A year in reviews

Full image of woman's hands writing in notepad with laptop and a cup of coffee nearWrite reviews to help your own words flow. Reading and reflecting are essential for writers who hope to improve their craft.

You probably wouldn’t trust an architect who’d never stepped foot in a building or a shoemaker who apprenticed with a butcher. Readers expect experience from the authors they read. What better way to learn from the writers you admire than to articulate your thoughts about their work? One way to do this is to write reviews.

Let’s begin with a warm-up

Some writers sit down and immediately pluck a thousand words from the stratosphere without breaking a sweat. Most of us have to work for it, struggling to find the next fifteen words. Whether you’re just warming up to a day of writing, or are battling with a blinking text cursor that hasn’t moved in twenty minutes, reviews are an excellent tool to get you writing with fervor again. Think of reviewing as an alternative to journaling or writing exercises, or as a supplement to your warm up if you’re already doing either of these. The goal is to get pen to paper—or fingers to keys—and form words.

Hone your skills

Not long ago, reviews were approached from a very academic perspective. Reviewers were writing for publications that wanted a very straight-forward manner. Social media has changed this approach significantly. A review can be anything you want it to be (as long as it doesn’t stray too far from the book). Think of unique ways to approach your review and let your personal style shine through. If you post your reviews online, readers are more likely to notice your talents if you unleash the magic of your own writing.

Learn from the best (or the worst)

Writing reviews encourages you to look more deeply at the work you’re reading. What is it about the book that you love? The more you consider the question, the more you’ll unravel the various pieces that make that story so great. What about the language? The characters? The sentence structure? Spend some time reflecting on these questions. Less than stellar books will also provide you with ideas of what to avoid in your writing.

Cover for Francine Prose's Reading Like a WriterBecome part of a community

If you post your reviews online, it’s only a matter of time before other readers begin to notice. Eventually, fellow authors, publishers and agents will be reading your reviews. With each five-star review you post, you are cementing your place in the reading community. Take advantage of this role. Get to know the readers and writers who run in the same circle. Not only will you discover potential readers for your writing, but you’ll likely find allies who’ve been where you are, writers who are willing to share advice and offer support.

As you consider your “Year in Review” this December, ask yourself if you’re reading and reflecting upon enough of the books that will make you a better writer. If not, consider writing a year of reviews. Challenge yourself to write a paragraph or a page about every book you read this year.

Your library’s catalog is an excellent place to begin your journey toward writing meaningful, constructive reviews. Log in today and share your thoughts on the last book you read. You may be surprised just where your review will take you and your writing.

Chris Blocker

Chris works in Public Services and has been with the library since 2007. He has a great passion for writing, so it's not uncommon to see him helping with library writing events. Chris holds an MFA in Writing from the University of Nebraska, strives to be a successful novelist, and dabbles with graphic design when time allows. His favorite novel is East of Eden. He is fluent in Trek.