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

April 19, 2014
by Andi
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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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April 18, 2014
by Andi
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The Place of the Truest Words

I want to live at the edge of a wood-shrouded glade, where the shadows dance and the monsters tumble.  I want to tuck myself into that space – thatched roof and wood stove, like the Hansel and Gretle witch without the devouring and with less candy – and watch the story unroll itself in the forest.

The Place of the Truest Words

This place makes me feel most true, most real, most the person I was created to be.

The place I find when I watch Lucy wander into Narnia, the place where people are lowered through roofs by friends, the place where I slip my hand into the heart of words.

Here, generosity makes my heart lift like a balloon, and I am able to see people’s wounds like birthmarks on their necks.  Here, I stay silent most because listening is what causes the magic and brings the glittered fairies of friendship and trust.  Here, I fish words out of streams as if they are crawdads that I will baby and raise to be giant, friendly creatures with antenna and claws they use to help children climb trees.

I do not live here now – not all the time.  No, the place I usually abide is defensive and biting – where we are all so engrossed in our privilege, the shrouds we cast about ourselves to protect and to separate – that we cannot see the arrow that protrudes from the heart of that young woman weeping at the sight of our gorgeous, curly-haired child.

So I write my way to this beauty. I read my way to this sanctuary because I need it.  I think we all need it. More and more as we find ways to speak our minds as if the most important thing was speaking instead of laughter and a giant game of freeze tag on a spring day.

This is the place where writing and reading take us, and I revel there – the truth like lightning dancing in the sky.

What does the place where you find the truest words look like to you? I’d love to hear. 



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April 17, 2014
by Andi

5 Things This Writer Needs For Writing

One of my favorite memories of writing is a time when I sat outside Climenhaga Fine Arts Center on the Messiah College campus and wrote poems.  I propped my back against a brick flower planter and sat in the springtime sun to write.  I’m fairly certain I was following a prompt that Julia Kasdorf gave about writing a poem in the rhythm of a nursery rhyme.  I have some memory of a hobby horse and singing the poem to myself, too.  But mostly, it’s that warm day, the pen in my hand, the way contentment washed right down to the center of my bones.

What This Writer Needs For Writing

Climenhaga Fine Arts Center

I don’t write like that much anymore – too attached to my routines and my laptop, I guess.  But that memory always reminds me of something: I only really need a few things to write.  

1. A really nice, easy-flowing pen.  I mostly use Uniball Vision Elites.  They write smoothly and easily, and they give me those thicknesses of line that I used to try to get with the slightly-dulled edge of a pencil. (Because I’m so idiosyncratic about my pen choices, I recommend not getting pens for writers unless you know EXACTLY what we want.)

2. Paper with lines. I cannot write in a straight line, and it bugs the bejeezus out of me to see my words sloping down like a unsatisfactorily-whipped meringue.  I prefer college-rule, but I’m okay with anything lined.

3. A notebook that stays open. I love all the gorgeous journals I see in stores, but I don’t use most of them for this one reason – they won’t lay flat on their own.  Often, I’m writing with a book in one hand, or I’m sitting with a journal on my knee. So having to prop open the notebook at the same time I try to write becomes too much.  So something with a soft spine is best.

4. A beverage, typically hot.  A big mug of coffee or hot tea satisfies my desire to consume (which is something I should probably explore a bit) while mostly leaving my hands free to write.  I will also enjoy a glass of ice-cold SWEET tea if we’re in the humid throes of summer.

5. Time alone. I need time by myself- to do the physical act of writing certainly – but I also need lots of space around that writing time when I’m alone.  It’s not because I don’t like people, as some people commonly think about artists; it’s because I’m trying to ignore the world for a little bit so that I can find the words that so easily get drowned out.  My job, my vocation in this world is to write, and so my best service to it is to step back and step away.  Preferably for hours each day.

That day outside Climenhaga, I had all those things.  And it was perfect.

You may have other things on your list – a type of notebook, a particular piece of software, a snack of choice.  I’d love to hear about them.  What do you need to be able to write well?


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April 16, 2014
by Andi

Don’t Try To Do Everything – My Self-Publishing Journey

If a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. – Dad

So much information. So much advice.  So so so so many options.  And that’s just for places you can post cute pictures of your baby chickens.Marketing Your Book

When you start thinking of how to market your new book, that list grows with new options for where to post samples, new organizations that you might contact about speaking, new people who might recommend your book if you send them a free copy to review.

Honestly, marketing a book can be absolutely overwhelming. When I’m overwhelmed, I turn to HGTV and a big bag of Twizzlers.  (But hopefully, you’re more balanced than I am.)

You will probably search the web for marketing ideas (These are solid and clear without being overwhelming.). Loving, well-intended friends will give you suggestions about who to contact (and if you’re lucky, they’ll also tell you how.).  You will spend hours trying to figure out how to talk about your book on Facebook and Twitter without being annoying.

You may also make a list of all these ideas and find that really you need one of those Biblical scroll things that appear in cartoons and roll out across mountain ranges.  The list will be that long.

We can’t do everything. It’s just not possible, even if we didn’t have other work and new books to write. 

So we have to pick, but how do we wean it down?  My recommendation is that you choose your marketing options with two things in mind:

  • The most effective, far-reaching options.
  • The stuff you’re good at.

I can’t really speak to where your strengths lie, of course, so I’ll just talk about the most effective, far-reaching things I’ve found in my experience these past few months.

1. Build Excitement - At the advice of Andy Traub, I set up an “insider’s list” of folks who told me that they would like to be included in the final plans for The Slaves Have Names. I solicited these folks from my email contacts and on social media.  Then, I asked them for opinions about the book cover, marketing ideas, etc.  For their help, I gave them a free PDF copy of the book (and then asked them to review it.) I found this group to be incredible not only for helping build excitement, which they did, but also for their support. Their wisdom help me refine my title, improve my cover, and just genuinely feel that people were in this journey with me.

2. Give Away Copies – Because one of the best ways to develop “fans” is to have them join your mailing list, I gave away PDF copies of the book to people who joined my mailing list.  I had almost 100 people sign up, and almost all of them have stayed on my list afterwards.  Plus, again, I asked them to review the book if they would.

3. Start a blog.  If you are publishing at all, you need a website. (I know a great website company if you need a recommendation.) But beyond a simple website where people can find where to buy your book and learn about you, I recommend that you have a blog because it keeps your content fresh AND gives you a place to talk about your book without feeling like you are imposing. Your blog is YOUR space, and you can do what you want with it.

4. Think local.  The places I see the most book are local stores and events.  Some of those sales come from, what I call, the “I know your father and sang with your mother” phenomenon, which is not to be dismissed. But a lot of the sales come because people are proud of you as a local author.  Ask local businesses if you can put up a few copies, offer to consign them there if that’s better for them.  And if you are blessed to have a local bookstore, DEFINITELY ask if they will carry your book.

5. Get reviews. Nothing helps your book sales online more than a good review (or even a bad one if it makes people feel protective of you.)  So ask the folks you know to read and review your book HONESTLY. You can suggest they put the review on Goodreads or Amazon or in a blurb on a sign at a local bookstore.  For many reasons, reviews are crucial to sales – see more of what I wrote on the subject here – but people don’t necessarily know that. So ask for those reviews – be kind and gentle – but ask.  Many people will oblige.

That’s my experience.  Others may find social media crucial (and I certainly think it’s important), and some writers will recommend a book tour.  But from this little farmstead, these are my best recommendations – focus your efforts and play to your strengths.

What book promotion ideas have you seen be successful? What questions do you have about promotion that I can ask more learned friends to answer?


On a side note, Chuck Wendig writes one of the best writing blogs around, and today his post “Ten Things I’d Like To Say to Young Writers” is particularly awesome. Be sure to check it out.

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April 15, 2014
by Andi
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Begin with Words – 3 Tips for Getting Started when Writing

The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing. – Walt Disney

Tell me if you can relate:  410697715

  • you’ve checked Facebook 15 times, scrolling back about three days just in case you missed something.
  • you’ve answered every email, even the one from the girl who wants to know if you’ll do her job for free.
  • you’ve build a Tumblr account because, well, you heard somewhere it was a good idea.
  • you’re on your third cup of tea and second snack
  • you’ve organized your desk from top to bottom.

This is what my day looks like when I sit around thinking about writing instead of actually, well, writing.  Sound familiar?  (Note, your version might include washing all the curtains or sharpening the lawn mower blades.)

This week, several people have asked me how to “get started” with writing – how to get the ideas from their heads onto the page.  And the answer – as hard as it actually is – is also very simple – you have to just write.

The mind is just not a good place to do writing – it’s abstract up there – all Pollack and Sheleg – and no actual words.  Words are physical things with shape – even on a screen. They are made up of letters and curves and those little lines called serifs.  They aren’t abstract at all – they are tools, hard, concrete tools. The mind is more mushy and soft.

So what we’re doing when we’re thinking about writing isn’t really writing itself – although it is certainly a key part of the process.  Writing only really happens when we put those words down – spin them out from that abstract mass of color in our minds and add them to the page.  (Plus, avoiding the writing itself tells me that something else is off with me – in fact, I’m probably lonely.)

Here are my 3 tips for how to get started with putting the words down:

1. Pick a word. Maybe in that mass of color and idea in your mind, a word keeps slipping to the surface.  Grab it and write it down, and then write more words led by that one.  Just get some words down – freewriting is what we call this in classes. You can shape them later.

2. Start with a character. Maybe you can sort of see this person in your mind – you know she wears a fedora and short shorts, and you can hear her talking.  Write down a description of her and see what she ends up doing as you write her out.

3. Begin with a scene. Maybe you have a book you want to write about your experience in a corporate bank.  Try starting with a scene that really spoke to you of what it was like to work there – something that comes to mind easily, something you remember well. That scene has stuck for a reason, so write it out.

One un-tip – I don’t recommend starting with theme or concept – i.e. I want to write a book about the evils of racism – because those books often end up pedantic and a little preachy.  If you have a theme in mind, try to locate that theme in a character or a scene, and then use those tools to carry the ideas for you.

It’s not complex to start writing – but it is really, really hard.  Somehow, we think we need to figure it out before we start, but the truth is we don’t. In fact, maybe we can’t.  We figure it out as we write the words – it’s the only way I know.

What about you? What keeps you from starting? Or what tricks do you use to get started?



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