A library of hundreds, if not thousands, of how-to books about writing books have been published over the last few decades. With such a wide array of choice, it can be overwhelming to know which to read, and what you can gain from them, especially if you’ve never picked one up before!

If a “how-to write” book has piqued your interest, the following tips and suggestions may help you get more out of it than you might have initially assumed. It’s one thing to read a how-to book – it’s another to absorb and process what you’ve learned, and to put it into practice. These suggestions are meant to be simple, straightforward, and easy to keep in mind as you read that book.

Before you know it, you might just be writing your own how-to write book! But for now, read on for Kobo Writing Life’s tips on getting the most out of these titles.

The more specific the book, the better – find how-to books that are as specific to the type of writing you do, or the writing skills you want to develop, as possible. For example, do you struggle with writing compelling villains or amazing heroes? Check out these titles by Sacha Black. Or, are you interested in the business writing side of the business of writing, check out H. Khatun’s book on garnering media coverage.

The more specific the type of advice, the more useful it will be for your development as a writer. General advice can be helpful when you are first starting, or returning, to writing, but an experienced writer may find themselves gaining little to nothing from broad, generalized advice.

Write down useful information as you read – keep a notebook, phone, or your computer handy as you read. When you come across some useful info, don’t just highlight or mark it with a tab – grab a pen or your keyboard and write out the sentence or section that resonated with you. Make notes around it, too, of why this stuck out to you. Keeping a log like this, of what really felt relevant, will help you make the most out of your learning process.

Read slowly, write quickly – as stated! Read the book slowly, and write your notes quickly. Don’t lose the thought – keep up the inspiration by following your momentum. Think of it like studying – you want to be able to cover as much info as possible, but you also want to be able to retain it. Reading slowly and writing your notes quickly when the inspiration sparks will help you garner a lot more knowledge than you may have initially assumed.

Find author interviews – most likely, the author of the how-to book has other material online in the form of interviews, whether written or in audio form on a podcast. Seek out this material and give it a read and/or listen. Often, authors will have further insights to offer when they conduct these interviews – make sure you keep that notebook handy!

Read the author’s books – likewise, the author will probably have a backlist of books for you to read, and I very much recommend you read at least one of them. That way, you will see all of the writing advice they give others applied to their own work. Seeing examples of how they apply their writing advice in the context of a published novel rather than a how-to book will be immensely helpful as you consider what you can apply to your own work.

Do your homework – if the author of your how-to write title of choice includes writing exercise, prompts, or worksheets, do them! They’re not included as filler – they’re there for a reason. You will get the opportunity to apply the advice you just read in a practical way, while you are still in the studying mood. Make sure to harness that energy and get to those exercises as soon as possible.

What are your favourite how-to write books? Check out this post for the recommendations from many Kobo and Kobo Writing Life team members!

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