I've just reviewed a book called The Craft of Fiction - full disclosure, I got hold of a copy of this for free. You can read my review by following the link, but it got me thinking - why do we read books about writing books? Do they work? Do best-selling or artistically successful authors read them?
My own view is this - a writer should be thinking about writing all the time, even when they're not writing, even when they've not written anything for months (it happens). Moreover, they should be thinking new things about writing, or at least thinking the old things in a new way. There's various triggers for these thoughts - a good novel you're jealous of; a bad novel you're incredulous ever got published; a writing group... and maybe these books of writing tips.
See, I didn't agree with all or even most of The Craft of Fiction - but despite the fact I disagreed the book was well-argued and clear, and so I had to marshal my arguments to understand why I disagreed... And I can't help but think that kind of mental argument is useful, for any writer. So that's why, occasionally, I read these kind of books (and it is only occasionally; I don't want too much distraction from the real reading to be done to improve me as a writer, which is other novels and short stories).
A couple of others which I've enjoyed arguing with are:
The Elements of Style (Strunk and White) - a cliche almost to list this one, but a cliche because it's true - despite it being slightly old fashioned, this little gem of a book is the best guide to writing clear, concise prose. Used not just by novelists but journalists and academic writers. Best tip: remove unnecessary words.
On Writing (Stephen King) - if the above is for the nuts and bolts, this book is more inspirational (although it still comes across how much King cares about the nuts and bolts). Part autobiographical work, part writing guide, if you think this isn't for you because King is 'just' a horror writer, think again. This is full of great stuff. Best tip: the toolbox analogy (you'll have to read it to see what this means...)