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Book review for writers: The Literary Handyman by Danielle Ackley-McPhail

Book Review for Writers: The Literary Handy man by Danielle Ackley-McPhail

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If you’ve got a story inside you that you’ve always wanted to write, there is truth to the idea that you must sit down with a computer or pen and paper and begin to write. But, if you want to craft a good story, one that will attract an audience, you’ll need some tools. The Literary Handyman by Danielle Ackley-McPhail is a great place to start. It’s got much the same information you’d glean from a year’s subscription to Writer’s Digest and one or two writer’s workshops, but all in one place and written in a conversational style.

The book serves as a refresher for someone wanting to revitalize their writing or as a quick-start guide for someone new to fiction who is starting to struggle with questions like “Should this be a novel or a short story?” or “Should I write every day, even when I don’t feel inspired?” The book is subtitled “Tips On Writing From Someone Who’s Been There,” and though the tips are practical, they’re also full of encouragement.

Danielle gives solid suggestions on research for establishing the reality your story is set in, and the gamer in me loves that she talks about using an RPG model for character building. She’s got three chapters about dialog (my personal nemesis) as well as several pages of writing exercises. I thought I’d try some out, so I did one called “Writing to the Senses,” which is in two parts. I’ve done very little creative writing since I changed directions a few years ago and started wring non-fiction, but I was thrilled to see how easily the ideas formed themselves into a scene as I wrote.

The last section covers the business end of writing. While a few of the examples are a little dated (the book was published “way back” in 2011), the advice drawn from the author’s decades of experience as a writer and editor is incredibly valuable. I recommend this book to anyone who could use some expert help breaking into the publishing world. Be sure to check out Danielle’s website, blog, and Twitter.

If you’re curious about my writing exercise, I put it up on Tumblr.



  1. For those who prefer audiobooks, this will be coming out on audio through ACX this month, narrated by Catherine O’Brien.

  2. I know what its like when you first start writing. Its difficult to get there. If you can start with just one sentence and see where it goes from there.

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