Visa/MasterCard representatives who have gathered here today:

I am honored to have the opportunity to address this group of graduating seniors and impart the wisdom I have gained since my own graduation from high school nearly 150 years ago.

Standing before you today, I see the anticipation on your faces as each of you comes to realize what sharing my wisdom with you means: Possibly the shortest commencement speech in school history.

Before long, you will step forward and receive the culmination of 12 — possibly 14 — years of education. You will shake hands with some of those who have helped guide you to this milestone. And unless your last name begins with a “Z,” you will return to your seat as the rest your classmates step forward to receive their diplomas. That’s when you will silently think to yourself, “I really shouldn’t have had that second bottle of Mountain Dew.”  Continue reading My commencement speech (that no one asked for)

My favorite teacher? The one who flunked me

By Ned Hickson, editor/Siuslaw News

Admittedly, I had a bit of a crush on my College Prep English teacher, Mrs. Fillers, who was young, inventive and extremely encouraging to the only freshman in her class of 25 juniors and seniors.

The first semester was a breeze as she allowed us to explore creative writing with few boundaries. Each week, along with our reading assignments, we were given a new list of 20 vocabulary words — usually with a theme — that we were required to use in a story. Most of my classmates crammed as many of those words into a single sentence as they could (The decrepit, cantankerous, ill-tempered man raised his wrinkled, weathered, sallow fist in a show of furious and frustrated rage over losing his car keys…”)

I, on the other hand, fleshed out 15 to 20 pages of handwritten storyline, usually with the last five to six pages devoid of vocabulary words.

I got good grades but, as you can probably imagine, was rarely asked to read my stories in class due to the time constraints of a 45-minute period.

Continue reading My favorite teacher? The one who flunked me