When I finish a book, I usually pop onto Goodreads to jot down a few brief notes and mark the book as "read" on my shelf. I have been using Goodreads for several years. It’s a great tool for saving your “must read” list and tracking and organizing books you’ve already finished (See Kelly’s post: Use Goodreads to Build Your Virtual Library). I usually rate the books I read, primarily for my own reference, and I write brief comments in the “private notes” section to use to when looking for comp titles or mentor texts (i.e., rhyming PB, theme of overcoming fears, etc.).
Until recently, I rarely wrote any reviews. But during the past few weeks, I’ve started writing down more detailed thoughts and observations about the books I’ve read, and some of those have morphed into reviews. In doing this, I discovered something interesting: reviewing a book--writing down the specific reasons why a book appeals to me (or doesn’t)--helps me examine my own writing in a more critically constructive manner. By delving beyond basic notations on style or theme, I often hit on the core of what may or may not be working in my own manuscripts. Simply reading books and making a few quick annotations about style, POV, or theme didn’t give me that same insight. It wasn’t until I started writing down more reflective thoughts on the books themselves that I began to consider how those opinions carried over to my own work and could help me in strengthening my craft.
The comments may include my thoughts on plot development (Is there a strong hook? Sufficient tension? An effective plot twist?), character (Are the characters relatable? Well-developed?), and use of language (Did the writer effectively use language to evoke mood? Was the dialogue effective?). My review may also refer to how I felt after reading the story. Would I want to read it again? Would I recommend it? Why or why not? Writing down specifically what I think a story’s strengths are and what didn’t work for me helps me apply those strategies and techniques to my own writing.
The takeaway? When you finish reading a book, be it a picture book or young adult novel, write a constructive review. You can share it on Goodreads if you'd like or simply write it for your own benefit. Then keep your eyes open for what you can learn from your own observations.