by Bob Mayer
Bob Mayer is a pretty impressive guy. He’s a West Point grad, former Green Beret, NYT Best Selling author of umpteen books (fiction and non-fiction), owner of Cool Gus Publishing, author’s coach, blogger, speaker/consultant, and a lot more stuff there’s just not room to include. The Swiss Army Knife of writing. He seems to do it all, and well.
No surprise The Novel Writer’s Toolkit (Writers Digest Books 2003) is a great start for anyone writing a novel. Mayer includes topics on characteristics of a writer, tools for day-to-day writing (a bit trite, though i enjoy the atmosphere of writing so it was fun to read), what to write, preparation for writing, elements of the story (narrative structure, plot, pacing, etc.), technique (characters, POV, dialogue, setting, subplots). His final chapters on the business end of writing include the submission (process, rejections, agents), your business and the future (ebooks).
The book includes helpful sample outlines, sample cover letter and synopsis–something not usually found in self-help writing books. He also has a nice sample story grid and plot line.
Overall, he covers the mechanics of writing in less than 135 pages and the business parts in less than seventy. That makes it a quick read, and enjoyable as it doesn’t linger anywhere too long to be boring.
Therein lies its one shortfall if you’re a veteran writer looking for help on characteristics giving you trouble: Nothing is very detailed. For example, there aren’t specifics on creating good dialogue or narrative. Full Disclosure: He has an update out called Novel Writer’s Toolkit: From Idea to Best-Seller (Cool Gus Publishing 2013) which I haven’t read so it may fix my ‘shortfall’.
Nevertheless, it is one of the books I keep on-hand, behind my writing desk on my floor-to-ceiling shelves, as reference on how to perform my art to its best. Here are thirteen take-aways that have made a difference in my writing:
- Tool One: Yourself [refreshing to hear this. So many times, the power of the individual is forgotten in the success of writing. I love that Mayer includes Me.]
- “Simple perseverance counts for a lot…” [Good to know since that's a resource most authors have plenty of]
- “…be willing to continuously learn from any source to improve your writing.”
- He offers four addendum to Mark Twain’s ‘Write what you know’–I like this acceptance of the reality that writers constantly write what they DON’T know. It’s their voice, research, storytelling skills that make it work more than intimate knowledge.
- “If you can’t [write down the original idea of your book in one sentence], then you need to backtrack through your thought processes to find it…”
- “Try to write like a reader, rather than a writer.” Are you hooked as a reader? Is it suspenseful enough?
- “Most novice writers want formulas and rules… Unfortunately writing is never [that] easy…”
- “When a person has trouble writing action scenes, I immediately look to see if the author is handling perspective well. When dialogue drags, I check point of view.”
- “Perspective is your voice as a writer.”
- “…most writers don’t knock the reader’s socks off with their opening two chapters.”
- “…point of view is the number one type problem for most writers.” [I argue about this all the time with writers. I'm amazed good authors think you can head hop and not confuse readers. Then again, I've seen it done effectively by NYT best sellers.]
- “If you want the reader to understand a battle scene, omniscient point of view is a good choice… But if you want the reader to see how one specific character is responding to the danger of combat, …stick with third person from the character’s point of view.”
- “The most important aspect of rewriting is to be honest.”