Reading writing books is either an exercise in navel-gazing, or an opportunity to read something just so you can mock it, like binge-watching the Twilight movies.
(Only at least reading writing books, even shitty writing books, does something for you. Twilight just makes more of your brain dribble out your ears. I want to remind you that time is a particle, just like mass or gravity, and each instant continues to exist on a level beyond our perception. Therefore, every moment you spent watching Twilight is still out there, screaming forever into the void. Think about that before you go to sleep tonight.)
I say this because writers are a capricious bunch. We have opinions on everything, and since most people don’t appreciate our work, we tend to jump all over the things that propagate ideas we don’t like. We blame every stupid writing book for all the wrongs of society, as though that will somehow make publishers pay us for content. Some people will chase you down with torches and pitchforks for questioning the idea that you should write every day. Others will shiv you over the Oxford comma. I’m just saying you should bring a pocket knife to your writer’s circle, that’s all. Being prepared never hurts. Getting stabbed does.
The point is, every writer has an opinion about writing—how to do it, why to do it, what phase the moon should be in before undertaking a new project, what sacred oils to drip over a query letter to get a yes, what breed of chicken you should sacrifice in exchange for actually making money from your writing. You know, the basics.
Not all of those opinions are good. I personally want to smother anyone who tells me I have to make an outline for every story that pops into these here brain parts. Stephen King has a particular hate boner for adverbs. And I'm sure George RR Martin has a hit out on every person who ever says you have to finish a book in a certain length of time.
But not all those opinions are bad, either. I personally agree with the adverb thing, though perhaps without as much vehemence. And Martin's dichotomy of architects versus gardeners helped me make sense of my own writing. (Although in general I believe all dichotomies should be killed with fire, BUT THAT'S ANOTHER POST.)
The problem is, it can be hard to tell dross from gold at a glance. Writing books are an investment, both in time and money, and most of them aren't worth your time. I want to talk about the ones that are.
And no, this isn't just to justify my habit of buying writing books compulsively. I'm insulted you think that.
No, actually, I'm here to argue there is a good reason for reading writing books.
Writing can be a draining task. It's a paradox noted by a lot of authors: the same thing that makes life worth living can also be as much fun as getting your teeth pulled without Novocaine. By that dentist from Little Shop of Horrors. Who isn't even played by Steve Martin this time.
And the truth is, you can never keep this feeling at bay completely. It happens to everyone who loves their work. Sometimes you just come to the keyboard feeling lousy about something else, and no matter how deep you get in the words, you can't forget it. Or maybe you got a nasty review on the internet, which at this point I am certain is 95% Youtube comments.
But you can take steps to mitigate that feeling. Don't read Youtube comments, for one thing. I thought everyone on the internet these days knew that.
There's another way, though. Writers are a needy bunch. Sometimes we need a way to recharge. Writing books—and other things about writing—can help you out of that rut. It might be by reminding you that others have been in the same place. Or by giving you a swift kick in the ass. Or reminding you of the joy you feel in the creative process, that reason you're chasing this crazy dream in the first place.
At least, I hope you're chasing it 'cause it makes you happy. If you're in this for money, you're screwed.