When Chenille Books founder A M Carley spoke in early 2017 with Bay Area entrepreneur and coach Thuy Pham of Momentum Boutique, the conversation took a few twists and turns. Follow every bend in the road with the full transcript.
Listen to this episode of Thuy’s podcast series, Get on Your Quest.
Thuy Pham: Hello, and welcome to episode 24 of Get On Your Quest. I’m your host, Thuy Pham, and this is a place to find inspiration, to move forward in your business, and to create changes you care about in your life. You can find more information about this episode at GetOnYourQuest.com/24. Have you ever considered writing a book? In this episode, I interview Anne Carley, an author, an editor, and also a coach for writers. I’ve known her for three years, and because you love books, I thought that she might inspire you to write your own book too. Without further ado, let’s listen to how Anne became a writer. Anne Carley is the founder of Chenille Books. She’s a writer and a creative coach for nonfiction authors.
I met her at a business event back in 2014 as we were sitting at the same table, and even without saying a word, there was something in her that had such a presence and grace that I felt drawn into talking to her. I’m so glad that we kept in touch. Anne recently published her book FLOAT: Becoming Unstuck for Writers that provides creative tools to help authors become unstuck with their writing. As I know that my listeners love reading and some of them even consider writing a book, I thought I would invite Anne so that she could share with you how you too could move forward with your writing. Hi, Anne. Welcome, Anne.
Anne Carley: Thank you so much, Thuy. It’s wonderful to be here.
Thuy Pham: I’m also happy to have finally an opportunity to chat with you after so many years and I’m curious in fact about what brought you to becoming a writer and a coach, and I only discovered recently that when you were in college, you had the idea of reading books to other students over the phone. Was it your first initiative related to books? Did everything start from there?
Anne Carley: I have to say, it goes back before then. Books and making things up, making up my own stories, kept me going as a very young person. I learned to read at a young age and I retreated into books for a lot of strength and sustenance when I was little, and so I would literally hide out in a quiet place with a book. Words and reading and following the stories that other people generated — those things have always been really important. I find it really funny in retrospect looking back at that thing in college that you mentioned, but what happened was when I was a little girl I first began writing, just learning how to do that. I started writing little stories. I kept them for some unknown reason. I had them with me in a folder.
Thuy Pham: You still have them?
Anne Carley: I do.
Thuy Pham: Oh.
Anne Carley: I had them with me when I went to college. What are the odds that a 17 year old girl would have a folder of stories that she wrote when she was 7, but I did. That’s what I started reading over the phone. Because this was a long time ago and students then, probably as now, would get really either high, let’s face it, or just distraught, just upset about something, and they couldn’t sleep. A couple of friends of mine and I had this crazy idea, let’s just distribute our phone number and if they want to call dial-a-bedtime story, that’s what we called it, but there was no automation. It was just a human on the other end of the phone reading a story. It was crazy. We did get some very interesting phone calls from kids that were really in need of a story. Isn’t that interesting?
Thuy Pham: Yeah. Did you read them your stories or …
Anne Carley: Yeah. I read them the stories that I had brought with me in that folder from when I was a little girl.
Thuy Pham: How then from there, how did your journey lead you to what you do now? Did you continue? Because I think you studied other things. How do you think your journey went from that time at the college to what you do now? Do you think that it’s a consistent path to book coaching or did you pause for a certain time before finding what really now fulfills you?
Anne Carley: I think it’s a funny thing. As a person who enjoys story, I can tell you, “Oh, it all makes total sense, Thuy. Oh, there’s this completely straight-line narrative from point A to point zed, you know?” I’d be completely making that up, but that’s what telling stories is about. You know, you can be original. You can create connections between dots, but equally true as we know is that at the time, it might’ve felt quite different. It might’ve felt that there were no connections between these dots, so it’s all in how I look at it whether I tell you, “Oh yes, there was a complete, obvious path,” or “You know what, this just kind of came up on me one day and I said what the heck?”
I think the truth lies somewhere in between. I’ve always been interested in words. In high school, I edited the high school paper. After undergraduate, I applied to journalism school and was accepted but then decided not to go. There’s always been this theme, you know, and then as an adult, I got involved in a business that I ran for 30 years in which I managed private collections of art. You might think that that had nothing to do with writing, but in fact it had everything to do with writing.
Thuy Pham: How?
Anne Carley: Because what I did was get three, sometimes four different parties with different interests to agree on things. The way you do that is drafting very carefully. I was writing all the time, and during that period, I went to law school because I realized one blindingly brilliant day that the reason the lawyers looked at what I wrote and didn’t change anything, you know, said, “Anne, you could be one of them.” And so I went to law school to do it better. These agreements had to do, for example, in contemporary art, not all art is in a big gold frame, you know? It can be earth art somewhere out in a desert. It can be conceptual art which can be executed multiple times in succession by third parties who are not the artist. It can be a lot of things that we don’t ordinarily consider, traditionally, art.
What happens when you make a charitable contribution of one of those? How do you document that? How do you evaluate it? How do you get an insurance appraisal on it? How do you get a charitable donation appraisal on it? You have to write these things up in very careful ways. What if the artist is still alive and has an opinion about whether they want it to go to that donee? You have to write it up. It takes really a lot of attention to the words and the expressions and the metaphors. So it’s always been about writing, even when I was doing stuff like that.
Thuy Pham: Do you only work now with nonfiction author or do you also work with fiction authors?
Anne Carley: Yeah. I work with people who write a number of different things, particularly when it comes to the creative coaching which is connected to my book that you mention called FLOAT, and the reason for that is in those kinds of situations where someone is just unable to go forward in the way that they want, it’s secondary what it is they’re writing. Right? What’s primarily the problem is, How do I get out of this spot that I’m in? How do I pull back? How do I get a different vantage point? How do I get a higher-altitude view? How do I come to terms with my own conflicted feelings? Whatever it is, and it’s not primarily about Is this a novel or is this a biography of somebody else, right?
Thuy Pham: Yes, because when I hear your story, I have the impression that you started when you were seven years old writing, I guess, in fact, was it fiction?
Anne Carley: Yeah.
Thuy Pham: Then along the way, it’s more nonfiction topics, so that’s why I was wondering if you decided at some point, “No, I will only focus on nonfiction topics” or not.
Anne Carley: I’ll tell you a secret too. I write fiction.
Thuy Pham: Oh. Okay, so I want to hear, is the next book about that in that case? How do you suddenly then decide, “Now I’ll be a coach”?
Anne Carley: It flowed naturally out of what I was doing. Initially, the purpose of my business which has been going on now for four to five years, it was more of on the consulting side, I guess you’d say. It was more, “Here are the members of the team that we need to get this book from conception to publication.” Over the course of doing that book development process with a number of authors, I realized that themes were developing. It wasn’t just that one writer. It was a number of writers that were running into the same kinds of stopping points that were not welcome.
I began to realize that I was saying some of the same things and that this really was coaching. It had nothing directly to do with How are we going to get the copy edit done on your manuscript, it had to do with How are you feeling? It had to do with what can we do to get around this thing that’s unpleasant for you? So it was in response to what I was experiencing, and then I also realized that the coaching part is really fun to do and really rewarding because everybody gets a-ha moments.
Thuy Pham: When did you decide to write the book?
Anne Carley: It all happened really fast, I think because of what I was describing. You know, the process of working with all these authors, the stuff was bubbling up in my head. I knew this stuff. I knew what I wanted to do, and I got this idea, just one day, and within nine months, I had a book out, which is kind of unusual too, that the whole thing would go that quickly. I had some secret weapons, primarily, my writer group. For years now, I’ve been in a writer group that meets once a month, and we always bring new material each month. I got the idea in March, and starting in April — April, May, June, July, August, and I think September, I was giving them chapters. By the end of September, I had the book written.
Thuy Pham: Does it mean that you advise people to be part of a writing group? Do you think that it’s possible to, I mean, I know some people are alone to write their book, but I’ll also tell you a secret, a fact that few people know. The reason I resonate with your story, when I was younger, I think I was maybe around 10 or more, I also started writing kind of short novels, but I didn’t finish them because I think I judged myself too harsh. My sister, though, writes very well. I think because she was really good, I guess somehow maybe I judged myself and I stopped writing them. I also still have those notes, those stories, unfinished stories. I think that for a long time, I kept all that for myself. Do you think that for people who are not really familiar with the world of book writing, you would advise everybody to find a writing group? Does it help increase the success of finishing the book?
Anne Carley: It can. There are a number of variables there, I would hazard to say. One thing that a writing group can be great for is the situation you describe, where you’re comparing yourself to someone who you’re sure is better at it. That can be such a mind game, as you no doubt found out. It’s so unpleasant and it’s impossible, let’s face it, to be objective about comparing how we write, relative to our sister, or our neighbor, or our boss, or whoever it is. The fact that we tend to not understand that aspect of it. We tend to think, “Yeah, I’m bad. Never mind. Bad idea. Moving on. I’ll just reject that entire part of myself.”
It’s so cruel, and it’s so dismissive and disrespectful of an important part that has a voice. That said, sometimes being in a writing group is a terrific way to kind of put out the welcome mat so to speak to that part, that does have a story, that does have some desire to be expressive. However, there are other ways to do that as well. Some people on the introvert extrovert spectrum would be super uncomfortable in a writer group, at least when they first began. They might be more comfortable in a class where there was more structure and they didn’t have to volunteer more than they were comfortable doing.
Other people might want to do self-study online programs where they don’t have to share anything unless and until they’re prepared, but meanwhile, they can sip from the fountain, so to speak. They’re not aiming a fire hose at themselves, but they can take little sips as they want, you know, to get introduced to a greater level of comfort. Do you know what I’m saying?
Thuy Pham: Yes.
Anne Carley: There’s increments and contexts and I think we need each to take our own temperature, so to speak, and see what we’re comfortable with.
Thuy Pham: I’m curious about your writing process because you mentioned that you were sharing your chapters one by one. Did you write your chapter and then got feedback about your chapter that would then lead you to know what you would write next, or did you have all your outline completely ready? Each chapter would just complete your outline?
Anne Carley: I have to tell you, there’s a kind of taxonomy among writers, and I don’t really know who originated this distinction, but I think it works really well. There’s a distinction made between plotters and pantsers. Pantsers is spelled P-A-N-T-S-E-R-S, and it comes from the seat of your pants as in, you just do it by the seat of your pants. You don’t think, you don’t have any plan at all. As you can imagine, the plotters are the, “I must have an outline first. I won’t write a word until I know what the last sentence is going to be.” I am so not one of them.
Thuy Pham: You know what? It makes me feel good because I did try to have outline, do mind mapping and stuff. I just found now I should change my outline, and then you start thinking, “No, I’m breaking the outline again.” I feel better hearing what you just said.
Anne Carley: Yeah. It’s, again, a personality thing, Thuy, and for some people, it’s an iteration process so that you would begin with an outline and then when you get to that point that you just described when you look at that outline and it doesn’t fit, it’s not a bad thing. You just say, “All right, I’ll revise it.” Right? You can make various kinds of plan work for you as long as, in my opinion, it helps a lot if you can acknowledge that flexibility sometimes can be your friend and it’s rather than a sign of a weakness, it’s actually resilient and strong of you to see the truth.
I mean, when you think about it, it makes a lot of sense to me, anyway, because you’re getting better at what this book is, or this writing project of whatever length. As you’re more immersed in it, isn’t it reasonable that you would see more clearly the best way to accomplish it? If it means revising your outline, great. It’s going to be a better project.
Thuy Pham: In your book, you talk about the notion of connectedness. You tell people to ask themselves if they feel connected or isolated and I’d be interested in knowing more about that notion and how important it is with getting unstuck. Could you explain to me what connectedness is for you?
Anne Carley: Sure. This was just an insight that showed up one day, to be honest. I was looking for a conceptual framework for the book. I knew that I had all these short little tools that are kind of mini-interventions that we can just do on our own. I wanted some overarching connecting framework that put the entire book into some kind of coherent context for me and for others. That’s where I came up with the connectedness idea. It was a way to take a higher-altitude view of what I was presenting in this book and have it be … integrated better for people who care about that stuff. Some people just want to flip through it and pick a tool, and that’s great, but if they want to take the time to think, “What is this all about? What does it all have in common?” That’s where connectedness comes in.
The idea is simply that as humans, whether we like it or not, each of us is born with competing impulses that are wired into us. In evolution, parts of the brain that were built earlier, before we were even primates, before we were mammals, those really ancient parts of the brain are hardwired for, “Oh my God, what’s going to happen next? I have to be careful. What’s the threat? Oh my God.” Then there’s another part of the brain that came later that’s social that craves — and in fact, in infants and young people, must have — social interaction to thrive.
What are we going to do? There’s a part of us that’s like, “Oh boy, can’t trust anybody? What’s next? Oh my God, where’s the threat?” Right, and this other part that’s like, “I need people. I need community.” How do those two work it out together? Because they’re inside each of us. This isn’t a question of personality. It isn’t a question of cultural upbringing. It’s just there. Right? We all negotiate this tension differently, but the tension between those two things just exists.
Once I saw that, I thought, “Okay, this helps me create a framework for what I’m proposing writers do when they get stuck and want to become unstuck,” is that one way to look at where we are when we reach a stopping point that we’d rather weren’t there, one way to look at that is to say, “Where am I?” If you can picture kind of a continuum between utterly isolated and way over-connected. It’s quite a continuum. Most of us most of the time probably are hanging out somewhere middle-ish between those two extremes, but on a really bad day, it might be really bad because you can see the wires going, “Boing boing boing,” out of the sides of your skull, you’re just so over connected.
There’s just so many people who want a piece of you. There are so many demands on your time. There are so many deadlines. There’s so many stressful decisions that must be made, right? That’s like all these people grabbing at you, picking at you, sending you things, pinging you all the, you know, and then on the other side, it’s like, “I haven’t had a conversation in two weeks. What’s wrong with me? Am I just depressed? Am I ill? What’s going on?” If you look at things on that continuum, and obviously those are extremes, I find it helpful to figure out how to kind of self-select your own next step.
For example, in my book, I figured I would kind of do an analysis of the different tools, so some of them are rated for high connectedness. You’re feeling really, really connected, like maybe too much, look for a tool that’s for high connectedness, and it’ll help you recenter. If you’re feeling a little too isolated, you look for a tool with low connectedness because that might help you recover a sense of community, a sense of, “Oh yeah, I am in this with the rest of the world.”
Thuy Pham: Yeah. That’s what I like with your book because it’s not a book where you tell people, “Here’s what you should be doing.” As you mentioned, you advise people to wonder and ask the question, “Where am I?” I like the fact that before suggesting a tool to get someone unstuck, you have a process, and you help them analyze their current situation first. What would be then the next step after your book? Because I saw not long ago that you ran a course. Is it something that you offer that’s just a one-time course or how does it work? Do you have also other programs that you provide in addition to the book?
Anne Carley: Yeah. I’m really excited about this. As an extension of the book, you’re right, I did in January offer an independent study course called 30 Days to Becoming Unstuck. I was fortunate to have a guest blog post appear in a wonderful, generous person’s blog that has tremendous amounts of traffic, and she was kind enough to tell people about this course, and so a lovely number of complete strangers said, “I want to try this.” It was terrific because at one or two places along the way, it’s almost wrapped up now, but at one or two places during the course, I requested if people felt like it that they reply and tell me what’s going on and share with me what progress they’re making or where they’re having moments that were helpful. The responses have been so good and so meaningful to them, I think, and certainly to me, that it’s been real incentive for me to keep developing more of these self-study things.
I am honestly debating what format to use going forward, and for that matter, anybody listening who’s got ideas, so far what I’ve done is just have it really be pretty much self-starter, self-study approach. A series of emails goes out with some opportunities, as I said, to have a conversation with me, but mostly each person is on their own. There isn’t really a community, in the sense that they’re not in a group together in some way. I’m debating if in future we should include for example a Q&A call partway through, or a secret group in social media somewhere, or you know, something that makes it a little more of a shared experience, at least for those who prefer to have a shared experience. That’s up for grabs. I’m asking in evaluations on this course those kinds of questions as well just to see what direction is helpful to people.
Thuy Pham: Did you send an email, one email every day? Is it how it works?
Anne Carley: I did not.
Thuy Pham: Okay.
Anne Carley: I’ll tell you why: Because every time I’ve taken a course where they send you an email every day, I feel like a failure. Right? Because there’s going to be a day somewhere during that period when I can’t do it, and then how am I going to get caught up and then I’m like, “Oh my God, I might as well just give up.” Even if I talk myself into getting back on the horse, it’s unnecessary wear and tear, and I came to think that was a model I did not want to adopt. What I did instead was I sent one out every other day, three times a week. That way the “dosage,” so to speak, the amount of information, and the amount of time it takes a writer to process the information, and do whatever the activity is that’s requested, is reasonable.
You know, everybody has a minimum of 48 hours between one email and the next email, so if you’ve got a crazy day, no problem. The next day you can carve out 20 minutes, a half hour, and take care of this. Right? You’re more likely, it was my opinion, to keep the momentum going and to keep your spirits up, if you were given a realistic amount of time for life to happen and still be able to pursue this study course.
Thuy Pham: You offer people to reply to your email to have a conversation with you. There’s one interview that I did about course creation where we discuss with a company about making sure that students really want to engage in a community more than us as teacher offering a course and then saying, “Here, I give you this place as a community,” but if there’s no motivation for the students, then it’s really hard as a teacher to have them engage, if there’s nothing in the engagement that helped them create the transformation that they need. Maybe it could be interesting to have a survey, and I could add it to the show notes of this episode to understand why people would need a community, and what would help them get to where they’d like to be with the community.
Anne Carley: That’s very generous, and I will take you up on that, Thuy. Thank you so much. I have sent out a survey to the people, and I will refine it slightly for what you’re talking about, so that it’s not specific to the context of the course, but I’m very grateful. I think that’s a terrific idea. Thank you.
Thuy Pham: I don’t know what’s next after this course because I learn about your course too late, so I’m curious if you already have an idea about the next course. This time, I would not be too late before the train or the boat leave the dock. If you already have an idea, what next unless you will ask, you already ask in your survey what’s next, I would be interested in knowing what next.
Anne Carley: I think that both are true. I have asked in the survey what they want to be next. In addition, from feedback I’ve gotten elsewhere, not related to this course, a lot of people who are not full time writers, which is a huge population, writing’s important or they’re getting their feet wet, but they’re not like, “I can retire and just live off my writing.” That’s a pretty small population. The larger group of writers, and people who would like to be able to call themselves writers with confidence, that group needs a lot of information, guidance, helpful hints, tactics, and strategies. It’s quite a bit of stuff around how to be a writer. In other words, not writing technique, but identity, and public persona, and the dreaded platform, and how much of yourself to share, which parts of yourself to keep private. How to describe what you’re doing in an effective way.
There’s a lot around those kinds of questions that again is common to all kinds of writers and is really tricky without some guidance, I’m finding. My guess is that’s what I would tackle next. I’ve just begun drafting it, so I can’t tell you when it’s being released, but that’s my inclination at the moment.
Thuy Pham: Does it mean that you will accept people like me who don’t name themself “writer”?
Anne Carley: That’s actually, yeah. That’s part of the whole thing, isn’t it? At what point is it okay to say that’s part of who I am?
Thuy Pham: I have a question regarding being stuck. Do you have a tip for someone, let’s say, who suddenly decide after years putting it aside — that’s not about me — who wrote things in the past, and suddenly decide that yes, I’d like to get back into writing, but I just feel stuck, do you have some tips to just motivate them to start writing? Just get unstuck after so long.
Anne Carley: I’ve got a couple of quick ideas, I think. One is going to be take a walk in nature. It’s brilliant for a lot of things where you just feel “What do I do now?” If you walk away from it, inhale, and exhale longer than you inhale, move your body, look at something that’s not a wall. These things are tremendously helpful for a writing project. Another one is, I don’t know if this is going to ring a bell with you, but a lot of people, it turns out, have voices in their heads that are not really them. The voices belong to other people or characters from their past, and they say really mean, snarky things to you.
There’s a really easy, surprisingly easy technique I’ve found with a number of writers which is to figure out what you want to say back to them. And if necessary, you actually write it on an index card or put it on a screensaver, however you’d prefer, keep it in Evernote, you know, whatever, and I literally have a client who does this. He had these really evil voices in his head saying, “Who do you think you are to write this book?”
Thuy Pham: Yes, that, I resonate with it.
Anne Carley: Yeah. It’s like, “Are you serious? Do you really think you can kid yourself long enough to get this thing done? You must be joking.” Just mean. Okay, what’s your answer? For example, I think his answer, I’m paraphrasing, was roughly, “Who am I? Okay, I’ll tell you who I am. I’m the person who’s writing this book.” Basta. Simple. It was a satisfactory answer. It’s like, “Don’t ask me who I am. I know who I am. I’m the person who’s writing this book. Nobody else is as good at me at writing this particular book. Back off.” And you know what? It worked.
Thuy Pham: I was thinking I would not ask you more questions, but I still have one. How would you answer then the voice that would tell you, “Oh, there are so many other things I have to do. Life gets in the way,” and I even know that at some point you were moving, I guess, while you were writing. How would you handle those situations where you just say, “I can’t find the time.” Do you still have to force yourself to just set some time every day for writing?
Anne Carley: That’s a tough one, and honestly, I’m not going to say that there’s one answer to that question. I think the answer’s going to lie with each of us. And it may not be the same from one time to the next. There’s that example you remind me of where I was in the process of actually two moves at the same time. It was completely crazy. I wanted to write something, and one time I did — through just sheer luck and I had an idea and it was worth writing standing up in a warehouse on my phone. Another time, it was like, “You know what, the best decision for me to make right now is, Don’t do it. This is too much pressure. It’s not realistic. I’m resenting it. It’s not helpful. I won’t do good work. The more life-affirming choice at this moment is to say eh, I’ll get to it in a few weeks.” You know? You need to have a certain degree of compassion in play all the time.
Thuy Pham: That helps. I promise now I stop. My last question is where can we find you online?
Anne Carley: You can find me at ChenilleBooks.com. It’s Chenille like sweaters. C-H-E-N-I-L-L-E Books.com.
Thuy Pham: Yes, I didn’t know that it meant sweaters. For me, it’s a French word, so for me the first thing I was thinking, “Oh, it’s books with caterpillar.”
Anne Carley: Exactly. I was going to do a whole thing about caterpillar and chrysalis and metamorphosis and na na na, and then I thought, “Everybody has already done that,” so I decided not to go for it, but you’re absolutely right. It’s a caterpillar as much as it is a sweater.
Thuy Pham: “Oh, she used a French word.” That’s the first thing I thought about. I tried to look for a caterpillar or a butterfly, and I didn’t find that on your website. Thank you, Anne. It was really helpful, I know for myself and I’m sure that for people who are listening to us. I will put your information in the show notes. Thank you, thank you again Anne for your time.
Anne Carley: Thank you, Thuy. It’s such a pleasure to speak with you.
Thuy Pham: This was episode 24 of Get On Your Quest. In case you are stuck in your writing process, I suggest that you have a look at Anne’s book. You can find the link to her website in my show notes at GetOnYourQuest.com/24. Anne also created a survey to see how she could help you move forward in your writing. If you have a couple of minutes, let her know about your inputs. I’m sure that she would be very happy to hear from you. The link to the survey is also provided in the show notes. As for this week’s action item, let’s see how to get you unstuck with your work.
Do you have a current project that you put on hold, despite the fact that it matters to you to get it done? It doesn’t have to be a writing project, but we can still apply some of the tips that Anne provided during our conversation. Write down the reasons why you feel stuck. Do you have an inner critic that is stopping you from moving forward? What could you say to that voice? I would love to hear about your new project or your future book, so don’t hesitate to let me know about it. Until next time, keep moving forward one story at a time.