Here is it, the first Wednesday of the month again, and time for another offering for Alex Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writer Support Group. It also happens to be the last first Wednesday of 2014, and I want to take the opportunity to say that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being a part of this fantastic blogging community, offering advice and commiseration to fellow writers. Go here to join in and to see all the great blogs that are participating. This month, I’d like to offer a little advice on a way to improve your writing that you might not have thought of – writing book reviews.
All good writers are avid readers. I doubt that anyone would seriously disagree with that statement. Reading is a way to see how others do it, and learn new things – all important to a writer. If you seriously want to become an effective writer; one that people want to read; you should read, and read widely. Not just in the genre that you write, but broadly. You’d be surprised at the things you might learn by reading authors of a genre you’d never think of writing in. I, for instance, would never try to write a romance novel, but I find the way many good romance writers handle dialogue quite useful when I’m writing a mystery or western. I also like the way they handle character emotions. I’d never go so far in my own writing, but I do pick up some great ideas.
Back, though, to my main point – book reviews. Going beyond mere reading, and delving into a book in order to review it, is an effective way to improve your own writing techniques. As you read a book for review, pay close attention to the parts that particularly impress you – positively or negatively – and make a note of why that is so. In reviewing a novel once, by a fairly competent wordsmith who was a master at plotting, I found myself irritated that the author used one word – I forget the specific word now – over and over throughout the book. About halfway through, I found myself counting the number of times this particular word appeared. Later, as I was working on one of my own manuscripts, sensitive to what I’d just gone through, I picked up an annoying habit I had – I was obsessed with the word ‘nodded.’ I had characters nodding two or three times per chapter; sometimes more. I then went back through a couple of books I’d already published, and, what do you know – there was that damned ‘nodded’ cropping up over and over again. I have to confess, I haven’t totally eliminated the word from my vocabulary, but I am now more sensitive to its use, and I try to find alternative ways of indicating a characters assent to something. If I hadn’t noticed another author doing it – and if I hadn’t been reviewing the book, I might not have – I’d probably still be peppering my manuscripts with ‘nodded.’
I also get great story ideas from reviewing other books. After all, there are no new ideas; just old ideas dressed up in new clothes. My YA novel Wallace in Underland came to me when I was reading an autobiography of Lewis Carroll.
So, among all the things you’re doing to hone your skill as a writer, don’t ignore the humble book review.