I picked up this book from the new books shelf at the library while I was waiting for my oil to get changed. It’s a weirdly harmless book that annoyed in a few particular ways. I generally like Walter Mosley novels, but he’s got that thing that almost every prolific novelist has, the inability to not write a book that he’s thinking about writing. That’s why he’s published so many books in his career, and for every very good one, there’s some really really bad ones. So part of the issue is that I agree that he definitely knows how to write books, but his compulsion and methodology would be hard to recreate in others.
And that’s part of the problem. How do you capture a how-to guide for new writers if your system is sui generis to yourself? I think the opening sections of Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair is the possible advice. Write 500 words a day and in a year you’ll have a novel.
But here the advice is so obvious and on the nose, I can’t imagine anyone really needing to hear it in this way. Also this whole book is peppered with allusions to other works and I feel like if the reader of this book has read those books, they can’t possibly need the relatively elementary advice this book gives. If you’re reading Dostoyevsky, you don’t need advice like “well choose between first and third person”. Not to say you could write a book—I can’t—but I think you’d know what you needed to do at least.
So this book feels like the opposite of a book like Save the Cat or The Art of Memoir which really take a teacher’s sense of how to write rather than a writer’s.