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

My writing wisdom featured in new documentary (Obviously it’s a short)

Alan King

Writer, blogger and filmmaker Alan W. King

Several weeks ago, blogger and filmmaker Alan W. King of Humble Bear Production contacted me about working together on a documentary featuring the writing process. After discussing the insights I’ve gained from 16 years as a humor columnist, he suggested that a “mini” documentary could probably capture all of my writing wisdom.

So over the last week, Alan has been editing my rambling answers to his questions — on everything from how I got started as a columnist, to what happens when a column doesn’t resonate with readers — into a 10-minute documentary.

To be honest, considering what he had to work with, I anticipated something which, at best, could be heralded by critics as:

“Wildly Cohesive!”
“Thoroughly Visual!”
“Masterfully hyperlinked!”

Instead, Alan has created a thoughtful and entertaining glimpse into my writing process that demonstrates how, in the hands of someone with his talent and creativity, something mediocre can be transformed into a memorable and inspiring piece. It was a true privilege being a part of this collaboration, which has left me appreciative and deeply humbled. 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

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

It’s my 500th post but I swear: I don’t feel a day over 499 posts

Where the magic happens. Or so I keep telling my editor...

Where the magic happens. Or so I keep telling my editor…

In addition to the wild excitement my weekly Nickel’s Worth on Writing usually generates… (See? Did you feel that?) … this week’s NWOW has the added distinction of being [cue pocket drum machine] my 500th post!

WHOA LADIES! Keep those tops ON!

You too, sir.

Since pushing the “publish” button on my first post about two years ago, more than 62,000 people have stopped in at some point — mostly while Google searching “monkey butts” or “Cheeto Clog” — and 5,250 of you decided to stay. I am very thankful for that and a little surprised, especially considering there are no Cheeto-clogged monkey butts anywhere on this blog. I’ve looked. And so has PETA.

Also over that same period, I’ve shared more than 50 weekly acorns of NWOW writing insights gathered through 15 years as a newspaper columnist tending the tree of literary wisdom — all of which I am currently squirreling away into an eBook that Publisher’s Digest has already predicted will be “…writing tips that are nuts.” Continue reading

Writing tips that will help you jump off the deep end

image Welcome to a special “Vacation Edition” of Ned’s Nickel’s Worth on Writing, which is just like any other edition of my NWOW, except that I’m holding a margarita in one hand. Sadly, this has no effect on my typing speed whatsoever. As I mentioned last week, I am spending part of my vacation sifting through two years of NWOW writing advice and organizing it into an eBook. And when I say “part of my vacation,” I mean the part that doesn’t include sleeping late, drinking margaritas, taking naps, having more margaritas and then falling asleep. But I promise: between 2:30 and 2:45 p.m. each day, I am diligently working on what I’m hoping will be a writer’s survival guide that offers writing insights as well as inspiration.

Then again, that could be the tequila talking.

In the meantime, I’ve hand-picked a couple of past NWOWs for the next two Fridays while I work on the book, which I plan to finish before my vacation ends next weekend. Or after I wake up from my next nap, whichever comes first… Continue reading