Guest Post: “Doing Battle With The Anti-Muse” by Danielle Ackley-McPhail

dmcphail500x500.jpgMeet Danielle Ackley-McPhail.

Award-winning author and editor Danielle Ackley-McPhail has worked both sides of the publishing industry for longer than she cares to admit. In 2014 she joined forces with husband Mike McPhail and friend Greg Schauer to form her own publishing house, eSpec Books (

Her published works include six novels, Yesterday’s Dreams, Tomorrow’s Memories, Today’s Promise, The Halfling’s Court, The Redcaps’ Queen, and Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn, written with Day Al-Mohamed. She is also the author of the solo collections Eternal Wanderings, A Legacy of Stars, Consigned to the Sea, Flash in the Can, Transcendence, Between Darkness and Light, and Eternal Wanderings, the non-fiction writers’ guide, The Literary Handyman, and is the senior editor of the Bad-Ass Faeries anthology series, Gaslight & Grimm, Side of Good/Side of Evil, After Punk, and In an Iron Cage. Her short stories are included in numerous other anthologies and collections.

In addition to her literary acclaim, she crafts and sells original costume horns under the moniker The Hornie Lady, and homemade flavor-infused candied ginger under the brand of Ginger KICK! at literary conventions, on commission, and wholesale.

Danielle lives in New Jersey with husband and fellow writer, Mike McPhail and three extremely spoiled cats.

To learn more about her work, visit or www.especbooks.


Social Media Links:
Twitter!/DMcPhail and!/eSpecBooks
Amazon author page

The Guest Post.


Doing Battle With The Anti-Muse


Writer’s Block is a myth, right? Sad to say it is not.

Sometimes things go beyond Writer’s Block.

I went through a period in my life where I could not write. I knew what I needed to write. Basically, what needed to happen. They were all established characters. And yet, the story refused to be told.

It is very demoralizing. In trying to push my way past, I aggravated the situation by failing time and again.

Yes…I’ve done this. I literally owed fans a novella. Just a novella! Not even a full book. It took me five years to complete it. Part of the problem was that the novella is a spin-off from a trilogy. Another part of the problem was the novella is the start of new series. The scope of the project boggled me.

How much does the reader need to know? What don’t they? Whatever that ends up being, how do I convey the back story without bogging down the tale in infodumps?

It wasn’t an easy prospect, this novella. And yet, I was committed. Not that the fans hadn’t given up hope after a certain point. There is only so many time they can hear, ‘Life happens, but I’m over it. I’ve got this now…’

Five times I had false starts. How do you get past that?

Here are some tips.

Know Your Material

If you are writing based on existing material, review that material first. Reread everything relevant and make note of those elements that could potentially relate to the new content you are writing. This is both for continuity and so you know what to include, not just for those familiar with the universe, but for those who are encountering it for the first time. You don’t want to retell the existing books but if the story line is related certain back story will need to be included in some way for your current story to make sense.

Decide What You Need To Write

Sounds obvious, right? Not so easy, not so straightforward. For one thing, not everyone works with an outline. For another, if you knew what you needed to write you’d just do it…right? Oh, if only!

I am a ‘pantser’. This means I write without an outline. I get an idea and I just run with it until I get another idea. Kind of like a scavenger hunt where my prize is the story. Or maybe a hedge maze! LOL I do a LOT of wandering around. It works for me. But I still need an idea of the story I want or need to tell.

In the case of Eternal Wanderings (the novella I owed everyone) I knew precisely the tale I was going to tell. I’d even written a good piece of it. But it was dry and boring and angsty. My character, Kara O’Keefe, had moved well past angsty at this point. With each of my many false starts I got a better idea of what needed to be on the page and what did not. I read and reread what I did manage to get down and identified where the gaps were, what I was missing. Everything took place within the confines of a Romani caravan so I ended up with a lot of repetition, a lot of the same feel. That needed to be switched up.

I was also ending up with a bunch of tense scenes all with the same emotional tone and all dwelling too much on past events. Some of that was needed, but not only does a good story require contrasting tones, but I also needed to keep in mind character growth. Without that you don’t have much of a story. Static is not interesting.

So, whether you outline or not, think about the story you want to tell and consider how to make it well-rounded. Know the points you don’t want to leave out and consider which ones you do.

Research Until You Drop

When you write you are creating a world. Sometimes it is completely made up. Sometimes it is a mirror of the world we live in. In either case, it should be clearly drawn and explored for the reader. Not necessarily extraneous detail, but elements that are relevant to the character’s experience and the story you are telling. For me, that meant I needed to learn what a Romani caravan looks like, how the people dress, something of their outlook on life. What is acceptable. What is *not*. For me the internet provided pretty much all I needed to fill in those details.

Not writing a real-world analog? That just means you need to explore your world in detail so you reveal that world to your reader. Understand the how and the why of things, research how things work and what different type of environments or cultures are like and what they produce so your made-up world can follow guidelines that will make sense to the reader.

Try Something Else

Is it everything, or just one thing that you cannot write? Has your current project become an albatross? Take a break. Try writing something just for the heck of it. Something that doesn’t matter nearly so much as the one hanging over your head.  And if that doesn’t work…

Be At Peace

If you can’t write, you can’t write. Accept that.

Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t try. Sit down, give it a go. But don’t follow your doubts down a rabbit hole if today isn’t the day. When I was supposed to be writing Eternal Wanderings I second-guessed everything I had on the page and just could not see which direction I should go. I was convinced everything I wrote was crap and I was no longer a storyteller. My mind no longer generated random ideas and my thumb drive was full of isolated files where I pulled stuff out of the manuscript and just couldn’t throw it away.

Then…one day…five years later! I woke up with my mind buzzing and a new direction to go in. I wrote or rewrote a third of the story in that day. Within two weeks, I was done. It was nothing I could predict. The stresses of life hadn’t gone away. New things kept happening. There were still life problems I had (and need) to sort out. But I had stopped second-guessing myself. I had relaxed into ‘when it’s time.’

Sometimes it is the anxiety of needing to write that makes it impossible. Give yourself a break, because agonizing over it is counterproductive.

Don’t give up, but don’t try and force it either.



Want to learn more?

Visit Danielle on one of her social media sites!


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2 responses to “Guest Post: “Doing Battle With The Anti-Muse” by Danielle Ackley-McPhail”

  1. Danielle, I too have been in that situation. All too often it has been outside events that have thrown me off track. Jobs, housekeeping and just everyday living eat up precious time that I knew could be used to write. My muse needed to be fed every day, and she often starved. I’d have to say that I suffered from procrastination more often than any blockage.
    Thank you for the great points. These will help me get back on track if I stray.


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