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Saturday, 7 February 2015

Are Self Help Books Helpful?

I know! A post. An actual post! Wow, right? I've had the draft of this post written for ages but somehow it just didn't get as far as here. I've had my head down working on something else and this got a bit neglected. Sorry about that. I'm still beavering away on the other thing but I decided that this post is definitely going up today. So here we go.

I have a shelf entirely dedicated to 'How to Write' type books. A couple of them cover individual genres, and the rest are a varied selection including the always to be recommended, Stephen King's  'On Writing'

Admittedly, with exception of the latter, and a couple of specifically recommended ones, most of them were bought many years ago almost in bulk in a Writing Magazine book sale. Although the knowledge I hoped that these tomes would impart was a significant reason for placing the order, I cannot truthfully say that knowing a box would soon turn up, filled entirely with books, did not also hold some sway.

I still have not read them all. Don't get me wrong, I didn't order hundreds - possibly six or seven, and I have read others around them, including a couple I found in a wonderful bookshop in London's Charing Cross Road. This, at a time, when there were many more there than there are today. The shop was all angles and stairs and I spent a good long time in there, mooching about. I've no idea if it survived the swing of the Amazon blade (a blade I admittedly help sharpen), but I'd like to think it has.

But back to the books. The funny thing is, and I realise there is nothing especially new in this thought, but sometimes 'how to' books - on any subject - can be a double edged sword. Reading them is time you could actually be writing your own words. I know of people who spend ages reading such books, websites, articles, etc but never write a word. Only they can answer the question as to why that is the case for them, but it's no secret that such books can certainly be a distraction.

So, perhaps the trick is finding a good balance. Because there's no doubt that some of the information contained in these books is most helpful. Some, as previously mentioned, are extremely helpful and regularly recommended by writers from all levels on the success scale. Reading them can really motivate you. They can really make you believe that, yes, I can actually do this!

And there's the key - you need to actually do this. It's not going to be great immediately. That's why it's called a First Draft. It's ok. As had been said before, it's pretty damn hard to edit a blank page, so at some point you need to put down the self help books and pick up your pen. Information is great. But sometimes too much information can be just that - too much. Sometimes we just have to jump in and flail around a bit. And it's amazing what can be learned during that time, however inelegant it looks to start with.

What's your opinion on How To books - help or hindrance, or a bit of both? I'd love to hear!

Happy Writing!


  1. Oh gosh! I have Sally Jenkins' book on DIY Self-pblishing on Kindle, but I've only read a little of it. Don't like Kindle much as you can't stick bookmarks in and flip back, so I can't tell you whether it's helped or not. And what I have read has scared me off trying!

    1. I'm a bit like you with the Kindle. Whilst I can see the benefits, I'm a real tactile book lover at the core. I think it may take a bit of getting used to. My Mum has one, and she is a complete technophobe really but it's been amazing for her as her mobility is very limited now so even the library became difficult. And for holidays, etc. I think it's worth persevering with the book - I'm sure you'll do fine with it :)

    2. Actually, I am fine with reading fiction on it because one can read straight through. Using it to read reference books is too difficult - you can't stick a postit note in the useful pages!

    3. That's very true!

  2. I bought a few self-help books when I began writing again, after a big gap of time, because there was new things to learn.

    Now I only buy the odd one or two in a year, like Sally Jenkins' e-book, Lizy mentioned. It will be something I'm not familiar with and need an overview.

    But as you mentioned, you have to stop reading and get down to the actual writing, sooner, rather than later as the old cliché states. :-)

    1. Thanks for the comment, Carol. Yes, I'm like you and restrict myself now. I've just bought a screenwriting one as I've something in mind but know nothing about this aspect, regarding layout or anything so there's certainly room for them. I suppose it is so long as they don't become a substitution for the actual writing. This e-book one seems to be popular - I shall have to look at that!


I love to hear your feedback, thoughts and ideas but please be kind and play nice so that it's enjoyable for everyone. Thank you :)