Today I read this article on the history of self-help publishing. I chuckled at this bit:
Despite its ubiquity, it’s hard to say whether or not self-help books really help anyone. There is very little scholarship on the subject. Publishing statistics claim that 80% of self-help book customers are repeat buyers, which could indicate that they are not helping. Some suggest that buyers of self-help books don’t read more than the first twenty pages, if they open them at all. Just the act of buying a self-help book is reported to make someone feel better.
This article reminded me, among other things, of Lorrie Moore’s wonderful story ‘How To Become A Writer’ (also available here). It’s a great exercise in irony, and also a fun way to observe the nature and easy use of voice in writing.
I’m also remembering this piece in the New York Times this week: ‘Helpful Definitions For Modern Authors’. Another chuckle came at this definition:
Your Publisher: Creates Book’s mold ahead of time, insofar as it curates the existing market into which book must fit. (Additional duty: being dumbfounded by that market.) Has an influence present at Book’s inception and steers project with implicit requirements, meticulously directing without directly touching, like the people with the brooms in curling. And, by working backward from the numbers and trends and making Book a function of the bottom line, ultimately has final word on content — in other words, acts as Book’s Author.
For this week’s writing experiment: Write a piece that in some way borrows something from a self-help book. You could use the title of a self-help book as the title for a poem or story, and see where it leads you. Or you might want to write a sequence of instructions: a How To, or a How Not To. Or you can write your own version of ‘How To Become A Writer’, or your own set of helpful definitions. You can be ironic, or you can be straight-up serious, or you can be both at once. Don’t forget to be concrete and specific in using details to bring the world of your story or poem to life.