Welcome to Writers’ Uni-Verse-City (or WUVC for short because every university has an acronym), a place where writers/bloggers can meet to discuss the craft of writing in the Internet age. I started this initiative because I want to learn what it takes to make it in the world of writing and publishing and there is a wealth of information on the web that can teach me. WUVC will involve independent research, setting a curriculum and hopefully finding other participants (like you – readers/bloggers/writers) to: chip in, give tips, suggest books and other materials for study, teach me the ways of the warrior writer, and offer to guest post here at Uni-Verse-City.
“The Writer’s Toolkit: A Guide to Writing Great Fiction and Getting it Published” by Bob Mayer couldn’t have been a better choice for the first book of study here at WUVC. What I really like about this book is that Mayer has written it over the course of years of writing, completing numerous manuscripts, and invaluable reflection: “the advantage of this book is that my perspective is much closer to yours, the beginning writer, than, say, the perspective of a best-selling author, although they all started where you are” writes Mayer.
He is humble, he writes like a teacher and a fellow writer rather than an “expert,” who sometimes talk down to the reader, even though he is a best-selling author! But this approach made me give more even more weight to what he is said and so I considered it carefully. I couldn’t read “The Writer’s Toolkit” without a highlighter, pen and notebook handy. I found myself writing down concepts I didn’t know about before, I stopped reading and I thought about the points he made in terms of my work in progress, which I’ve temporarily put on hold until I learn the basics. Bob Mayer does just that, he teaches you the basics of how to start a novel from the “one sentence original idea” to submitting the completed manuscript to agents and publishers.
Here are some of the key things that I personally learned from Mayer’s book:
1) The “first novel is rarely the one that is purchased. It is an investment in time to learn the art and craft”. Wake up call people! It takes time to learn the craft so don’t lay all your hopes on the first novel. This can be some tough news to chew on, but it’s definitely worth thinking about as a positive thing: a learning process.
- With this in mind, Mayer recommends starting your second book before you start marketing and approaching agents with your first book. This totally makes sense. You will start to detach a bit from your first novel because you will start to get involved in the second, thus easing the pain of all the rejections. PLUS if you have a second book nearly finished by the time you get an agent its even better because it gives them more to work with.
- Be prepared to put in the work because “somewhere between manuscript three and six, comes the breakthrough to be published” on average, based on conversations Mayer had with other published writers. Why? Because most of us need to learn how to write a novel and to practice writing novels before we can write a publishable novel.
2) I learned about the intent of the novel, which I think (correct me if I’m wrong) is interchangeable with the theme. Mayer describes intent as the one to five words used to describe the overarching concept to the novel. (e.x. love conquers all).
3) A great tip is to read novels and watch movies on similar topics or ideas and dissect them into all the parts of a story. A useful and fun exercise.
4) Characters have three levels of conflict: inner, personal and universal/societal. I was able to identify all three in my protagonist, but still have to work them out for my other main characters.
5) Point of view: “if you stay with one character (everything seen from that one point of view throughout the novel) then you might write first person because what you end up doing is writing a third person/first person story.” Interesting and I will have to be careful when writing in third person.
6) Setting sets the mood. (Yes, we even learned this in high school English, but I forgot). Setting can be used to evoke an emotion in the reader. Further study on how exactly this is done is required. If you would like to suggest any craft books or great novels as examples, please leave it in the comments.
While these six points are definitely not the only things I learned, they are what resonated with me the most. “The Writer’s Toolkit” was so full of great information that my copy has highlighting on nearly every page and my notebook has filled up.
Bob Mayer writes in a totally different genre than I plan to write in (thriller vs. women’s fiction), but based on what I read in this book, he is a plotter. I am also a plotter and I will definitely be reviewing his book thoroughly until I can plan out my novel and answer all the questions that an author needs to be able to answer. I have the feeling that based on Mayer’s book, I will create my own “tool” or spreadsheet on how to plan out my future novels.
So before you read this book, be prepared to be enlightened and take the time to reflect on what he says. It will be a continual resource for me in my writing.
Have you read the “Writer’s Toolkit”? What tips did you find the most useful? Did anything in this book surprise you?