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An Overview of the Craft: The Novel Writer’s Toolkit by Bob Mayer, Review

Boost of Motivation, Novel Writer's Toolkit review Quote

Boost of Motivation, Novel Writer's Toolkit review QuoteSometimes you get handed a book that you wouldn’t have bought in a million years and it turns out to contain grains of pure gold. Bob Mayer’s “The Novel Writer’s Toolkit” was one of those for me.


Bob Mayer is a rather accomplished writer, both in terms of books published (over 60) and money earned (unknown but from what he says “good”). He knows what he’s talking about and he isn’t shy about using himself as an example.

In The Novel Writer’s Toolkit (TNWT) Mayer presents 9 tools (read themes) dealing with everything a writer needs to know, from personal insights (common traits of successful writers, knowing why you write, etc.) to more commonplace advice on plot, theme, character creation and similar.

In some areas The Novel Writer’s Toolkit shines when compared to regular writer’s books, such as the focus on selling and making a career and the key to defining your kernel idea (writing to a premise sentence), which makes the book stand out from the pack.

I liked the parts on personal development, and the fact that Bob Mayer stresses that there is no formula, there are only tools and every writer needs to find the right tools for them. Thus I got a boost of motivation from TNWT. While reading I had several moments when I put the book down and went to write, or scribble ideas, or walk around waving my arms not knowing what to do with all the energy. There were also a few moments where I got really angry at how I had managed my writing beforehand and why I hadn’t tried to do it more seriously.

There are No Rules, Only Tools, Bob Mayer quoteThe parts about the kernel idea, the spark that gets you going and excited, and how to keep that alive throughout a long project, were excellent. I would recommend reading The Novel Writer’s Toolkit just for that.

There’s also a great part about conflict, and how to spot or create the conflict in your story. Bob also talks about how writers commonly mistake motivation for goals and how that makes the conflict faulty (and what to do to fix it).

However, for me The Novel Writer’s Toolkit felt too long winded. I found myself skimming quite often, and the language didn’t grab my attention. I miss that wow-pow glory gotta-finish-this-now-now-now that I’ve been spoiled with reading lots of great how to manuals.

The Novel Writer’s Toolkit also focuses a lot on Bob Mayer’s writing. A LOT. After the twentieth reference to one of Mayer’s works that I haven’t read and considering that he devotes two chapters to how this book is all about skills but if you want to make real money as a writer then buy his Write It Forward book, well, I’m guessing that this really is a not-so-slow sell.

Key insights

  • Every advice, every rule, every tool is just that – a tool. Pick what works for you.
  • There’s a lot to be won by defining the key idea of your novel, both in terms of pitching and in terms of staying true to the vision.
  • A lot of writers mistake conflict for motivation and vice versa. Those two aren’t interchangeable.
  • Perseverance is the key to a successful writing career.
  • Creating a visual diagram helps to define your conflict and make sure that it is a conflict.
  • If writing with characters in different locations outline using time, location, local time (if applicable) and who is where.

Who is it for?

  • Beginning writers who want an overview of the process – The Novel Writer’s Toolkit is a book that contains a group of standard tools for writers so if you’ve never read a writing craft book in your life you’ll get a good overview of what it takes to write a novel.
  • Mid-experience writers who want to expand their toolbox or gain motivation.

I would say that I’m not the key target audience for The Novel Writer’s Toolkit. That’s clearly beginning writers with little or no experience. However, I did find some nuggets of wisdom in it and while Mayer’s technique is widely different from my own I did get motivated by what he writes. Just remember what Mayer says: every writers is different, find what works for you.


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