I have no intention of writing a how-to book. No time, no interest. I do read them, however, and usually I’m irritated. I imagine the author sitting in front of the keyboard chuckling to himself. Knowing he’s tying aspiring authors into knots. Good, he thinks. Too many damn books out there as it is.
Which really, who could argue? There are hundreds of books I’d like to read and haven’t got to yet, and more every day.
But. If you’re going to write a how-to book, your heart and your mind should be in the right place. Which is rarely the case, so most of those books aren’t worth much, in my opinion. And of course there are exceptions: I do like Bird by Bird, for the author’s sincerity and generosity of spirit and sense of humor. There are some nuggets of wisdom in there, but it’s not a book that sets out to teach you anything concrete about how to write. It’s more about how to approach the act of writing. The other is Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction, which is the best book I’ve ever run into for simply untangling the mechanics of storytelling. There are also some good books on very specific topics. While I find most how to write properly books (shall I say) full of crap, there are some great books that look at very specific and focused issues, such as how to write a good erotic sex scene or how to approach personal narrative.
I am wondering what you think about this. Especially if you are writing with the hope of being published at some point. Do you read how-to books? And if you read them, do they help, or hurt, or do nothing at all? Do you actually learn anything from them that you can use?
And here’s a question: what would you like to see in a how-to book you’ve never seen before?