Random Thoughts: Reviewer’s Block

Well, I’ve certainly heard of writer’s block, and reviewing definitely is a form of writing, but I don’t hear too much talk about reviewer’s block. I’ve briefly searched it and seen that the term exists, but haven’t found any real discussions on the topic.

I am no stranger to writer’s block – I’ve had it for many years – but I’m now wondering if that day will come to me as a reviewer. A day where that blank white screen in Word, with its flashing cursor, will stare back at me hour after hour as I try to wrangle all my thoughts about a particular book and translate those into a coherent review.

For all the reviews I’ve written these last six months, I’ve only had two that stumped me. One where I just drew a complete blank. The words just wouldn’t come. It was not, on its face, a particularly challenging review to write. I loved the book. It should have been just so easy to express my opinion of what I’d just finished reading. But for some reason those words would not form in the brain and transmit themselves to my fingers to be typed onto the screen.

After much headbanging, a light clicked on – although it may just have been the residual effect of my head meeting my desk at three in the morning – and the words finally came. The review was banged out (yes, I know I’m using “banged” again, but it really is the most appropriate word choice here) in another hour-and-a-half and I was satisfied with the final product, albeit frustrated with the process.

For the only other review I struggled with, it was a bit different. I had the synopsis, the “review” with a small summary, but could not figure out my personal note. What should have been the easiest part of the full review was the hardest. I had opinions, but they weren’t completely formed ideas. It wasn’t a “squee” or “oh.em.gee” book, so I couldn’t just fill up the page with a lot of nonsensical gushing. And I couldn’t just say, “It was mind-blowing” and leave it at that.

Perhaps I could have, thinking back. Perhaps that would have been the most truthful I could have been about it. Those few words really said it all. My mind was blown. I had nothing more I could offer. But I sat with that review for at least a day, missing my deadline, missing my post schedule, just so that I could adequately express what I felt.

But in neither case was it anything close to reviewer’s block. I may have been drawing a blank, but it wasn’t this vast wasteland, black hole, endless galaxy of nothingness. It was just a momentary brain blip. Caused perhaps by exhaustion, the lateness of the hour, or just not enough distance from the story.

I leave my deadlines pretty tight – I have always been a person who thrives under the pressures of doing things at the last minute – and therefore sometimes read the last word of the book and immediately have to start writing a review.

That’s not always the best thing, depending on the story, for writing a review. Sometimes I just need to sit with a book for awhile. Let it marinate. Let the ideas come.

But some stories get my ideas flowing while I’m reading. These I love best. When the first line of my synopsis appears to me while I’m reading. I always feel slight trepidation when I’ve finished a book and that first line hasn’t popped into my mind.

Sometimes it comes quickly, sometimes it takes a few different paths before I land on the right one for me. But so far, thank goodness, I haven’t looked into the void and come up empty.

Reviewing, for me, is in large part a creative process. Writing my synopsis, or my “teaser” to the story is the most fun and the part I like the best. I like to grab hold of a piece of the story and shape it with my words into what I choose to make of it. For me, this is the easiest part, but the one most likely to become a victim of reviewer’s block.

The summary is a bit harder and is almost as “at risk” for a block. I do not always find it easy to summarize a story. I want to describe, without being too wordy. I want to entice, without spoiling. I want to discuss, without completely retelling.

As someone who tends to be overly wordy, it’s hard to rein me in when trying to describe a story I’ve gotten caught up in. But trying to walk that line between too little and too much is a fine one and is definitely a part of the review that will suffer if I am hit with reviewer’s block.

The hardest part of the review for me is the analysis, although as it requires the least creativity it is less likely to desert me if I were to suffer a block. I don’t want to say critique as I really don’t critique as a traditional reviewer will – I don’t have the appropriate terminology at the top of my mind to use for that type of analysis.

But, I can find it difficult to dig into a story and come up with a few adjectives to describe it and the author’s writing, without sounding repetitive or seeming as if I don’t find their story or style different from the book I’ve just read.

There are only so many words in the English language that can be used to describe something that is beautifully written, with a fluidity that cannot be matched and characters that are so richly developed that a reader will feel as if they are lifelong friends. This is because there are so many books that have one or all of these traits.

Even with the difficulty involved in this part of the write-up, the analysis is still the least likely to fall prey to the block. It is the more logical part of the review, even if subjective, and any form of creative block wouldn’t completely hamper my ability to write it.

But I have been reviewing and blogging only for the short-term. I don’t have the many years or hundreds of reviews under my belt as do some of the more seasoned reviewers. And although I have several reviews written at this point, I have been fortunate not to have hit that wall.

Though it may not be a voodoo topic, no one wants to jinx themselves by saying they’ve never had it. And it’s not necessarily a question you want to posit on Twitter or ask an author.

But I am curious to know if there is really such a thing as reviewer’s block? And if so, what do reviewers do to get past it? Is it the same as with any writer or is there a different approach?

For those of you – writers or reviewers – who may have suffered writer’s block, I sympathize, I support you and hope your block ends soon. For those who’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Block, I hope you never do!

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