To skin a cat, that well-known expression which sometimes upsets animal lovers, is actually a term in gymnastics. It involves passing the legs between the arms while hanging by the hands from a horizontal bar. Then Mark Twain wrote in a novel thus: "she was wise, subtle, and knew more than one way to skin a cat," and established its modern meaning: there's more than one way to drive or write or multiply two rows of figures.
How about tying your shoelaces or sneezing or sharpening your pencils? Ah! I hear you say, kid's stuff, anyone can do these things. True. But can you do them as they should be done? I discovered after decades of tying my shoelaces that I had been doing it inefficiently (the catch is in the manner in which the lace from one side is taken over the loop - you do it from below, not above). My sneeze is probably all wrong too. House-rattling, I have heard it described as.
However if you have the passion, as David Rees has for sharpening pencils, then you can share it with the world. Rees discovered the joys of the old-fashioned way, arguing that with modern sharpeners you got perfection, but with a blade or knife you had a unique piece of art.
Not shy of putting other people's money where his mouth is, Rees charges fifteen dollars to sharpen a pencil you send him; he also returns the shavings to you since they are part of the pencil (it's rather like the barber returning the hair he has cut because it belongs to you).
But it doesn't end there, for Rees has written a book: How to Sharpen Pencils. The idea is so startling (and daring) that I have sent for a copy. Perhaps this will be followed by How to Make a Fortune by Writing a Book About How to Sharpen Pencils. This will no doubt be merely a prelude to the best-seller How To Make A Bigger Fortune by Writing a Book About How to Make a Fortune by Writing a Book About How to Sharpen Pencils.
This is very inspiring. It is all about carpeing your diem. Sneezers can tell us about sneezing; doormen can write on opening and shutting doors. There is always a number of ways - right and wrong.
Already I can see a spate of books. How to Remove Your Glasses. How to Breathe. How to Scratch Your Neighbour's Car. How to Write How-to Books.
The possibilities are endless (How To Write About Endless Possibilities). How-to writers are the alchemists of the publishing world. They turn base experiences into gold. Or pencils (and sneezes) into dollars.