Life lesson learned from a train car

First, let me put your fears to rest; I’m not living in an abandoned train car. I’ve been passing this graffitied relic for quite some time on my travels between our home in Florence (Oregon) and Cottage Grove (still in Oregon), shuffling between newspapers for which I was once editor. As I mentioned a few posts — and yikes, months — ago, I left journalism after 23 years back in 2021. For the next year-and-a-half, I worked as a mail carrier with the U.S. Postal Service (Motto: Bringing your Amazon packages… Oh, and the mail!). But this past October, I left the USPS after a year of 6-day, 70-hour-plus workweeks with no end in sight. Time with my family had been nearly non-existent and, after coming home one day and finding our dog had been given my spot on the couch, I knew it was time to make a change.

The dog had to go.

Just kidding.

We got a cat and now no one can sit on the couch.

Ok, not really. My end game had always been a simple one: Eventually retire and spend my days helping other writers with their manuscripts, short stories, memoirs, etc., IN BETWEEN time spent smooching my wife, making key lime pies, traveling in a fifth-wheel together and making sure the dog doesn’t get my spot on the couch again.

So, this past October, I put all of that in motion by throwing caution to the wind (trust me, it gets very windy in Oregon) and establishing Easy Writer Editing Services, which has been one of the most rewarding, terrifying, freeing, stressful and ultimately best decisions I’ve made since not becoming a vegetarian.

Which brings us to that train.

Something I’ve discovered about myself is that I’m not very good at having freedom. It’s not that I waste time or don’t have self-discipline. It’s actually the complete opposite. After more than 20 years as a journalist and editor, and 10 years before that as a fine-dining chef, I don’t know how to NOT be busy.

Every day.

All day.

And when I’m not, I feel guilty.

If I don’t fill my day with goals, projects and things that I can mark off and point to at the end, I feel I’ve somehow failed — or haven’t truly earned the opportunity I’ve been given to follow my dream. While getting my business off the ground, I’ve picked up extra work painting a house’s exterior, a house’s interior, an office (coming up) and, most recently, helping the two newspapers I once worked at transition to smaller editorial staffs following major budget cuts this past January.

Though I was a little nervous being on a ladder that high, I was able to enlist a supervisor who could dial 911 with her hooves…

Oh, and one day, I was so desperate to add something to my to-do list I decided to shave my beard!

I’ve since grown my beard back because, hey! I could include that as another project!

Yesterday, on my way back to Florence from Cottage Grove, I saw that train car again — something I’ve been wanting to stop and admire for years. My first instinct was:

“You don’t have TIME! It’s only 2:30 and you can still post something on social media! Or find another house to paint! Or shave again! Something, ANYTHING!

So I passed it by.

Then gritted my teeth and flipped a U-turn (it was mostly legal).

I pulled up next to it and came to a stop, still fighting my instinctive reservations as I stepped out and stiffly walked toward the train car like a zombie forcing its legs to cooperate. But the closer I got, the easier it became. I was completely enthralled with the surreal mixture of graffiti art, rusting metal and rotting wood, all framed on this canvas brushed by time and the elements. I spent a good hour taking it all in, shooting some photos and crawling around in this abandoned sculpture-in-progress.

It suddenly hit me that I needed to give myself permission to slow down. As much as I’ve preached to our kids that every experience is worthwhile and an opportunity to grow, I had failed to follow my own advice. My fear of “failure” entering this new chapter in my life was causing me to fill it with tasks rather than experiences. I was trying so hard to stay busy — and therefore, in my mind, successful — that I was missing the point of living my dream.

Looking at that train car reminded me: What made it so interesting and inspiring wasn’t the end result but rather the slow and steady process of time that created it.

I need to be more like that train car, I thought.

I need to give myself permission to embrace and experience the slow and steady process of realizing my dream — rather than focusing solely on achieving the end result. It’s not about making a 180 and throwing everything to the wind (as I mentioned, it gets windy as hell here). But I’ve begun to understand that staying inspired is just as important as staying on task, and that making time for creativity should go hand-in-hand with the time allotted for productivity.

It’s still not going to be easy; it’s going to require some re-wiring and regular gut checks each day.

OK, fine. Each hour.

But thanks to that abandoned train car, I’m finally on board.

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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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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

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

On your marks… get set… NaNoWriMo!

Let’s be honest: No one is going to read this.

Why?

Because everyone is busy writing their novel during Nation Novel Writing Month. Who has time to read my blog when they have 40,999 words remaining in their 50,000-word manuscript to finish by Nov. 30! Actually, a lot of writers are feeling the pressure to finish their manuscripts before Nov. 24 because anything can happen once Thanksgiving Day arrives.

No one wants to take the chance of being within 500 words of finishing their manuscript, only to have it consumed in a sudden turkey flashover thanks to the combustable nature of aunt Renee’s new whiskey stuffing recipe. And even supposing a writer and their manuscript make it through the holiday unscathed, there’s still Black Friday to get through. Will they make it back safely? Will they make it back without emotional scarring? Will they make it back at ALL? If not, will their family be taken care of? 

Or more importantly, will there be a ghost writer available to finish their manuscript in before Nov. 30?!? 

Even for writers who have no plan to venture out from their bunker for anything other retrieving their Door Dash delivery from the porch, there’s still the effects of turkey tryptophan to deal with. Those reserves will be coursing through your veins and causing extreme drowsiness for as many as three days! And that’s even if you aren’t watching bowling on TV!

But we’re having Tofurky, so I won’t have to worry about getting sleepy!

That may be true (for which I am very sorry). But keep in mind you can only spend so much time writing while on the commode.

We all know there’s nothing quite like staring at a blank page and knowing that, within 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.

As NaNoWriMo kicks off today, remember: Like any race worth running, it will seems toughest right before the finish line. That’s when your legs feel like they have small children attached. And who knows? That may actually be true in some cases, especially if you write from home between laundry loads.

The fact that you’ve made the commitment is proof that no amount of tryptophan, an exploding turkey or even Black Friday is going to keep you from clearing the final hurdle by midnight Nov. 30.

On behalf of those of us who aren’t actually participating in NaNoWriMo (It’s official; we took a vote), we’d just like to offer our support and cheer everyone on as they begin this month-long writing marathon.

Be proud! Pat yourself on the back! Reflect on your achievements!

But NOT NOW! There’s no time!

Besides, that fourth cup of coffee is probably offering a different kind of inspiration right about now…

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You’d never embark on a journey without making sure your ride is road-ready. The same goes for any writer embarking on the journey of turning their manuscript into a published book or memoir. Easy Writer is your mechanic, confidant, riding partner and navigator, making sure 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?!?)

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

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 Writers need tough skin but shouldn’t forget to moisturize

Trust, partnership with you are worth striving for

My first editorial of 2017, which appeared in our Jan. 4 issue of Siuslaw News, was inspired by an unanticipated trip through our local history while sorting through old newspapers — and an opportunity to underscore the importance of trust and integrity in journalism…

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January 4, 2017

imageI spent part of my New Year’s weekend here in the newsroom, tackling a re-organization project of files and materials that have been staring at me for nearly a decade — the gaze of which grew stronger after becoming editor in September.

The project entailed sifting through boxes of old newspaper issues, special publications, documents, journalistic guidelines and historic reference materials that had been collecting along a wall of shelves in our newsroom since the late 1990s.

With 2017 looming, it seemed like the perfect time to sort through the past in order to benefit our newsroom’s future. Coincidentally, it also got me out of washing the dog, but you didn’t read that here.  Continue reading Trust, partnership with you are worth striving for

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

imageNo doubt, many of you have embarked on your New Year’s resolutions:

“I’m going to lose weight!”
“I’m going to drink less!”
“I’m going to change careers!”
“I’m going to stop referring to myself 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, I think it raises a good point: I’m fortunate enough to write full-time for a newspaper, so who am I to tell you not to set lofty goals for yourself when I’m living the dream my publisher coincidentally calls her nightmare? Continue reading Exciting tips on how to fail at your New Year’s writing resolutions!