Writers need tough skin but shouldn’t forget to moisturize

image Welcome to a free, unsolicited (perhaps even unwanted) excerpt from my latest book, “Pearls of Writing Wisdom: From 16 shucking years as a columnist,” a book Publishers Monthly has called, “The last word in writing advice. Or so we hope.” And what 50 Shades author E.L. James has refered to as “The inspiration for most of my safe words.”

But enough accolades!

This excerpt was originally inspired by a good blogging friend who, like many of my friends, has asked to remain anonymous. So we’ll just call her Michelle, a talented writer who emailed me after experiencing her first truly negative response to something she posted.

The reader in question was somewhat offended by what was essentilly a lighthearted post about accidentally being seen naked by a stranger. I felt Michelle’s approach was tasteful and humorous. Regardless, the reader’s response caught her off guard and caused her to momentarily question her judgement as a writer — something that readers of this blog question each day. Continue reading

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Reading my book is like having that first talk about sex

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Canadian humorist and screenwriter Randall Willis reacts to my “Pearls of Writing Wisdom.” Possibly after eating too much poutine…

When I saw the notification on Twitter that Randall Willis had posted a review of my new book, it was the first time in a while that I’d felt nervous about my writing. Not so much because he’s Canadian. Or because he’s a hilarious, award-winning writer and screenwriter. And not even because he knows a lot of guys who play professional hockey and carries a hockey stick in the trunk of his car “just for emergencies.”

Unlike my first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, which was a collection of newspaper columns I’d published over the last 16 years, Pearls of Writing Wisdom: From 16 shucking years as a columnist is more personal because it’s written for writers. Seeing my book in the hands of other writers I know and admire made me nervous in the same way I’d imagine it must feel to host The Oscars; standing in front of an audience of talented peers and hoping to be worthy of their time and attention. Except in this case there’s not even an open bar to loosen things up first.

At least I don’t have Stephen King staring me down from the audience.  Continue reading

Marketing genius: Here’s a chapter that’s NOT actually in my book

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Available late September, possibly sooner as an eBook. Or even SOONER if you want me to read it to you over the phone…

As some of you may know (and by “some” of you, I mean my publisher) I’ve been working on my manuscript, Pearls of Writing Wisdom: From 16 shucking years as a columnist, for the last few weeks.

I am now on the final chapter, which will be done tomorrow, depending on what time of day I decide to start drinking.

Ha! Ha! Just kidding! There’s no need to pick a time.

Anyway, this book is particularly special to me because, if you are a writer (or fear you might be one), I wrote this book for you. Think of it as the conversation we’d have about writing if we were sharing a cold beer. We’d talk about technique, style, personal experience and hopes. We’d encourage each other and share a few laughs. We might even get a little rowdy and start using air quotation marks.

In the end, we’d feel inspired about our love of writing.  Continue reading

Because sometimes, breaking into print requires a chainsaw

Because we all need a friend with a chainsaw

We all need a friend with a chainsaw

We all make mistakes…

Trimming your eye brows when you have a hangover.

Trying to bathe your cat without a tourniquet handy.

Going to a Kanye West concert.

Or not knowing Michelle Terry and her blog Lipstick and Laundry.

While there’s nothing I can do to erase the physical and/or emotional pain you may be carrying from those first three mistakes, there IS something you can do about that last one by joining me, Mandi Castle, Kati Cross, Karen Malena, Carrie Ruben, Beth Teliho and Charissa Stastny at Lipstick and Laundry today, where Michelle is hosting a writers’ panel offering tips on how to get punished.

Oops! I mean published!

Many of you probably know a few — if not all — of the authors on this panel, and may even own their books. Mandi’s Dear Stephanie and Beth’s The Order of Seven are part of my own book collection, and are both really terrific reads despite not having any pictures.  Continue reading

How I got started as a columnist (or, Why the suicide rate among editors has risen)

imageOver the last several weeks I’ve had a lot of bloggers asking how I got started as a columnist. Perhaps it’s because of the new year and resolutions made by writers to persue their goals of publication. Or perhaps they have been drinking and, in a moment of weakness, stumbled onto my blog. Which might explain why most of the messages I received asking for advice went something like this:

“Are you drunk or sober when you write? And how do I get started?”

Because I’m assuming they already know how to get started drinking, I thought I’d share the process I went through in becoming a syndicated columnist. Because this is a PG-rated site, I will leave out the extreme nudity, profanity and gratutitous violence that accompanied my rise to the somewhat moderately wellknown columnist (within a seven-mile radius) that you see today.

Let me begin by saying that 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.  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 Nickel’s Worth on Writing, 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 National Health Care Plan. Continue reading

For writers, word selection is a lot like natural selection

image Several weeks ago in my Nickel’s Worth on Writing, 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, and my feelings, let’s just assume everyone remembers those tools and, in a series of uncontrollable outbursts, begin shouting:

TIMING! TRUTHFULNESS!

and…

and…

CUERVO!

No, the third tool is not Cuervo. It’s RELATIVITY. Although 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

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

When school’s out, don’t let your writing go with it

image As I scrolled through my Facebook this morning and no less than 10 “hilarious” cat videos that made me appreciate my own cat’s general indifference to everything, I came across a post from talented writer, blogger, wife, mother of three and Sisterwives member Gretchen Weber Kelly. She mentioned how she has come to the realization she can’t write with her kids at home.

Please join me in attempting to appear utterly shocked by this admission.

OK, we can all stop because she’s not buying it.

With summer vacation less than 10 weeks away for many schools… There! THAT’S the face we were looking for!… Gretchen was asking for suggestions, advice, the name of a harmless sleep aid that could induce a three-month hibernation period for her children, or any tips for maintaining her writing momentum through the summer while her kids are at home. Her question made me think of a Nickel’s Worth on Writing post from a while back regarding the importance of establishng a writing routine, no matter what that routine is.

When I first started writing in an actual newsroom, my routine consisted of sitting at my desk, staring blankly at the screen and banging on my keys as quickly as possible until it was time to go home, where I would do my actual writing.

Why did I do this? Continue reading

Seven seconds in a writer’s life

As you might expect, being a writer is a life of excitement. How much excitement? Not to brag, but I think this seven-second video will give you some indication of the kind of pandemonium that breaks out when I arrive for a book signing. This was the scene yesterday as I entered Cottage Grove, Ore.

Indeed, this is when you know you have finally arrived as a writer.

Who cares if no one else knows? I mean besides the crickets and the guy I asked for directions…