Books on writing can be utilized in different ways.
To be honest, I would rather read a well written novel than a book explaining how to write a well written novel. But all writers read books on writing sooner or later. How you view the material can make all the difference.
You just purchased a new book on the craft of writing. You can approach it with traditional trajectory, scribbling notes in the margins, highlighting, completing the exercises, uh… I mean, prompts. But before grinding through its pages like required reading in a text-book, consider viewing your new guide as if it were a cook book. Skim through it until something catches your eye. Something fresh, nourishing, creative.
And, like a cook book, you can either follow the author’s recipe in exact fashion, striving for a dish that appears just like the picture on the cover, or you can experiment. Add your own ingredients or toss the ones you don’t like. Change the cooking time and the temperature. If their prompt is a hairbrush, write about a plunger. If their target is a thousand words, cut to five hundred. If their muse is a sunlit glade, make yours a dumpster, pelted by acid rain.
Expand your library. Like switching from American cuisine to Italian, try writers’ commentary over step by step processes. A Moveable Feast is no “how to” book, but it is edifying, as well as entertaining. There are lessons to be learned in Hemingway’s exchanges with Scribner and Fitzgerald.
Reading good writing, fiction or otherwise, can be as helpful as any book on execution of the craft. Immersing yourself in Smiley or Steinbeck is like bathing in ink. No matter how vigorously you scrub afterwards, some of what you read is going to stain your next manuscript, whether it seeps in consciously or not. And yes, I must admit, I read that last piece of advice in a book on writing.
Now get cooking.