The other day I was asked what books I would recommend for learning how to write. This came as a surprise and I found myself on the spot, trying to come up with a good answer. Like anything with a creative bent there are a lot of books with instructions and how-to advice and so to pick pick a fewespecially in a field where I am the constant amateurwas a difficult proposition. Especially when, unknown to the person asking, I have a hard time getting through any type of textbook no matter the subject, especially anything in the how-to realm. Take for instance the time I had to replace a light switch.
The removal and replacement of a light switch is simple enough, It takes a screw driver and a set of hands with opposable thumbs. The problem I had is that there is electricity involved and that freaks me out, for good reason. Not knowing the proper way of working around live current running through the wires in the walls of my home I sought out a book containing knowledge (with pictures) on proper procedures in home repair pertaining to things that require electricity. I know, I know, it mostly involves turning off the electric current running to the house but I have this thing about not being electrocuted, ever.
Little did I know that replacing things inside the walls of homes can get more complicated once you're inside. The book I purchased, the one with the most diagrams, provided lots of great information but once I removed the light switch I had more questions that this encyclopedic tome didn't have answers or pictures for. Why does my light switch look just different enough from the one the book documents to make me wonder if there is another book I should have bought instead? Why is there, seemingly, ten feet of wire crammed behind the light switch, and is that dangerousit seems dangerous!? And great Zeus apocalypse! The wires in the book, on the switch, and in the wall are different colors!
None of these things did the book address and because of that I started to second guess the authors of the book, the IBEW, and Ben Franklin. Not armed with the guidance I thought I was getting for $24.95 I did what maybe I should have done in the first place: I MacGuyvered it. Frayed and new wires were trimmed and twisted back together, everything was crammed back into the wall, faceplate replaced, and switch for electric current was turned back on. If the house blew up I had insurance and we only live two hours from the Mexican border wherein I could buy five houses with my insurance money and become a land baron.
To my surprise it all worked, the house didn't become a lightning rod, and, more importantly, nobody died. It was a miracle thanks to a book that did nothing to help me learn how to properly perform the task the book was about and somewhat forced me to learn how to do it on my own.
Now I love books and I buy many of them, most weeks end with one, two or seven new additions to the library but in recent years I've decreased the amount of how-to books. At these types of products, like the ones my friend was pining for, are the inflatable bowling lane bumpers of the creative world, but not even the best printed material can replace the leap of faith you need to turn the electricity on.
In short: Books, good, but no so much the how-to variety.
The best books to learn about writing are the ones that you enjoy reading, because they help make up a part of who you are. And to get your words read these days requires a lot of personality and a little attitude, well a lot of attitude but don't worry as you continue to write more the attitude will come out (Look at me, prime example, I write Airbag, it's a pretty big deal, and it's on the Internet, ever heard of it?!) and you'll find connecting with readers, and writing better a lot easier.
We're going to talk more about this in Austin, they only let the most smartest and most brilliant people in, did you know that?! (see, it just comes out, naturally) only we've got some magic tricks and a French Canadian prancing stallion.