April 20, 2013 by KWills
There is nothing quite like receiving a good review after posting a piece online. It’s one thing to write it, sitting privately in my own room, but it is always slightly odd to think of complete strangers reading it, and taking the time to comment.
Reviews vary in quality. My favourite review to receive is positive (I’m only human) and detailed. The next best thing is a detailed, negative review. A review that says “There is too much description in the first paragraph, and I found your protagonist annoying,” is more helpful than “Love it!” or, worse, “Hate it!”. The very best reviews have suggestions for how to improve, and these are like gold dust. If you send me a detailed review, with constructive criticism and helpful advice, then I will be a happy writer. And, also, a better writer.
So much for reviews received. Online writing communities are all about reciprocity, and if you want to get, you have to give. But taking time to write good reviews isn’t just about balancing the books – it is also an invaluable learning aid. When reviewing any writing I learn what to do, what not to do, and how to express myself politely and precisely. As I think about what exactly it is that makes me like or dislike the story, I learn how to use, or avoid, those same things in my own work.
I try to always write the sort of reviews that I would like to receive, and err on the side of caution when it comes to being harsh. There is no tone of voice of the internet, and I don’t like to rely too much on smilies, so I make a point of avoiding words like “bad”, “hate”, “boring”, etc. If I can’t find anything positive to say, I prefer to walk away without reviewing, and find something else to review.
There are other reasons why I may read without reviewing. First is simply a matter of time. In that case, I may bookmark the page to review later. Another reason is, on sites where other people’s reviews are displayed publicly, I may find that all the things I want to say have already been said. If I have nothing new to add, then I may say nothing. If it is a piece I really enjoyed, then I might leave a brief “what he/she/they said” comment – but that is not a review.
A third reason for reading and leaving might be that I feel I can’t be objective. If it is in a genre that I dislike, then I know that my opinion will be coloured by my view of the genre. I may comment if I liked it despite the genre, but if I disliked it then I give the writer the benefit of the doubt and assume that I’m not the intended audience. Also, if the writing is very emotive, and on a subject about which I feel strongly, then I will be giving my opinion of the argument itself, rather than the quality of the writing. That would be alright on a blog, maybe, but reviews between writers should be primarily about how we write, not what we believe. If I can’t get past the urge to cheer or boo, then I leave without reviewing.
I have a few “review templates” that I use to help keep my thought straight when writing reviews. They vary, according to whether I’m reviewing fiction, non-fiction, poetry, etc, but the main points follow this pattern:
- First impressions – notes jotted down during the first read-through.
- SPG – Spelling, punctuation, grammar, and other technical nit-picking .
- What I liked most
- What I liked least
- Lasting impressions – What I take away with me.
My backlog of “reviews owing” is getting long, so I’d better go and make a start on it. After waffling on at length here, I can’t cut corners now, can I? Writing.com, Scribophile and Writers’ Circle, here I come…