Tuesday, July 07, 2009

a quick question for you all

Concerning book reviews. Which in my case, I don't even call "reviews" but instead opt for the term "book babble." Reason being that I don't ever have anything intelligent enough or insightful enough to say to actually call it a review. (Please do NOT try to be sweet and argue with me on this point! I mean it, that is so not the point of this post!) It's just that I like to talk about books, and it's my blog so I should be able to talk about them however I want, right? Okay, so why do I stress myself out over writing my little book babbles then? And believe me, I seriously do stress myself out. It takes me forever to write a book babble post, and even so I'm never happy with them. Yes, I realize it's just not one of my talents, and that's perfectly okay...I do have other things I'm good at so it's not the end of the world. But I have to admit that I sometimes feel guilty posting them at all, when everyone else's reviews seem so effortless and intelligent and well-written.

So I'm just curious...what is writing a book review like for you? How long do spend writing a review? Is it effortless, or do you perfect, perfect, perfect? Does writing reviews stress you out, or is it just a fun and easy exercise to you? Yep, just curious.


Amanda said...

Mostly I babble on my reviews, too, unless I'm talking about writing technique, which seriously probably none of my readers are remotely interested in, but I'm a writer and an editor and I can't help but focus on technique. Sigh. But I don't stress about reviews. I guess, because I stress so much about my fiction writing, the reviews just sort of spill out. I don't care about them being perfect the way I do my ficiton writing. They take no more effort than a comment or an email. Sometimes they end up coherent, sometimes they end up rambly and disjointed, and either way, it doesn't matter much to me. I guess I just decided when I first started writing reviews that if I stressed about them, I'd never get anything done. I *can* be a word-perfectionist, and decided not to be on my blog.

Scrap girl said...

I just babble and hope to God someone can decipher it when reading it. I feel sorry for all your poor people that have to read them sometimes, especially when I am having a horrible week like this one. ( Max the rabbit on the verge on being put down). If it is a book I love then I think it flows a bit easier as I usually just like to gush. If I didn't like the book, then the review often feels disjointed. I often forget to reread them as well before I publish and that is a bad bad thing, especially for you poor souls reading it!

Suey said...

I don't stress about it, because I know I'm not going to write the most intelligent thing either. I think of it like talking to friends, what would I say to them? And then that's what I write. Sometimes I worry that they are very thorough, but then I decide that the point is to want to make others want to read the book, not tell them EVERYTHING there is to know about it. Know what I mean? So, my advice to you? Don't stress! Just write what you feel and think!

Debi said...

See, that's interesting to me. Because your reviews always sound way more than just coherent to me. They always sound like you put a lot of thought into what you're saying, etc. That's what I mean about effortless. I wish I could just spit things out and have them come out sounding polished like that. Even with great effort, mine don't come out that way. Thanks for sharing!

raidergirl3 said...

I don't put a lot of time into my reviews - 30 minutes max, and I try to write it immediately after reading the book. If I can't think what to say, I fall back on a set of questions that I have, from Dewey I believe. The more I think on reviews, the longer they get, and no one needs that. As I'm reading, I try to find one thing that I'll focus on for a review. Some of my favorite reviews just happened as I didn't know what to say.

Debi said...

First of all, I'm so very, very sorry about Max! How very sad. I'll be thinking about you and your family.

And about your reviews, like I just told Amanda, that's what I mean about effortless. I can't believe you just sit down and crank out your reviews so easily. Because they don't sound that way...they sound like you labored over them, perfecting all along the way. You truly are not giving yourself enough credit!

I love what you said about it being just like sitting down with friends! That's sort of the way I go about it, too...only once I have it written down I have to think, "Good heavens, my poor friends...is this really what I subject them to in person?" ;) But thank you...I think the advice about not stressing is true. Though maybe easier said than done.

Debi said...

Wow...30 minutes. That boggles my mind. But I REALLY do like the things you said about your process (if that's the right word). Maybe I should just set myself a time limit. That might eliminate some of the endless editing that probably doesn't improve things anyway.

Jean said...

I finished The Two Towers in April, it's my last book for Annie's challenge, and I have yet to write a review. I never really know what to say in them. I don't want to just recount the plot (think grade school book report here), but there are few books I've read for which I feel qualified to comment on writing technique. (I can tell you that I picked up Mary Doria Russell's Sparrow from a table at Barnes and Noble, read the first paragraph, and bought it solely because of how captivating the writing was, but that's the exception rather than the rule.) So, yeah, others of us either stress over it or keep putting it off. Note to self: Review The Two Towers ... probably not today, but within the next week. :-)

Debi said...

Thank you! I feel validated. Or at least somewhat understood. Of course the main difference being, when you do write reviews, they come out wonderfully. I know, I've read them. Still, it's nice to know I'm not alone. :D

Lynne said...

What I write about the books I read can't really be classified as a review. I just post a synopsis of the book (usually from the back of the book) and then a few lines about what I thought of the book. Nothing deep - I don't go into the author's style or the theme of the book or anything serious like that. I try to do them as soon as I finish the book while my thoughts about the book are still fresh in my mind.

Eva said...

Ok, since you told me not to, I won't argue with you, but you know how I feel about you putting yourself down like that.

I purposely call my review posts 'thoughts' instead of reviews, because I don't think I do anything formal enough for a review. While I'm reading, ideas for my post will start to come to me, and my brain will even start writing out sentences that I use later. So the whole time I'm reading a book, the post is percolating.

Then when it comes to writing, I just ramble, and after I'm done rambling, I might move sentences around so that they make more sense. This year, I've been trying to remember to use spell check! I usually spend 30-60 minutes depending on how much I loved the book (I do start to agonise over those reviews, because I want people to go read them!).

I'm also really bad at not posting plot summaries, lol, if I'm excited about other aspects of the book. So then I have to go back and add a few sentences so my readers know what I'm talking about! :)

Fyrefly said...

I'm about half and half between the two, I think, totally depending on my mood and on the book. I often rehearse bits of my reviews in my head while I'm reading, before I ever start typing, and in those cases, writing the review is mostly a matter of organizing all of those thoughts into coherent paragraphs. Sometimes this goes better than others; sometimes I have so much to say that it just flows right out of my fingers, other times I have so much to say but I can't get the thoughts to line up in any semblance of order (these are the ones I spend forever tweaking), and sometimes I feel like I can't come up with anything interesting to say, and those are the reviews I put off, and stress over.

Nymeth said...


That took ALL my self-restraint, Debi :P

Blabbing about books is actually a lot of fun for me. It comes more easily than my Sunday Salon posts, or any other more "chatty" ones. I do agonize over those sometimes. Anyway, I don't think my book posts are very formal either, but I guess I use the term "reviews" sometimes because everyone else does :P

Normally I spend 30-40 minutes doing the actual writing. For me, the writing itself is the easiest part, and funnily enough it's the same with my essays. What takes more time and work is setting the foundations, so to speak, and that I start doing while I'm still reading the book: I type passages that stand out, I take notes of thoughts that cross my mind, and sometimes, like Eva, I even write complete sentences that I'll use later.

Once that's done, putting the post together is easier. It's funny, I'm unselfconscious while writing, but I get horribly self-conscious afterwards. Which is why I hate re-reading my posts. I do it hurriedly, and so I miss a lot of typos and embarrass myself before the whole internetz :P

Chris said...

Not going to say anything...not going to say anything...

But I will say that I've always loved your book reviews. Literally, they're some of my favorites!

Honestly, my book reviews take 10 minutes MAX to write and I never go back to revise :p I don't stress over book reviews, I just talk about the books exactly how I'd talk to someone over coffee.

I used to have a teacher that always berated me because she said I wrote like I talked. I mean I could write this studious review if I wanted to, but I'd much rather just talk about the book. So whatever is on my mind about the book is what I talk about!

Kim said...

I always over-think everything anyway so, I just write down what I'm thinking and try to catch all the worst typos and spelling errors. Sometimes I don't. It takes anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour. I don't stress, really, no more than normal.

Amanda said...

Well, you say my reviews sound coherent, but when I write them, the only formatting at all is that I try to give a brief overview of plot and then just babble out my thoughts. I never know if it sounds coherent. Your reviews, to me, sound flowing and informative. Maybe you don't think so, but other people do. I love your reviews. :)

Shanra said...

*joins the people struggling to refrain from arguing*

For me... What helps is that I have a set amount of 'questions' that I tackle. They don't take me very long to answer as I keep the answers relatively short.

But after those questions? I think the key for me is that everything that goes below the cut are thoughts I'm recording for me. What's important to me. If anyone else finds something useful in it, that's great news, but I've never consciously sat down to write at/to someone else. I'd fail spectacularly. I'd have to pause and write a first draft and then a second and probably a third just to get it organised properly and include some of the things I forgot about the first time. I've had plenty of reviews where I look back on that I wish I'd rewritten to include some things, remove others, resort the information into something more logical, etc, but I'm definitely a "First draft" kind of girl. And it took me a year to get to this set-up and I'm still finding what works for me.

So I'm joining all the people who've told you not to stress and just write what you think and feel as you think of it! (If all else fails, ask yourself what you want to know and try to talk about that.) Don't be afraid to experiment with different styles and ideas and steal what is/seems useful from the styles you see.

I don't mean to argue with you here, but... For what it's worth, I like reading your book babbles, even if I'm not good at babbling back at you.

(Also, I think I'm with Eva on the 30-60 minute time frame, but it can be more if I find a book hard to talk about or if it makes me uncomfortable.) *hugs, because she can*

Debi said...

Maybe I should try using the synopsis from the book flap, too. That's one of the things I really struggle with...trying to briefly tell what the story is about without ruining it for anyone else.

Debi said...

Dearest Eva, Nymeth, and Chris,
Did you not catch the lines "Yes, I realize it's just not one of my talents, and that's perfectly okay...I do have other things I'm good at so it's not the end of the world."??? Honest, honest, honest, my dear sweet friends, I'm not trying to be hard on myself. See, I said I was good at other things (which I meant), but which I said with you three in mind so you wouldn't be mad at me. ;) Seriously, the point I was really trying to make wasn't even so much about the fact that I'm not great at writing reviews, but more about how much they stress me out, and I wondered if others stress about them, too. I loved reading how each of you approach them! And even more, I love you guys!!!!

And Eva, I hate writing plot summaries, too. Mostly because, like you, I tend to forget to write one until I've been babbling away and I realize that probably no one knows what the hell I'm talking about.

And Nymeth, those "chatty" type posts are the ones that come easily for me. Probably because I'm not around "grown-ups" too often, so I inundate you all with all my gabbing. :D

Wow...I could really relate to so many of the things you said! I "practice" in my head as I'm reading, too. Of course, I really need to start writing down those thoughts, because I never seem to remember what I wanted to say when it comes to actually writing the review.

Oh, oh, oh...I a big over-thinker, too! Drives me crazy, but it's who I am.

Awww...thank you!

You just couldn't be any sweeter, could you?!! Thank you!
And you know, I love the way you do your question section at the beginning of your reviews. I've thought about trying a set of questions out, but I'm afraid that first time I try it I'll find I have trouble even answering my own questions. Yes, I am such a dork. ;)

Debi said...

Thank you all so very much for sharing your approaches to writing book reviews! I have enjoyed reading every single one! And it seems that not a one of us approaches things exactly the same...which I find incredibly cool.
My biggest lesson learned...as often is the case, I think I'm my own worst enemy. I am vowing to abandon the stress when it comes to babbling about books.
And now I should go ahead and babble about The Garden of Eve, but I'm afraid I really just want to go dive back into Nation. Thanks again, everyone!

raidergirl3 said...

One thing I am working on is not actually reviewing every book I read. It's been hard for me, but I don't need to review every, single book. I'm a completist, so it is not easy, but I want to try.
Exceptions: Review copies, and books that really grab me, or for challenges, but I plan to leave more unreviewed in the future.

Staci said...

I love this topic!! I like to call my reviews- My Thoughts on this ....because like you I don't think my writing is that stellar. Probably because I don't spend a lot of time on writing them. Most of the time I just sit down and start typing. I check for spelling errors and usage when I can spot it and then post it. I do it for fun and to share my thoughts with others.

Melody said...

For me, I draft my review as I read along so this way I won't leave out any important stuff (except spoilers, of course!) LOL. And believe me, it usually takes me about 30-40mins or so to rewrite and edit before I click the 'post' button.

To be perfectly honest, I think your reviews are fine. I enjoy reading them, and that's the most important point, Debi! I especially love reading other readers' babble/ramble, so a short or long post doesn't bother me at all. I want to hear them say how much they like/dislike the books. Anyway, I don't think my reviews are great either, but it is sure fun writing them! :P

Renay said...

All I really have to say is: I'm a writer. I write reviews and fiction and it's as hard as hell. If you've ever enjoyed any of my posts and thought, "wow, what awesome writing!" know that I make myself just as miserable as you do.

The thing is: you can BECOME a good writer by writing an writing and writing and writing and writing and then writing some more. Your inner editor will spend a lot of time going YOU SUCK AND NO ONE LIKES YOUR REVIEWS AND DID I MENTION YOU SUCK YEAH I DID BUT LET ME REPEAT IT JUST IN CASE A FEW MORE TIMES! but it's important to remember: you have like 23 comments on this post of people responding to your writing, so maybe you shouldn't be dogging yourself. If that's me arguing with you, well, guess what: PUNISH ME or something, I dare you. If you don't want me to argue, don't say ridiculous things about your communication skills! YOU CAN STRING COHERENT SENTENCES TOGETHER, the rest of just practice and determination to hone a skill.

I'd like to find someone who calls ANY writing to an audience, reviewing or otherwise, effortless, and call them vicious liars with flaming pants. Writing is work--fun work, stressful work, whatever--but it's still work, no lie.

Meanwhile, call your reviews whatever you want, but dude, I've read your blog for ages and love it and wish you would post more and worry less, because that's more fun. There's a writing post I like to link to, and I believe I will share it with you now.

Practice always helps, obviously, and part of that is getting in the habit of finishing things and kicking them out to fend for themselves. .... every story does not have to be better than the last. Every story CAN'T be better than the last. They're planes on a runway. Some of them are 747s and some of them are commuter jets and some of them are six-seater Cessnas with mechanical problems, and every once in a while you get the Concorde. But the Concorde can't take off until you've got the five commuter jets and the Cessna out of the way.

The whole post is here and it's worth a read.

Otherwise: for me writing a review is like doing something super fun outside in the middle of a Southern summer. Miserable and hot and sticky and the fun I'm having makes it worth it. Writing is no innate talent, man.

OKAY I am done capslocking at you and arguing. Feel free to ground me or BANISH me from your heart forever or something.

Literary Feline said...

I admit it. I stress over writing reviews. Maybe it's that perfectionist in me coming out. I can find fault with everything I've ever written--giving myself permission to let things go was not an easy lesson for me to learn and it is something I still struggle with.

I use the term "review" in its very generic sense, but I don't even think of what I write as reviews deep down. They really are just my thoughts. It bothers me that I'm not more critical but the truth is, I'm not a very critical person. At least not when it comes to the books I read. It was much easier when I just jotted down my thoughts in my reading journal for my eyes only. I do think my writing has improved since I started putting my reviews up. I'll give it that.

I'm still discovering my voice when it comes to sharing my thoughts about the books I read. I've come to really value the informality of blogging. When it comes to writing a review, there are no hard and fast rules--at least the kind you and I write. We can ramble, babble, get personal or what have you.

I'm not out to be a professional reviewer. I don't think I'd be any good at it frankly. What I want, and what I strive to be good at, is in sharing my reading experiences with other readers like myself. Reading is very personal for me and writing about it is too. Blogging about books is a way for me to share a bit of myself with others. I'm writing in circles, aren't I? LOL

To answer the rest of your questions, how long I spend writing a review depends. Sometimes I can whip one out in no time and other times it takes hours. The hardest part for me is getting started. I drag my feet like you wouldn't believe. Once I actually start writing, it tends to go more smoothly. I write a rough draft, read it over once and then make my husband read it. I like to give myself time between writing the rough draft and my final reading of it before posting it. I often end up making changes. Adding to it, cutting things out. I could probably do that forever if I let myself. Haha! That's where the letting go comes in. :-)

I have moments when I wonder why I put myself through it, but the truth is I like it. I enjoy reading the book and thinking about the book. And while I struggle with the writing process, I enjoy that too. I especially like the interactions that I've had with other readers as a result of blogging my thoughts. I like the sense of accomplishment that comes with writing a review. Sure, I stress over it (over what to say, how to say it, what others will think), but I think it's worth it.

Shanra said...

Sweetie, if you think set questions would help, just try them for a few books and see how it works. I don't always find it easy to answer mine. (They make me thiiiiiink and hurt my heeeeaaaad. Especially the blurb bits. I suck at writing blurbs. And textures. It's worth my while to write those down, but they're hard because 90% of the time I just do not have the words for it. Which is stupid because like others here I consider myself a writer. But there you go.)

Please, please don't shy away from something you think will leave you happier with what you're writing because you think it'll be hard. I'm sure there are many things in life that aren't mountains to climb now, but were once. Like riding a bicycle or learning to read. (Or, you know, fly a plane, if we stick with the text Renay quoted.)

In the end, hun, you're the important one here. If the way you're writing review(ish) bables now doesn't work for you, find out what does work and try it out. Steal people's idea and tweak them into what you want to see or are interested in. I think I can safely promise you that all of us here will happily follow you along in whatever 'format' you end up with because we like what you have to say - even if we don't always comment a lot - and we like you as a person. *huggles* Renay makes some spot-on comments (everyone does, but... Her post Rocks. A lot.) so you listen to her, hun.

Also, it took me... Three to four years (!) to get comfortable calling what I do 'reviewing' instead of 'burbling' and that's chiefly because I moved to a public blog for my book-related ramblings and the word 'review' gives people a (marginally?) clearer idea of what to expect, not because I think I'm any good at it or deserve the description 'reviewer'. (I don't.)


DesLily said...

as you know I don't write reviews! lol I put up the amazon review and then just basically say if I enjoyed it or not, sometimes I add a paragraph from the book.. I know I don't "review" so I don't even try, it's more or less just telling everyone "what" I read and if I enjoyed it. taadaa.. it's that or take notes and I really hate stopping to take notes! lol

Trish said...

Crap, I should have left my comment yesterday when there was only 11 to read! It's a quick question but not always a quick answer and I didn't have the time yesterday. Boo!

It sounds like I'm with the above commenters. I don't know how long it actually takes me to write a review--the whole process is probably about an hour depending on the book. But this includes finding a picture, checking my email, feeding the cat, getting something to eat, checking my mail, cleaning my desk. I'm a big fat procrastinator. Once I start writing, it doesn't take too too long--maybe 30 minutes to get my thoughts organized? Maus yesterday took a little longer, but that's because the book is so rich and difficult to write about everything I want to.

Like Nymeth and Eva I start thinking about my review ahead of time. Throughout the book I can usually pinpoint specific things I want to talk about. Sometimes I even start drafting the review in my head before I've even finished. I usually give myself a half a day at least to try and think about the book. I've never been good at writing and then editing, even in school, so most of my beginning writing process happens in my head.

Great question Debi. The thing is, we're all here to have fun. I love the personal reviews better than the stuffy ones--and sometimes I think I have a hard time not being too formal, but I do try to not stress at all. Like Amanda, I can get bogged down in words, and I just don't want that on my blog. (um, or comments apparently).

Debi said...

I couldn't adopt that strategy...since I can't seem to say "no" to any challenge, I end up finding a way to fit every book I read into one challenge or another. ;)

Yeah, that's why I always add "random thoughts" to my post titles, too. You know, I've always worried that someone was going to think I was trying to pawn off my ramblings as a "real" review...but I think that worry has been for nothing.

Wow...you actually write as you go, huh? I've often thought that would be the way to do it. Unfortunately, I've proven to be far too lazy to actually do it.

Grad said...

Wow! What a great topic of conversation. I never feel comfortable writing book reviews. There are bloggers out there who write excellent, perceptive, very professional reviews, and I admire their ability greatly and love reading them. I sometimes learn more about a book and whether I want to read it from a so-called "babble." As for me, I read a book, I like it or I don't...but I can't always articulate why. I'm not someone who makes notations in the margins, or highlights passages I find important. So, I usually have to write about a book immediately after I've read it. When I do write about a book, I consider more of a "posting" than a "review." I think I do stress over everything I post - not just about the books I'm reading. But that's just me.

Debi said...

Banish you from my heart forever? Ha--never gonna happen! But I would love to know how you managed to both humble me and make me feel better all at the same time. :) I think what made me feel best was that you said straight out the writing anything is hard, and it is work. Somehow I think I'd convinced myself that it came easy to most of you because that's how you made it look by the time you'd posted it. Which, of course, was a ridiculous assumption for me to make.
I loved the post you linked to. So much to ponder, a lot of good advice for anyone who writes anything. Thank you, Renay!

Literary Feline,
Thank you! Like I just told Renay, I think I really just needed to know that there were others who found writing to be difficult, to be work, to be stressful...even at the same time that it was fun. Why I should need to be told that is beyond me. Of course it's work. And of course, most of us will improve with practice.
And oh how I could relate to what you said about not being critical! I'm just not by nature critical either...at least when it comes to books and movies. That's why I can't make myself write about movies at all...I like just about any movie I watch. This facet of my personality does lead me worry that I'll talk about how much I enjoyed some book, and then other people will read it and think, "How did she miss all these obvious flaws?!!" In the greater scheme of things though, I think I'll take my non-critical nature...it means I'm easily entertained. :D

"Please, please don't shy away from something you think will leave you happier with what you're writing because you think it'll be hard. I'm sure there are many things in life that aren't mountains to climb now, but were once. Like riding a bicycle or learning to read."...Okay, aren't you a little young to be so darn wise?!! And, sweetie, I do hope you know I mean that as an enormous compliment!!!!

And here you are saying that you don't write "reviews" either. Yes, I've learned a lot by asking a few simple questions. You don't think you write great reviews, and yet I LOOOOVE reading your posts! Obviously, I just need to chill and stop worrying so much.

Thank you for the wonderful laugh...your process totally cracked me up! Probably because I can relate a little too well. ;)
I also know what you mean about finding things along the way that you know you're going to want to talk about in your review. My problem is remembering what they were by the time I actually get a book finished. I guess that's where jotting down a few notes would come in handy. Unfortunately laziness always tends to rears its ugly head.

Debi said...

"As for me, I read a book, I like it or I don't...but I can't always articulate why."...YES!!! Exactly. It's just sometimes hard for me to find the right combination of words to spit out onto the screen. Though you know something...I wouldn't have guessed that to be true of you. Your posts, about books or anything else, are always sooooo beautifully written. You're one of those I'd pegged in my head as having it all come so easily. Why does that lesson about not making assumptions not want to stick in my head?!!

Care said...

Babble away abt books and I will read the babbles.
Cheers! Have fun, ok?

Debi said...

Thanks. And you're right, that's really what matters, isn't it? :)

Kim L said...

Debi, what a great topic, because I often times feel like my reviews are just a bunch of babble. I really don't think I'm very good at writing reviews, and it takes me FOREVER to write the ones I do think are good, and then I've used up all the time to do anything else, so I try to shorten them, and then it doesn't work... oh it is a challenge. I'm always behind! I guess I just try to see it as kind of a reading journal that other people just happen to read. And I try not to let it stress me out, but I can't say I have lots of tips... I feel like you!

Amy said...

They are the most time consuming and difficult posts I write and they're not that good! I have review writing envy ALL THE TIME. :)

I always enjoy other's thoughts about books, though, however they choose to share them. :)