I've been engaging in discussions lately with other writer friends in regards to books that instruct a budding author on how to write their novel. Now, before I go any further, I need to say that I have read quite a few of these "how to" and "so you wanna" style books. I've tried their methods. Some things have worked, some things haven't.
I think, though, that these books can be detrimental in a way. (I'll list some titles at the end of the ones I've found inspiring or helpful, but I don't want everyone stumbling over the name-dropping right now.) The fact remains, that while there are those of us who know how to use them, there are those of us that know absolutely nothing about how to use these books.
Where to start? There is no one "how to" writing book that is going to be the be-all and end-all of novel writing. For anyone. Out of all the books and interviews I've read about other authors, I haven't seen a word about, "Oh, well, I used this, that, and the other book, and the method was just perfect!" And I think that's something that most aspiring authors seem to be searching for. That one hand-hold that will lead them to greatness.
The sobering reality is that it doesn't exist. Trust me - I've looked, I've tried. And I'm still sitting here, mostly unpublished. (Save for some articles for Ecorazzi and a poem here and there.) It has nothing to do with a lack of dedication: The simple fact is that there is no set method for anyone when it comes to writing. Unfortunately, there are people out there who are sitting on ideas, waiting for that one book that's going to be their guiding light. And the search for that beacon becomes the very impediment to their writing.
Getting published, of course, is a whole other story, and there are plenty of books that will help you build up the connections you need, but the core - actually writing the novel - remains a mystery and is a unique process for each and every writer.
I think that's what bugs me the most about these writing books. As though there is a set method for everyone to follow in order to churn out that one novel that will get them started on being published regularly. It breaks it down and makes it as though once you've found that magic formula, it's all peas and gravy from there. Which it isn't.
The truth of it is that writing is a blood, sweat, and tears process. All the hand-holding and reading in the world isn't going to get you anywhere. You've just got to sit down and do it - figure out what works along the way.