My husband and I have this game we play, especially around our birthdays. Okay, so it isn’t really a game. We both just turn into beggars prior to our respective birthdays. Then the other one just turns into a push-over. We usually end up spreading out gifts and receiving them early.
Well, my birthday is coming up, and I convinced hubby to give me my first gift already. I was pretty excited for it. There may have some been some bartering involved that I need to finish writing a book in the near future, and the gift was supposed to help me with that. The gift was Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Needless to say, I went out on our back deck and started reading right away, and a couple days later I finished it. I’ve been trying to decide if I wanted to write a formal review on my blog about it, but decided against it. Mainly, because the book has been out so long, and most people know that it’s a good book. Okay, great book.
I did take a lot away from it about writing. But thinking back on it, it also gave me some perspective on how it can be valuable for a writer to actually write book reviews.
If there was one major takeaway from the book about how to become a better writer, it is to, well, read and write. It’s simple, but there is a lot of truth. Everything else that you need to write, you can pick up from those two actions. From reading, you can learn about tone, storytelling, vocabulary and even grammar among other things. Writing is how you hone those skills.
But I think the idea of reviewing books takes the reading aspect just a bit further. In order to review the book, you have to first read it. Then it takes some thought about what you liked and didn’t like. There are also things the author may have done that you thought that was interesting. Well, all those things can also be applied to your own writing.
King also talks about writing for your ideal reader. Well, in a perfect world, we would have that person available to read our work in progress after the first or second draft has been written. In my world, my mom would have been my ideal reader, primarily because to some extent we had the same taste in books (only I liked to incorporate some fantasy into my reading and she enjoyed to add in the autobiography/biography genre into hers.) However, my mom has passed away, so my current ideal reader is myself. I write what I would want to read.
Over time, I have come up with what characteristics of novels are my favorites. Strong, flawed characters. Interesting setting. Twists and turns in the story. And a romance with sparks and tension.
By reviewing books and critically thinking about them, these characteristics are more noticeable to me. By reviewing books, I have a place that I can make note of what I thought worked well in a book and what didn’t. And by reviewing books, I am studying novels that have people who have had some modicum of success as an author. I can learn from them, and I should be learning from them.