The Summer of Book Reviews (or: how Goodreads Helped My Writing)

At the beginning of last summer, I started a new job at a local university. With the professors and students on break, the first three months were quiet, and I’m not the type of person who can sit at a desk and twiddle my thumbs for forty hours a week. Writing occupied me until I sent my novel to an editor-friend; after that, I read until fellow author Bernice L. Rocque recommended Goodreads.

I spent the next month shelving and reviewing books to kill time. I like thinking critically about what I read; this made me a perfect candidate for English major-ship in college. Goodreads was a fun past time, but I didn’t expect anything more. I never thought reviewing books would help my own writing.

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What my Goodreads stacks would look like in real life! Photo Credit: Ginny

Book Reviews Galore!

I try to leave a text review with each book that I shelve. Within that review, I have two paragraphs: one focusing on positive qualities and a second on weaker points. My thesis-proving English background keeps me specific: I don’t write, “The main character was poorly developed;” instead, I’ll say, “John Doe remained a crotchety old man throughout the book; he never grew or changed.”

But how did this affect my writing?

Understanding faults in other books helped me unwind my own failings.

Before the summer of reviews, I had a tough time identifying problems in my drafts; I needed a beta reader or editor to point out issues, or a few months’ distance from the piece. My work wasn’t perfect, but I didn’t know how to improve it until Goodreads forced me to articulate what worked and didn’t work for other authors. For example, many books fall into neat, perfect endings; when I identified this as a weakness in my reviews, I saw how my own endings suffered from this cliché. Identifying positive qualities offered guidance in growing my own craft: well-developed characters strengthen a story? Then I made sure my pieces featured stronger characters.

Writing all of those book reviews gave me a deeper understanding of what makes a piece effective. For new writers, and those struggling with writers’ block or a slump, review-writing just might help you, too!

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26 thoughts on “The Summer of Book Reviews (or: how Goodreads Helped My Writing)

  1. As an avid reader I haven’t really evolved the habit of reviewing books and when I have done so I have probably been more emotive rather than analytical. Your blog has certainly made me rethink this and given me something to think about.

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    • I try to wait a day or two before reviewing – this helps me think more analytically about it. But that said, I’m sure the author would be happy to know his/her work elicited an emotion from you! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • I usually read physical books, but the same principle applies for ebooks: I take notes on a separate piece of paper. Once I’m done with it, I’ll recycle it 🙂 I try to be earth-friendly!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Reading and thinking about how others write is such an important exercise for writers. My own writing has improved massively over the years because of what I learnt reading and critiquing.
    I think you hit the nail on the head with this post.

    Liked by 1 person

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  4. This was really insightful! I like the story of how you got to the point of realising being pointedly, descriptively critical of others’ work is exactly what you need to do to improve your own work – the Community Pool comments being an extension of your time on Goodreads’ review sections?

    Liked by 1 person

    • You know, I never thought of Community Pool like that, but you’re absolutely right — understanding what works and doesn’t work in other blogs will definitely help bloggers craft a more intimate understanding of their own work. What a great point! Maybe I’ll write a Community Pool post update to this post 😉

      Thanks for stopping by!

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  5. I couldn’t agree more! Reviewing published books has also helped me to see the issues in my own writing. Not only that, but it also helped me to build up my confidence. I used to get depressed because I felt my writing was horrible, but after reading all the reviews on Goodreads, I realized I’m not alone. Not everyone is going to like my stories, and I need to accept that. Great post!!

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  7. Well I finally made it here and also to your Facebook page (I was read Hansel and Gretel too many times as a child and now I always follow breadcrumbs!) You are amazingly talented. Congrats on the MTV gig, too! Wow. Just wow. Anyhow, of course I picked this one to comment on and I absolutely love the caption to the image…lol. It’s very true that writing book reviews will help you fix things in your own manuscript, and I never quite looked at it that way before. Just like offering constructive criticism to someone with really poor parenting skills will cause you to sharpen your techniques with your own kids! We learn by teaching all the time. Thanks again for your great feedback this morning and I’m a new grateful follower here!
    Take care,
    Stephanie

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  8. This is really interesting… To see how reviewing books made you realise what you could do differently. I bet that helps a great deal. You are a great writer by the way, very professional which makes your blog stand out! I can’t wait to read more and I’m sure the way reviewing other books led you to improve your writing, I feel as though as I follow your blog my own writing will improve as I learn from your brilliant writing.

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