Monday, October 21, 2013

To Star or Not to Star... The Goodreads Dilemma

I've read some books I really didn't like lately. Even one I put down. For good. I almost NEVER do that.I'm not sure if I'm becoming more critical or my tastes are changing or I'm just not good at picking out what I think I'll like to begin with.

In the past, I've kept a running list of the books I've read online, mostly at Goodreads, but I'm finding myself conflicted now about how to do this. I am both a reader and a writer, and while I know the value of a good, honest review, I also know how much a writer pours their heart into their books and how subjective opinions are.

I used to give good, honest reviews. Ones I would have liked to have read if I was wondering whether or not to buy a book. I was never harsh or personal about an author, but I didn't flinch from saying a book was definitely not for me because of the way it was written.

Then I was published, and that brings a burden of its own. I don't want to be the writer that is critical of other writers. I hate when authors bash each other, publicly calling each other out as phonies or hacks or undeserved millionaires. Jonathan Franzen and Stephen King have earned poor reputations for publicly denouncing the quality of other writer's books.

(Which made me wonder if semi-famous writers like Ann Patchett or even lesser-famed but well-established and talented writers like Therese Fowler review books in public forums? Certainly they read!)

I also realized how sensitive some writers are about low ratings, and how mean people can be about something that maybe just isn't their own taste.

If I don't like science fiction, but I try one because everyone is raving about it, is it fair to give it only two stars because I think the plot is outlandish? If I have a pet peeve about casual sex in books aimed at thirteen and fourteen year olds, is that fair to hold that against the book?

Harder yet, reading books by people I know. Between the faculty at school that I adore, the great students I studied with that are putting out their own books now, and you great blogging peeps, I am reading more and more books by people that are personal to me. And not all of those books are up my alley.

I've sat more times that I liked to admit staring at the Goodreads screen wondering what to do. Do I just unlist a book I didn't like, so I don't come off looking like a critical nincompoop? Do I just mark it as "read" but give it no rating or review? Do I give stars but no review? Do I lie?

I have done all of these. Not outright lying... I can't do that. But I have fudged. I have said what I loved about a book - all true - but not mentioned that the things I didn't like overshadowed what I did. I have said, "This wasn't for me, but there are things about it I can see others loving." It's both honest, and lying by omission, but right now it seems the best option.

I don't know if I'll come to a resolution I like, but I'm curious about you. Do you review books publicly - on your blog, Amazon, Goodreads, Library Thing, or some other site? And what do you do about books you don't like?

And, as long as you're here, what's the best book you've read lately?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Do the Work. Even if It's Work.

 I now have a few hundred tutoring sessions under my belt, and I can say that I am pleasantly surprised at how much most of the students really want to learn. Where my instinct is to just correct and edit, I am required to actually explain and work through examples with the students, and I thought they might balk about it, but mostly they don't. They really do want to know WHY a comma should go here, but not there.

On the other hand, there are the students who come who don't want to work. Who want me to do the work for them. And not just on editing, but on the actual writing.

I can't tell you how many times I've said, "I can help you generate ideas and clarify your position. I can help you outline and develop a strong thesis statement. But I can't actually write this for you. You have to do that hard work yourself."

And it is hard. I know that. For some people, having ideas are very different than putting those ideas down on paper into words that flow and have meaning and structure. But still, that is their job as a student. Do the work. Even if it's hard.

I've come to a part in revising my novel where I've hit a snag between the old version and the new. The old version is one point of view, the new is two, and trying to shift some of the story into someone else's eyes has gotten tricky.

Yesterday I realized that the chapter I was writing in a new point of view had lost all the magic of the first version by putting it in another character's eyes. All the zing? Gone.

My impulse was to just ditch the idea of alternating chapters and let the girl take this one, even though she had the last chapter, and the chapter after it. Or make on long, long chapter with her. I wasn't looking at that as the easy way out... I just thought it would work better.

But it didn't feel right. It felt like I was reneging on a bargain I'd made myself when I began revisions.  I closed the computer and began to turn it over in my head. How can I keep this chapter in her POV without losing the need for alternating POVs?

If I kept this chapter as it was, I could add another, new chapter, in the boy's POV before it. That's a seemingly easy answer, of course, except there isn't anything that needed to be said between the last chapter and this. Time-wise, they bleed into each other.

I couldn't just throw in something random. It had to mean something. The whole point of the male POV is to offer the reader pieces of the puzzle the girl doesn't have. Something the audience knows that is important, but that she doesn't. A tension thing, really. So this newer chapter would have to have that. And what else could I throw in that wouldn't seem like I was just throwing it in?

I twisted so many things around, my brain hurt. It felt like work, this figuring things out.

But I did. Finally. After hours, I figured out a chapter for him that would throw a huge wrench in the plot - and strengthen a part of the book that was already a bit weak.

Win win!!

Could I have done something easier? Absolutely? Was taking the harder task on of fixing it right worth it? I sure think so right now.

Sometimes, I have to tell my students, "Do the work. Even if it feels like work."

It's good advice for me, as well.