Review: The Creative Writer’s Toolbelt (Handbook)

honing the craft recommended resource review Feb 04, 2021

Post written by Katie Wall. This post contains an affiliate link. This means if you click on the link and purchase an item, we will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. All opinions remain our own.

Today's review will focus on one resource in two different mediums: podcast and book. What's the resource? The Creative Writer's Toolbelt (podcast) and The Creative Writer’s Toolbelt Handbook (book) by Andrew J. Chamberlain.

I first found this podcast via Spotify, and once I got far enough through the episodes I found out that Chamberlain had distilled the best of the podcast episodes into a book of the same title.

I highly recommend both of these mediums, and I will take some time below to explain the pros and cons of each. Then I'll highlight a couple of episodes of the podcast that I think are especially important for writers to review.

The Creative Writer's Toolbelt Podcast

Chamberlain is from England and so has a lovely accent to my American ears. He's also a clear speaker with an excellent pace. The podcast episodes themselves are divided into two types.

The first type is shorter episodes (around 15-20 minutes) discussing an aspect of writing craft. Chamberlain lays these topics out in very accessible and bite-sized chunks, perfect for listening to when you have a few minutes. He also includes excellent examples to illustrate what he’s talking about.

The second type of episode is interviews with authors and other people from the publishing industry. These episodes tend to run around an hour in length; some interviews are with one professional and others are with multiple. Chamberlain asks excellent questions of his guests, and he's done a good job of choosing guests who interview well.

Podcast Pros:

  • Episodes are edited well
  • Covers important writing craft topics well
  • Nice selection of guests
  • Information very accessible
  • Lots of well-chosen examples

Podcast Cons:

  • No longer adding additional episodes
  • Some of the interview episodes have sound quality or volume differences between the voices
  • If you're hard of hearing and not from England, you may have a hard time deciphering his accent (as with any accent)

Favorite Podcast Episodes

I definitely can’t pick just one favorite episode from the podcast, but I did want to highlight some episodes that I think might be especially helpful for you.

Writing Craft Episodes:

Episode 13 - Character Motivation. Episode description: “Continuing our series on characterisation, in this episode we look at character motivation and why the motivation for the characters in our writing must be: evident to the reader, reasonable and understandable, and must drive the plot.”

Episode 24 - Planners and Pantsers. Episode description: “One of the more contentious debates in creative writing is the question of whether authors should plan and outline, or simply go with the flow and dive straight in to their writing. In this episode we look at both sides of the argument and try to pick the best from both.”

Episode 69 - Seasoning the Story: How to Seed Information about Character and Setting into Your Work. Episode description: “So you’ve identified the key information about your settings and characters, and now you have to seed it into your work. If you do it right, you can carry your readers into a rich and immersive world with characters they will want to care about; if you do it wrong you may lose your readers altogether. The stakes are that high, and in this episode we explore the techniques and strategies for avoiding the mistakes and making the best of the information you need to give your readers.”

Episode 80 - The Absolute Essentials of Writing a Scene. Episode description: “The scene is a key building block of a story, so how can we make sure that the scenes in our writing work? In this episode we explore the three key questions that every writer needs to ask about each scene they write: what is the objective of the scene? How does the scene begin and end? And what gives the scene energy and direction?

Episode 130 - Energising Each Scene in Your Novel with Polarity Shifts and Scene Turns. Episode description: “What must a scene have to really make it work? It’s not action, it’s not dialogue, it’s not sparkling description, wonderful though these things can be. For a scene to work something that matters needs to change. In this episode, we explore these changes or polarity shifts to show this principle, with an example story that contains some scenes with these shifts and some that do not to show what a difference that makes.”

Interview Episodes:

Episode 60 - ‘Writing the Other’ with Nisi Shawl and Daniel José Older. Episode description (partial): “How should we present characters from a range of different backgrounds in our work? How can we portray these characters with integrity and respect, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation and ability? And how can we navigate this issue with confidence, especially if we come from a group that is perceived to be privileged?”

Episode 98 - How to Look After Yourself and Not be a Jerk: Living the Writer’s Life Well with Marie Bilodeau and Derek Künsken. Episode description: “This episode is a conversation with Ottawa based speculative fiction writers Marie Bilodeau and Derek Künsken. In the conversation we explore how to live the writer’s life well, and what it means to follow the navy maxim that we need to be able to float, sail, and shoot. We explore Marie’s experiences with retreats, and Derek’s experiences with sabbaticals, and we reflect on Derek’s best advice for writers: Don’t be a jerk.”

Episode 109 - Conversation with Juliet Mushens of CaskieMushens Literary Agency. Episode description: “Want to know how to query an agent? I do, so I decided to talk to one of the best agents in the business right now; someone with international clients, and experience of selling book, TV, and film rights. This episode is a wide-ranging conversation with Juliet Mushens of CaskieMushens literary agency in which we talk about how to approach an agent, what to put in the query letter, and what in a single sentence, the agent is really looking for.”

Episode 111 - Do You Know What Your Book is Really About? Cutting Through the Noise with Book Coach Jennie Nash. Episode description: “This episode is a conversation with book coach Jennie Nash. We learn about the difference between wishing you had written a book and actually writing one, the three essential pillars of effective book coaching, and how to work out what your story is really about. Don’t just have a good idea, write the book!” Fun Fact: Listening to this episode is how I learned about the book coaching profession to begin with!

The Creative Writer's Toolbelt Handbook

I have to admit that I haven't yet read the book cover to cover, so I can't comment on experiencing it that way. However, I have been using it as an exceptionally handy reference, and the table of contents makes it incredibly easy to use it this way.

Book Pros:

  • Very easy to reference
  • All of the best information from the podcast distilled down

Book Cons:

  • Formatting is clearly a self-published book (doesn't impact use, just an aesthetic con)
  • Only available in Kindle or paperback (no hardcover)

Sample Quote from the Book

When I am reviewing a book resource I often include quotes from the book that I think would help you as a writer. However, this time I will simply share two paragraphs from the introduction to the book. I think these paragraphs will give you insight into what you might expect from the book as well as how it could be useful to you.

“This book is not going to give you a magic formula to write great stories, because such a formula does not exist. What it will give you though are suggestions, insights, and wisdom from people who are making a living in creative writing. These insights will be backed up with examples from classic and contemporary sources.

One last thing before you begin; this book is here to help you, not create a standard for you to reach. If you read something here that makes sense, and is helpful, absorb it and use it; if you read something that simply doesn’t work for you, forget it and move on. The advice here is to serve you, not the other way around; so take whatever seems to make sense to you and dump the rest, and then go and do your very best work.”

Conclusion

Whether you utilize the podcast or the book, you’ll find information that is helpful for you as a fiction writer. I wholeheartedly recommend this resource and often relisten to pertinent episodes or review sections of the book to bring me back to my goal: crafting better books.

If you would like to purchase The Creative Writer’s Toolbelt Handbook, please consider supporting my work by using my affiliate link.

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