I love reading books about the writing craft, but far too often I’m left feeling unsatisfied. I like to keep notes for myself about each book I’ve read, and I can usually tell how useful a book was based on how many pages of notes I ended up taking. Same goes for writing panels. I may have enjoyed the book or the writing workshop, but if I end up with a very small list of notes, it was probably all fluff.
So what makes a good book about the craft? Actionable items. Can I take my notes, hold them up to the light of my bloated work in progress, and make the pages bleed red? If I finish the book, but have zero idea about how to actually apply anything to a real manuscript, one of two things happened: either I took crappy notes, or the book just wasn’t that useful.
Not to say that the book couldn’t still be enjoyable–some books on the craft feel like they’re written just to make you feel awesome about being a writer. Look at you, writing that fancy novel. You’re doing the thing! Sometimes those books are fun to read, but if you want to get better at writing? Before buying that book, scan the first chapter and make some mental notes. How many bullet points can you juice out of that chapter? Do those bullet points look like little daggers that can slice and dice your manuscript into something respectable? No? Then put that book down and move on to the next one. Stay tuned for reviews of books that I thought worked like battle axes.