Andi Cumbo - Writer, Editor, Online Writing Courses, Classes & Lessons

April 24, 2014
by Andi
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On Porch, Story, Memory

Moon on the porch thumps his tail when I climb

the stairs.

– from “Moon on the Porch” by Eloise Klein Healy

4353020177_985af183c1Say “porch.” Say it heavy with O and R. Say it as if it has two syllables and two round Os.  Say it without the R and make it more like a dog than ever.  Say it, and I see.

I see a mountain cabin, grayed-off with age.  Rocks or their new cousin cinderblocks holding up the corners.  I see plank steps, and always a rocking chair. The pitch of a slanted roof hanging above. Sometimes an old washing machine.

A steep driveway runs up beside the place – gravel long washed to only the heaviest crumble.  Two windows front the house behind, and inside, I know there’s a potbelly stove.

Say “porch,” and I see a porch I have never visited, not even with all my mountain living.  Certainly, never a porch I’ve owned or lived behind.  Not even now, in this farmhouse set against a mountain.

Say “porch” and I see the stories I have sucked in through my nostrils like so much sweet, tender pipe smoke.  From  Lick Creek and Big Stone Gap and the legends of the Appalachian places I cling to as home.

Stories shape memories. Build archetypes. Form what it is to be “porch” for me. Resonate, laden, setting and home.

You may see a Los Angeles bungalow, all Craftsmen peaks and roofs behind the steady perch of stuccoed pillars.  Or maybe the stoop of a suburban Texas neighborhood, hanging baskets and patio pavers.

These images shaped by your stories or the ones you’ve let lick your mind until they become a part of the wrinkles in your mind.

A single word – molded by millions of stories – the hound dog of memory and fiction – and the beautiful, grayed-off space in between.

What words conjure up specific memories for you? 


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April 23, 2014
by Andi

Can Two People Really Write a Book Together? – A Guest Post by Ed Cyzewski

She sent the follow up email about six months after our initial conversation. The project she described still appealed to me. In fact, there was a part of me that wondered how I could say “no” to working with her on this project. I had plenty of co-authoring experience, and I wanted to see this project become successful.

Something didn’t sit right.

I asked for a few weeks to think things through. I was close to jumping in, but I also didn’t want to hold this project back in any way.

Did it make financial sense?

Would my own book releases slow me down?

Would the birth of our second son put too much of a strain on my time?Unfollowers by Derek Cooper and Ed Cyzewski

I finally found the answer in a rant about translating some wayward Greek phrases in my upcoming book A Christian Survival Guide.

As I considered different theories, perspectives, and arguments for translating the Greek phrase and all of the theological permutations, I stomped into the kitchen and ranted to my wife about how much I really didn’t care.

“I’m a big picture thinker. I write books. I don’t bury my nose in research for hours just to write a paragraph. I want to tell the stories, not labor over minutiae!”

What did I really want?

I wanted a co-author, but a co-author different from myself. I’m the big picture writer with the ideas and stories, and my two latest books were co-written with academic experts. They specialize in research and precision.

As I considered that writing project my friend had emailed about, I saw the project in sharp focus once I considered my rant. We were both big picture storytellers—creatives with ideas. Somebody would have to do the heavy lifting for the research, and since this was her project, she really needed someone who wasn’t me as a co-author.

My Co-Authoring Story

There are many different kinds of co-authors out there, and there are plenty of co-authoring processes. Heck, when my friend Derek Cooper and I set out to work on books together, we took turns writing chapters for our first co-written book Hazardous. For Unfollowers we divided the work between researching (Derek) and writing (me).  Derek provided outlines and background information, while I revised the outlines, added introductions and conclusions, and wrote each chapter based on his notes.

The process wasn’t all that difficult since we both had clearly defined roles. I did my best to incorporate his ideas while ensuring that the book flowed well. The editing process was especially effective since we both had several opportunities to make revisions.

By the time our editor saw the manuscript, he hardly changed a thing. Never underestimate the effectiveness of two sets of eyes.

However, that isn’t the only way to write a book with a co-author. In fact, the process for my other new book, The Good News of Revelation, is about as different as it gets. For this project I teamed up with my former professor Dr. Larry Helyer to write a hybrid book that combined fiction and nonfiction.

We divided the book into short stories (fiction) and commentary. I wrote the short stories at the start of each chapter, while Larry wrote the commentary. We also reviewed each other’s work, and I did my best to keep the commentary sections as accessible as possible.The Good News of Revelation by Larry Heyler and Ed Cyzewski

While I generally recommend a co-authoring arrangement like the one that Derek and I used for Unfollowers, using a clearly defined division of labor, a genre-mixing book like The Good News of Revelation proved a good exception to the rule.

The Rules of Co-Authoring Books

Here are a few things I’ve learned after co-authoring three books:

Complementary Expertise: The most important part of co-authoring is working with your strengths—you really don’t want to duplicate each other’s work. It will be best if you have complementary strengths so that you can each provide expertise in different areas. That will pretty much keep the process as conflict-free as possible since the person with the most experience should give the final word.

Trust: With both of my books, I had a long history with both Larry and Derek, stretching back to 2000 with Larry and 2002 with Derek. We had a high level of trust and experience with each other. Almost every big question for our projects was resolved with a short email.

Define a Point Person: Since I thought of and wrote the proposal for each book project, I also served as the primary contact and point person. This saved my co-authors from a bunch of unnecessary emails, and since we had a high level of trust, I just had to touch base over the really big questions. I didn’t always get this right, but it worked out way more often than not.

Consider the Money: If there are two authors, you’ll have to split your advance and your royalties. Publishers won’t double their payments for a co-author. If you’re on a tight budget, this could be a major drawback. While a co-author could make a book more marketable and appealing, he/she may also make the project less sustainable if you’re counting on that advance. As a general rule, authors don’t make much money, if any, on books, so you probably shouldn’t be in the publishing business in the first place if you’re counting on an epic advance to keep you afloat every year.

Co-Authors Expand Your Network: While co-authors can add to the timeline of writing a book, they can double your ability to network and make marketing connections. In fact, the pay off for the extra time that co-authoring demands for publication comes when you have to start marketing. There’s nothing more exhausting that trying to think of new ways to keep your book relevant week in, week out. Another person can relieve a lot of pressure and add to the exposure of your book.


What has your experience been with co-authoring?

Learn more about my two co-authored books:

The Good News of Revelation

Unfollowers: Unlikely Lessons on Faith from Those who Doubted Jesus


Ed Cyzewski is the author of A Christian Survival Guide: A Lifeline for Faith and Growth (July 2014) and several co-authored books. He is a freelance writer and work from home dad in Columbus, OH. He writes at Find him on Twitter: @edcyzewski and get two FREE ebooks when you join his monthly e-newsletter.

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April 22, 2014
by Andi

A Writer’s Life Is No Idyll

When I was teaching full-time, I used to imagine what it was like to “be a writer.” I had some image of being like Annie Dillard and taking long walks for hours – staring quietly at weasels and tadpole pools – and then returning to my second-story office with a view of an apple orchard and the quiet brush of wind on my cheek.  (It was always spring or fall in my imagination.)  It sounded so idyllic, and that idyll kept me from writing because I kept thinking “when.”

If you want to write, write

Annie Dillard’s Writing View?

The idyll is a lie.  Want proof? Take a look at this article I wrote about my typical “writer’s day” for Scratch Magazine.

It’s hard to know this is a lie, though, when you’re working 40 hours and have a family and other obligations that keep you busy.  It’s easy to believe the lie because, well, it’s easy to also play martyr – as I did – by saying “if I only had more time.”

Almost every day, I hear a writer say something like:

  • I can’t write every day because I have young children.
  • I can’t read a lot because I work full-time and have a family.
  • It’s just not going to be possible for me to write until I retire.

To each of those things I say, LIES!

People with young children write all the time – maybe not for long sessions – but they do write every day. I know some of those people.  People who work full-time and have families read hundreds of books a year. I know those people, too.  People who work also write while they work; I AM one of those people.

As long as we as writers believe that the only way we’re going to be able to excel at what we do is if we get to ONLY WRITE our creative work, we’re not going to do it, and we’re also going to starve because, well, the writing life doesn’t pay the bills for most of us.

I work full-time – in fact, I work more than full-time – 10-12 hours a day.  Of that time, maybe 2 hours is spent on my creative work. The rest of my time goes to teaching workshops, editing work for clients, managing projects for the two companies I work with, and building my own business.  Yes, everyone of those things is related to writing, and I love it.  But it’s work – hard work. And still, I have written over 55,000 words in less than 2 months, and I read 2-3 books a week.

So let’s just quit pretending that somehow people who write “full-time” and don’t work “regular jobs” don’t really get how hard it is to be a writer and have obligations because we do – we have all those obligations and no vacation days. 

The fact of the matter is that if we want to write, we will find the time to do it.  If we don’t, we’ll make excuses about work and family and other obligations.

If you want to write, write.  Get up early. Stay up late. Sacrifice TV or Saturday afternoon baseball.  You may have to give up something, but then, who doesn’t give up something to live our passions?

The question is, then, do you want to write? If so, how are you going to make that happen right now with your life as it is today because, well, tomorrow makes no promises? 


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April 21, 2014
by Andi
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Stories Matter

“How in the world is this going to make any difference, Mom?  How does any of this matter?” The tears came then, pouring on her cheeks. “It doesn’t make anything better for Moses or Jim.  It doesn’t bring Millie back.  It’s just a bunch of stories, and stories don’t matter.” — Mary Steele (from my novel in progress)

Stories MatterI tell myself what Mary said above all the time.  Not in some bold way but in the subtle scolding I give myself about how much time I spend by myself, tapping on a plastic tray.  Shouldn’t I be out there protesting and advocating for equity in the workplace?  Isn’t there a homeless woman who I could coach on writing a good resume? Isn’t there something more hands-on I could do rather than tucking myself into this tiny office and writing stories that most people will never even read?

Because this is all really useless, right? 

But then, I read what P wrote in a note that hangs above my desk:

What you do is important for people who are here and to those who have passed.

And I remember that I know this – I know the way stories have changed who I am and what I know and believe in the deepest way, how they trip against and knock down prejudices and lies, how they spin me to golden hope when the world seems shadowed forever.


We all sat around the firepit on Saturday and did that thing that happens around fires a lot – the great story swap.  Somehow we got on a close encounters with nature theme, and Dan talked about the cockroach crawling against his belly as he camped one night; Dad told the tale of the beer-drinking bear who walked away from their campsite in Yellowstone, dropping an empty can every few feet; Jennifer told us how a camping trip had begun with a flooded tent and obnoxious, racist neighbors and ended with a lesson in perspective when everyone else had slept in a home with bedbugs; and Alex, Alex laughed so hard she doubled over.

By the end of the night, the warp and weft of stories had tied us all together. Memories forever.


It can be hard for us to believe that, as writers, our work matters. I think this is why so many of us don’t make time to do it regularly – we’ve convinced ourselves it doesn’t matter.

So today, here, let me tell you in no uncertain terms – your stories matter.  If you are a writer, if somewhere deep in the center of who you are you find that the way the world makes sense is in language, then we need what you – and you alone – have to say. 

If you can’t hear the truth of that fact from me or yourself, imagine the most loving, honest, supportive person you know speaking those words to you.  Listen long.

When I did that this morning, I heard my mom say, in the voice of Mary Steele’s mom:

“It matters a great deal to be remembered.  So much.”

Mary felt like what her mom said was true. S She felt the truth in the same place she felt the assurance that her mom would always love her, no matter what she did.  She didm’t understand it, but she felt it.  And when she did, it felt someone had just lifted a backpack full of boulders from her shoulder.

The weight of futility had been heavy.

What you do, what we do is not futile.  Don’t ever forget that.

Do you ever feel like your writing is futile?  If so, how do you combat that feeling?

I’m in the midst of a big campaign to promote my book The Slaves Have Names.  My goal is to get 100 people to sign up and allow me to use their social media voice for one big blast to spread the word about the crucial role that enslaved people have in American History.  Right now, I have 36 supporters, so I still need 64 more people to sign up. If you would be willing to help me spread the word, please follow this link – – and connect your social media profiles.  Thank you so much.

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April 19, 2014
by Andi

Share Good Stories; Do Interesting Things – A Writers Write Interview with Jim Woods and Erik Fisher

I met both Jim Woods and Eric Fisher- as I meet most writers nowadays, online first.  Then, I hung out with them in Nashville a while back.  We talked writing and dreaming and cluttered up a hotel bar with our chatter.  Good times.  Now, they’ve co-authored a book, and I’m thrilled to have them on the blog today. 

1. Tell me about your latest project.

Jim: Our latest project is a book called Ready Aim Fire! It is a book that takes you step by step through setting and achieving goals. I struggle with this myself, so I kept thinking, what would help me out? And that was my approach when writing this book.  81sb5XAb98L._SL1500_

Erik: I was sick of never making progress, or at least feeling like I was making any. This book helps the newbie as well as the seasoned goal setter recalibrate to move forward with more success in this area.

2. What role, if any, did books, writing, and reading play in your childhood?

Jim:  I loved going to the library and walking away with a stack of books. I read books about basketball, baseball, comic books, and every book about reptiles I could find. I enjoyed writing reports in school and even wrote a few blog posts before the term blog existed!

Erik: Tons. I read Hardy Boys, Encyclopedia Brown, Batman comics, The Chronicles of Narnia, and they all had a profound effect on me. All of these as well as history and English class taught me that I love to hear and tell stories.

3. What is your writing practice, your writing routine?

Jim: My routine is always changing. I know that’s not ideal, but that’s reality with having a one-year old and a four-year old. In the ideal world, I like to write on the bus in the morning during my commute and in the afternoon when on the commute. If I can’t write at that time, then I will write on my lunch hour or in the evening when the kids go to bed.

Erik: I have to either do it first thing in the morning with coffee or mid-day on a walk dictating into my phone. Or, sometimes trying to sleep, ideas come then, which can be a blessing and a curse.

4. Who are you reading now?

Jim: I’m reading Good Bye To Survival Mode by Crystal Paine of It is a really useful, practical book for anyone who feels overwhelmed. I’m loving it!

Erik: I’m reading Greater Expectations Frames by Claire Diaz-Ortiz. I love studying how to stay sane in the digital age.

5. What are three of your all-time favorite books? Why do you love those?

Jim: My favorites include: Do The Work by Steven Pressfield, The Catcher in The Rye by JD Salinger, and The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs by Carmine Gallo. All of these books give the reader insight on how to craft a great story.

Erik: A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller, Getting Things Done by David Allen, and Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird. These all push me to not just want to live a better life, but give me clues on how to do it.

6. How do you balance “building a writing platform” and the actual writing to set on that platform?

Jim: Wow, I’ll be honest, this is really hard. I look at the platform as the audience. I try to connect as much as possible, but the writing always has to be first.

Erik: I think creating the content for the platform is more important than building a platform. I am progressing to focus more on actually writing when I have something to say versus building something to push it further with. Part of that is having been known in the podcasting space for a while, but mostly I believe good writing or art carries farther and builds bridges better than just platform building can.

7.What is a typical day like for you?

Jim: I wake up and try to ride the bus where I’ll write. If my kids wake up, I’ll hang with them as long as possible and drive to work instead. I always try to hustle on my lunch hour, which means I’m either working out, meeting with others for coffee, or writing.

Erik: Get up before the rest of the house does and do “me time” or kids’ time if they don’t stay in bed. Then, either get ready and go to work or on the weekends work on errands or projects and hope to relax. :)

8. Describe your dream writing space?

Jim: I can’t say I have one. I only need four things: my headphones, computer, time, and coffee—lots of coffee.

Erik: The car. I love listening to music or podcast as scenery passes, so probably a train trip would be ideal. I loved hearing about the recent Amtrak idea of giving writer’s residences.

9. What is the hardest writing critique you ever received? How did you respond?

Jim: I think the hardest writing critique I’ve ever received is asking for feedback and then getting silence. My mind wants to fill the silence with negativity since I am my own harshest critic. Thankfully, now I just keep writing instead of worrying about silence. The voices go away when I keep writing and do the work.

Erik: From a writing teacher in college, that I wasn’t applying myself. They were right. It hurt letting them down, so I asked to take some time and rework the piece. It got a higher grade. I decided that I would make sure to put the best effort I could into writing before letting others see it after that. That, and to have select people to trust for honest feedback.

10. What is the best wisdom you have to share with other writers?

Jim: Share good stories and help others. It’s that simple and that difficult.

Erik: Do interesting things that pull you out of your comfort zone, and then write down your thoughts and feelings as they emerge.


Jim Woods is a writer, dreamer, husband, and dad in Nashville TN. His passion lies in helping others turn ideas into action. He’d love to connect with you on his website or on Twitter @jimwoodswrites.

Erik Fisher is a Productivity Author, Broadcaster and Coach. Erik is the host of the highly ranked podcast ‘Beyond the To-Do List’ where he talks with people on all aspects of productivity, getting good work done, and living a good life, practically implementing productivity strategies in their professional and personal lives.  For more info, connect with Erik on Twitter or find his podcast at Stitcher

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