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.
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!