Tag Archives: writing


Is Your Story Getting in the Way of Your Writing?


So, a couple weeks ago, I started re-reading a book called “Redirect” by Timothy D. Wilson. It promotes the “story editing” approach to life, which should be perfect for a writer, right?

But Wilson isn’t offering insights about writing, per se. His book is about psychology and neuroscience, not novels.

And still, it is about narratives.

Here’s an excerpt from Wilson’s interview with Scientific American:

We all have personal stories about who we are and what the world is like. These stories aren’t necessarily conscious, but they are the narratives by which we live our lives. Many of us have healthy, optimistic stories that serve us well. But sometimes, people develop pessimistic stories and get caught in self-defeating thinking cycles, whereby they assume the worst and, as a result, cope poorly. 

Timothy D. Wilson, author and professor of psychology at the University of Virginia

Timothy D. Wilson, author and professor of psychology at the University of Virginia

You (and I) have heard a bazillion times that “writers write” so get off your butt and just write.

So why aren’t you (or I) writing?

After the conferences and workshops and talks and great blog posts and all that motivation… why aren’t you writing? Once you’ve rocked out (or not) for a month doing NaNoWriMo why aren’t you still writing in December or January, February, March, etc.?

Could it be the story you tell yourself about who you are? Maybe it’s because you’re looking at your stumbles and thinking, “I’m just not supposed to be a writer.”

Or, maybe it’s because you’re telling yourself bad stories, like the situation has to be right, that you must first be inspired, that you will as soon as…

But, Chris, there’s not enough time in the day. Believe me, I know. And after work, who has the energy? I get that one too. Just try to get up that early, or find a few minutes in your day when the kids and your spouse demand all your attention.

Yep, but in the end, what you think of as “reasons” for not writing — and others call “excuses” for not writing — are actually the elements of the bad story you’re telling yourself.

Wilson’s book, which is also about the stories that are told to us and the stories we tell others, offers clearer advice than I can about how to suss out what story you’re telling yourself and how to change it.

But that doesn’t mean you have to read it (though I’ve enjoyed it twice now) for you to experiment with the principle: Editing your story can change your behavior.

You are a storyteller. I believe that about you (and me). So, if you’re still struggling to establish a solid writing routine, flex your storytelling — and story editing — muscles on yourself first.

Do you agree? Are you planning to try it? Or is this the stupidest thing you’ve ever heard in the history of ever? Share your thoughts, opinions, experiments, ideas, problems and miscellaneous random whatnot below.


Chris Horne is a Macon-born writer in the midst of a move to Akron, Ohio. Before he tricked his beautiful wife into becoming his beautiful wife, they started the Crossroads Writers Conference with a couple of like-minded (and like-awesome) Maconites, Dr. Monica Young-Zook and Dr. Kelly Whiddon. 


Q&A: Carrie Howland, Agent, Donadio & Olson, Inc.

If you missed Carrie the first time, don’t worry because she’s back for Crossroads 2013! Click here to register: CrossroadsWriters.splashthat.com

The Mind of an Agent: Chatting with Carrie Howland of Donadio & Olson

Chris: I’m always curious about how people end up where they are. How’d you become an agent? Had you always set out to do it, or did you happen into it?

Carrie: I grew up in a small town in Michigan where an ‘agent’ was someone who sold you insurance. I attended a private liberal arts school for undergrad, on Biology/Environmental Research and Pre-Med Scholarships. (I’m probably one of the few literary agents who has taken, and passed, two semesters of Organic Chemistry.) The ‘mistake’ of course was taking Creative Writing 101 to fulfill an art requirement. I’d always loved to write and began reading (more like devouring) books at the age of three, much to the chagrin of my kindergarten teacher who didn’t know what to do with me two years later. After declaring a Creative Writing major, I still fulfilled all my Pre-Med requirements (and even added Pre-Law, ‘just to be safe’). Then I decided to spend a semester off-campus. By this time, I’d become the Poetry Editor of our campus literary journal (which drew submissions from across the country) as well as a reporter for the campus newspaper. So, to me, it made sense to study ‘abroad’…in New York City. I asked to be placed at a publishing house as an editorial intern or at a literary journal. My NY program advisor called one day and, in the thickest New York accent I’d ever heard, and asked if I’d like to interview at a literary agency. I said, “Yes, absolutely!” then immediately got off the phone to Google ‘Literary Agent.’ In the end, I landed the internship at a well-known boutique agency with one of the most impressive client lists I’d ever seen. The agency was Donadio & Olson, Inc., and the rest, as they say, is history…

Chris: WHY are you an agent? Why do it? Certainly there have be headaches here and there, troubles and whatnot. So what makes you get up in the morning and keep at it?

Carrie: I went into publishing because I couldn’t think of a better job than getting paid to read amazing books for a living. I decided to become an agent because I wanted that close, personal relationship with the authors. I like to say that I represent an author’s career, not just his or her book. I’m fortunate enough to work with my writers in every aspect of their careers, from editing to publicity and more. There’s nothing more fulfilling than discovering a new writer and knowing that you had an integral part in getting that first book published, and establishing a career. So what makes me get up in the morning? My authors. Bob Dylan said, “A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do.” I don’t think it’s a stretch to suppose that Mr. Dylan is referring to literary agents here…

Chris: What traits do you, an agent, think make an agent good? How do you think that differs from what writers are sometimes looking for?

Carrie: I’ve always said that the two best traits I possess as an agent are: the mind of a poet and the work ethic of a Midwesterner. I represent literary fiction, and some non-fiction, so I love beautiful writing. I often say that my ideal book would be a novel written by a poet. In addition, I write poetry, not fiction, which enables me to separate my own writing from what I do day-to-day. I think it’s helpful to have the distinction so as not to feel burned out in either genre. And aside from a love of writing, to be a good agent, you have to work. A lot. There’s no other way to say it. If you’re looking for a 9-5 job, being an agent probably isn’t for you. I spend evenings reading, weekends at book fairs and conferences, lunches with authors and editors, I even read submissions on the elliptical at the gym. I absolutely love my job, so it rarely feels like work. Along those lines, I always tell my authors, “I can’t want it more than you do.” Basically, I need them to put in the same kind of dedication to their work. I suppose not all agents harass their clients about keeping up with social media, attending book events (apart from their own), even what they’re working on next, but I do. It’s my job to build an author’s career, which means developing all aspects from writing to public image. I’m definitely a hands-on agent, so if an author is looking for someone to check in with from time-to-time, we probably won’t be a good match.

Chris: You seem to have a lot of fondness for the writers you work with, so… What do you, as an agent, look for in a writer? What about as a reader? Is there any difference?

Carrie: It’s true; I adore all of my writers. I never take on a book or author that I’m not completely passionate about. I touched on this a bit before, but I look for beautiful writing. It’s my personal opinion that, you can either write, or you can’t, and while that craft can be honed, it can’t necessarily be taught. Despite the exorbitant amount of submissions we get on a daily basis, not everyone is a writer. Just like not everyone can be a model. (I know how it feels—I’m only 5’3.) In addition to style, I look for a strong voice. I believe that if the voice is strong, the reader will follow it anywhere. So, when I see a manuscript that’s beautifully written, with a strong voice, I’m of course drawn to it. Other issues, like plot, character development, etc. come in to play as well, but to some degree, those can be fixed. I don’t expect a manuscript to be perfect when I receive it. In fact, I expect that it won’t be. This isn’t to say that a writer shouldn’t be submitting the best possible manuscript, but if there are issues that I think we can solve together, I’ll work with a writer to get that done. Again, I’m a hands-on agent. My writers often go through several drafts with me before we submit their manuscripts to editors. But I think you’re doing your clients a disservice by not sending out the most polished draft possible. And because of this back-and-forth, I look for an author with a good attitude, someone I can develop a good rapport with, who will listen to my notes and, while I don’t expect that he or she take every single one, will thoughtfully consider them. I also look for writers who, as I said before, are just as committed to their careers as I am. I want writers who will do everything possible to, along with my help, promote themselves and their work.

Chris: You brought up something interesting in an earlier email that maybe doesn’t get asked enough: Why get an agent at all?

Carrie: Of course the simple answer to this question is, “Because you have to.” But I remember being on that side of the “Because I told you so.” conversation with my mom growing up, so let me explain. In order to submit to a major publisher, you need to have an agent. Most publishing houses simply don’t accept un-agented queries. One of the many jobs I have as an agent is to get to know these publishing houses and the editors who work there. By developing these relationships, I know who would be the right editor for a particular book, and that editor knows that I represent quality writers, and won’t waste his or her time on something that I don’t think would be right for that particular list. Agents are also, for lack of a better term, filters. We weed through the hundreds of manuscripts we see and show only the best to these editors. You might say we’re on the frontlines of publishing. (It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it.) Beyond the ‘Because I said so.’ argument, what is the benefit to you? There are countless benefits, really. Initially, you have a professional to help you polish your manuscript. You also have, generally, the backing of an agency which may have a lot of history, as mine does, which means people know of it, and they pay attention to our submissions and our authors. When it comes time to negotiations, agents play a huge part. We have the knowledge and background of years of book deals and hundreds of contracts. We know how to negotiate higher advances, what rights to hold back in order to make the client even more money, and what language in a contract might affect the author negatively in the future. We work for you. Some people ask, “Why give a percentage of my earnings to an agent?” My answer is always, “Because you can’t afford not to.” I almost always earn back my commission, and then some, meaning an author still ends up making more money than he or she would have without an agent, and the job is done for you. Basically, your agent is there to do all the legwork, negotiating, and even schmoozing so you can focus on what you do best: writing.

Chris: We typically put more emphasis at the conference on “getting the writing done” than getting published, but clearly we want people to get published, or at least read. When does a writer know they’re “ready” for an agent?

Carrie: In my opinion, most writers are ready for an agent at least one or two drafts after they think they are. Meaning, take your time. You don’t have to, nor should you, send out your novel the second you type that last word. Give it to friends you trust (other writers, former workshop companions, an old professor, etc.). And take some time away from it. I always tell writers to put their novels in a drawer for a month, then come back to them. You’ll have a fresh perspective and undoubtedly see things that you never saw before. You’ll have that ‘Aha!’ moment where you’ll say to yourself, “How could I have considered sending this out without changing___?” Of course, all that being said, don’t tinker. A few drafts, a month away, these are good things. But if you get to the point where you’re adding and deleting the same line for a week straight, it’s probably time to start submitting to agents.

Chris: What should a writer do to find out if they’re ready? And when they’re ready, what should their first move be?

Carrie: Again, if you’ve accomplished what I’ve mentioned above, you’re probably ready to submit. My recommendation: take that month while your novel is settling in the drawer to begin your agent research. That has to be your first step: research. It doesn’t do anyone any good for you to submit your novel blindly to one hundred agencies. So much information is available online now, finding an agent that aligns with your work is easier than ever. One bit of advice that I love to give: check the backs of your favorite books and see which agents are acknowledged there. Chances are, if you have five favorite writers, those you feel your work most resembles, or those writers you feel most influenced by, those agents are a good place to start. And of course, there’s nothing an agent loves more than his or her authors, so knowing that you like them, too, always hits a sweet spot. It also lets us know that you’ve done your research. I love to get queries from writers that say, this book by your author is one of my favorites and so I thought you’d like my novel. Don’t, however, throw in any name just to have it there. I’ll know that your work isn’t similar to a certain author when I start reading your manuscript and it’s nothing like that author’s book. For example, if that author writes literary fiction and your novel is a commercial thriller, it doesn’t bode well for your research. Along those lines, look at the genres each agent represents. If you have an amazing idea for a cookbook, that’s great, but don’t waste your time, a stamp, etc. sending it to me, because I simply won’t know what to do with it. There are agents for everything; you just have to look.

Chris: Can you describe what the “courting process” is between an agent and a writer? Any stories from personal experience you care to share?

Carrie: Well, I like flowers, chocolates, and Diet Wild Cherry Pepsi (you laugh, but it’s REALLY hard to find here!). But seriously, what you can expect is that you’ll query an agent, he or she will get back saying to send the full manuscript, or that it simply isn’t a good match. Once you’ve sent the manuscript: be patient. We read so much that to think you’ll get a response in a few days just isn’t reasonable. That’s not to say that you can’t ever follow-up with an agent, but I really wouldn’t suggest doing it before a month has passed. If I like your work, I’ll likely contact you with questions like, “Are you open to edits?” and give you a basic idea of what I’m thinking. Then, once we both decide that we’re on the same page, I’ll make an offer of representation and hope that you’ll accept! I suggest always mentioning in a query if you’re giving an exclusive look or whether you’re querying other agents, which of course is totally fine. I expect that you’re going out to several agents at once, because it does take time, and you don’t want two years to go by before you find an agent. If you do receive an offer of representation, get in touch with those other agents. Don’t simply fall off the radar. If an agent has taken the time to read your work, do the polite thing and let them know that you’ve had an offer. This also gives the agent a chance to offer you representation as well, and you may find that the second or third offer is actually a better fit. And it should be a good fit on both ends, so don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ideally, you’ll have one agent for your entire career, so choose wisely!

Chris: There are some predatory types out there in Internetland, folks who promise the sun and moon in addition to publication. How should writers protect themselves? What should they be looking out for?

Carrie: I’m not sure where all the modeling analogies are coming from, but a friend once told me that the answer to this question is akin to how to deal with the guy at the mall who says he can make you a model, but that you have to pay him thousands of dollars upfront. A real agent will never (ever) ask for any kind of money from you. We can’t. We’re bound by certain rules laid out by the Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR) that dictate these things. It says we can’t charge reading fees, for example. However, not all agents are members of the AAR, so that’s always a good thing to check. If they’re a member, you know they’re in good standing, and can generally be trusted. Of course the best way to protect yourself as a writer is to, again, do your research. See who else they represent, or what other authors the agency represents. Does the agent/agency have a good track record and a solid list of authors? Our agency has been around for over forty years, and we represent some of the top writers in the world. Our reputation is very important to us, as it is to the editors we work with, and the authors we represent. An agency with a good reputation is so important, because they are your image to the world. Go with someone you’d be proud to have represent you.

Chris: What do you read–genres, formats, etc., as well as specific writers, publications, etc.–when you’re not wearing your agent hat? Do you ever not wear your agent hat?

Carrie: This is sort of like that music question. “I listen to a little bit of everything—except country.” That’s true for me, except that I also love country. (Dolly Parton, anyone?) That is to say, while I have my favorites, I try to read a little bit of everything. I’m not sure that I’m ever ‘not wearing my agent hat.’ But I think a good agent should read everything. I believe that you have no room to judge a book or a writer you haven’t read. So, while I’m always drawn to literary fiction, it’s what I love, I also read the more commercial books that tend to show up on the New York Times Bestseller list. As an agent, it’s important for me to know what’s selling, and why.

Chris: Why in the world would you say yes to a weekend with us here? Are you insane?

Carrie: I asked an agent friend to answer this question for me and his response was, “my best friends would happily agree that I’m insane.” Haha. Thanks so much, Chris! I hope all this is helpful! I’m really looking forward to the conference!



Delilah S Dawson: The advice would I give myself if I could go back in time…

We tasked the awesome and cool Delilah S. Dawson with applying her ample imagination to this question: If you could go back in time to the very start of your writing career, what advice would you give yourself?

Considering how far this Pocket/Simon & Schuster published author of “Wicked as They Come” and associated editor for CoolMomPicks.com has come, we thought it was a perfect question to have her answer.

When you come to the conference, you’ll be treated to more of Delilah’s insight (she may or may not wave a cupcake). Specifically, she’s going to speak on being “shipwrecked” as a writer and what to do with yourself while you’re waiting on your writing ship to come.

Until then… enjoy!



Marathons are hard. Writing is harder.

A couple weeks ago, I started running again because I’ve signed up for a 10K and two half-marathons. Yesterday, as I finished up my route, this occurred to me: writing is harder than running.

I’ve run a marathon–26.2 miles–without stopping. I’ve run dozens of 5Ks, and a few 10ks and half-marathons. I’ve logged hundreds of miles in races and in training for them. And I’ve done this despite being, for a runner, fat and slow, and coming to running after a decade of smoking two packs a day.

By contrast, though I’ve had hundreds of thousands of words published as a journalist, I have written zero books. I want to write books. Something about writing is just harder for me than running.

I think I know what it is.

Though I typically blame my busy schedule for not writing more, time isn’t the problem. (Time management maybe.) Running takes about an hour–sometimes two–out of my day. Good writers, I hear, dedicate at least an hour a day to writing.

My problem (and maybe yours) is that I need to lower my standards.

Running is easier than writing, for me, because my standard for writing is much higher than my standard for running. In a race, I just want to finish …and to beat at least one of the people dressed like Batman. But when I write, I want each page to be masterful, eloquent, world-changing. I need to lower my standards.

In our forthcoming interview with writer Kevin Maurer, he said, “You have to be willing to write badly.” (He has a lot of great insight on developing the discipline to write.)

Somewhere along the way, I embraced the fact that I’m a fat and slow runner who probably looks dumb doing it, but I have kept at it because it keeps me relatively healthy: both mentally and physically. In fact, I’d recommend running to any writer because when you’re running, there’s little better for your brain to do but chase storylines and develop characters. Otherwise you’re just watching for dog poo and distracted drivers.

So I need to embrace the fact that, as a writer, I’m fat and slow and probably look dumb doing it. I need to forgive myself for not spinning reams of gorgeous prose and just bang away at the keys. Why? Because I love the payoff. When I’m done writing, just as when I’m done with a run, I feel better.

That’s a lot like something else Kevin said in our interview. Clearly, he said some things that have resonated with me, but I’m going to make you wait to see it all.

Lastly, I know this to be true: Running has gotten easier the more I’ve done it, and so has writing. When I first started running–because I was still trying to quit smoking–I coughed and wheezed and hacked up a lung and on more than one occasion, barfed. These days, I can lay off running for a week and still knock out three or four miles and feel pretty good.

Now… if I can only get past the part where my writing makes me barf…

Chris Horne is a co-founder of the Crossroads Writers Conference. 

Annabelle Carr is the editor of Savannah Magazine.

Interview with editor Annabelle Carr

Editor Annabelle Carr will be at the first ever Freelancers Summit, October 5 in Macon

What do you enjoy most about writing?

I love the moment when I finally know what I’m writing about—the heart of the story—and I get this huge surge of energy. It’s almost worth the sensory depravation required to sit down and write in the first place. The sooner I “see” the story, the better. Sometimes I have to write the whole story or article first and I finally“get it” on the last line. Then I know I’m in for a big edit. So I’ve developed tools for “getting it” sooner, because magazine deadlines are unforgiving.

In order to edit, the same thing has to happen. You have to see the heart of the piece. It’s like striking a vein of gold. Once you find it, you can follow it and do good, honest work.

What do you look for most when hiring staff writers and freelancers?

I look for people who can put me, the reader, right into the story. It’s all about engaging the senses and bringing the page to life. Once I find someone who can do that, I look for structure and organization. I need someone who can build a story arc quickly and find the meaning in things that other people can’t see. But what really makes a writer is his or her ear. Good prose sings. It has pitch, timbre and rhythm.


What’s the best way to pitch a story, and what’s the most common mistake freelancers make?

Don’t pitch a story. Pitch four. Dedicate a couple of lines to each idea, and write them in the voice of the magazine. Trying to sell a story is like playing roulette. What are the odds your single pitch is going to hit me on a day when I need exactly that story? It’s much more effective to introduce yourself to the editor as someone with many great story ideas, someone reliable who gets the voice and intent of the magazine. Remember: an editor is always looking for people with solutions to her problems. I have a lot more to say about this at Crossroads!

In addition to your magazine work, what other sorts of writing do you do?

I write very short fiction. I’m working on making my pieces longer, but too many years of editing have made me terrified of the extraneous. I’m fascinated by characters who appear to be broken or trapped but attempt to escape using whatever they find lying around. I guess you could call it emotional “MacGyver-ing.” I think it’s interesting that a move from despair to anger is a move in the right direction, because it’s a step closer to empowerment. I’m also working on a novel that plays with the same themes.

What’s the best piece of advice someone has given you about writing?

At graduation for my MFA, novelist A.J. Verdelle was generous enough to take me aside and tell me, “Even if you think you don’t have time or energy to write every day, read every day. You can stay part of the writing world by reading. That way, you’ll find that you have to write, so you’ll make time.” As a single, working parent, I don’t know what I’d have done without that advice. Even though I write and edit consumer nonfiction all day, I have to make time to read (and hopefully write) literary fiction at night.