[or, How I Write Reviews When I Barely Remember the Book]
I’ve learned the hard way that if I don’t write a review as soon as possible after I finish reading, it’ll take me forever to get around to it. At which point I’ll have forgotten everything I wanted to cover in said review, as well as the plot, the tone, the main character’s name, et cetera.
Oh, who am I kidding; I forget the main character’s name while I’m reading the book.
Yet I keep telling myself I’ll write the review eventually, start another book, let too many waking hours go by … and before I knew it, I had 24 pending reviews. (Though in my defense, the majority of them are left over from Asian Lit Bingo / Readathon since I was focused on filling as many squares as possible.)
There’s nothing like a bit of deadline pressure to make me finally get stuff done, which is why I’m writing this post! 😅 It’s partly accountability, and partly sharing some tricks I’ve used to jog my memory and get unstuck in case they might help y’all out too.
Triage & Collecting My Thoughts
A few months ago I created a to-review shelf on Goodreads (written as 2-review so that it appears at the top of the list) so it’s easy to see how many and which ones I have left. Since I have to mark the book as Read anyway, it only takes a few extra seconds to add it to this shelf but saves me time trying to remember and find it later.
When I have a lot of reviews to write, sometimes I’ll copy / export my notes and highlights into a notebook or Microsoft Word, or just connect my Kindle to wifi so they’ll automatically sync to Goodreads. I find this easier than scrolling through my notes in the ebook, though if it’s a print book I probably took notes in Google Keep in which case I’ll just refer to the originals.
I recently customized my rating system based on the literary elements with the greatest impact on my reading experience, and it’s been such a game changer. As soon as I finish a book it’s easy to go through and rate each predetermined category; the categories also help remind me about the book’s qualities. (I actually copy + paste the template into the review box when I mark a book as currently-reading, just to make this even easier!)
But all the books hanging out on my to-review shelf are from before I made the switch, so I don’t have that benefit. This year I’ve made an effort to take notes while I read, which has definitely proved helpful when I do manage it.
Either way, I still have to sit down and actually write the review.
Getting To It
I tend to start by filling in content warnings and diversity / rep information — located at the bottom of Goodreads reviews and the top of blog reviews — since it only takes a few minutes to skim my notes and jot them down. This helps me get into the flow and jogs my memory about the book’s contents, including some aspects I might want to comment on in the review.
When I don’t have much in the way of notes and/or a lasting impression of a book, I might then skim the Goodreads synopsis and possibly some of the reviews, which usually gives me a starting point. (If I do, I make an extra effort not to just parrot what others have said!)
For most reviews — particularly when I have lots of them to write, such as after a readathon or vacation — I’ll write just a few paragraphs about what I found noteworthy. Pretty standard review stuff. It removes the pressure to make them eloquent or elaborate, though often I find that I have more to say once I get into it.
For blog tours and whenever I have A Lot of Opinions about a book, I’ve recently started making a bullet-point outline, which I organize into a logical order then turn into sentences and paragraphs. There’s nothing wrong with a bullet-point review, of course; it’s just not my style. (Funnily enough, I never outlined my essays for school and I rarely outlined my WIPs; I’m a big fan of the word-vomit first draft.)
Sometimes I’ll incorporate quotes into my review — honestly, this seems to happen most when I’m a bit stuck on what to write next, though occasionally I just come across a really good one that I want to share.
Some Final Thoughts
Of course, this wasn’t the first — nor will it probably be the last — time I’ve had a significant backlog to catch up on. Despite my best efforts and better knowledge, it happens. Because writing reviews takes time and focus, which I can’t always spare the moment I finish the book. (And yeah, sometimes I just don’t feel like it.)
When I’ve been writing a lot of reviews in a relatively short period of time, I tend to start second-guessing myself because it feels like they’re just endless variations on “I liked the characters / atmosphere / plot BUT …” The thing is, I know that in theory there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that! It just weirds me out in practice since the books are often very different and it almost feels like I’m not giving each its due.
But then again, I almost never feel like my review does justice to the book. So there we have it.
How many reviews do you currently have to write? Do you tend to let them pile up, or keep up as you finish books? What tricks help you get through them faster?