This morning I sat down to start writing reviews of a few books I’ve finished lately that don’t come out for a few months. Usually, I try not to read too far ahead of pub dates for books for a number of reasons, but one of the big ones is that I end up sitting on pre-written reviews for months. That isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but sometimes it means that something being published soon or something published not too long ago doesn’t get my attention right away.
I think I’ve mentioned before that I don’t review everything I read. If I did, my reviews would be much shorter. But more than that, I like to write about books that spoke to me in some way — either because I really liked something about the book or because something really didn’t work. I find, too, I get way more satisfaction writing a lengthy, critical review over a few things, rather than writing a bunch of smaller reviews of many more things. So yes, sometimes things get overlooked and yes, sometimes I read something everyone else has read. I just don’t feel like blogging about it. I blog for me, first and foremost.
But as much as blogging is something I do for myself, it is something I also do knowing full well I am blogging for an audience. And let me tell you: I appreciate the fact people actually read this and people care. It’s amazing and fulfilling in a way that’s not easily expressed. So thank you.
There are times, though, I find myself wondering why I put in the effort or whether it’s worth it. Blogging sometimes feels like work. I sat down today to catch up on a handful of reviews I want (note: want — not need) to write, but I couldn’t make myself do it. I really liked a couple of these books, and I really want to express that here. But I couldn’t make myself put words to my thoughts. Instead, I caught myself rereading some of my older reviews and thinking about why I write them in the first place. I put the pressure on myself to write them and I’m pretty adamant about the fact I will review what I want to review and how I want to review them. No one is pressuring me. Even when I take on review copies, I don’t force myself to write a review if I don’t want to. I don’t see a reason to because this is my blog and if it means that someone doesn’t want to provide me a review copy in the future, so be it. It doesn’t change the fact I can acquire the book when it comes out.
Writing a review can take me hours. I do it because I like to think about what’s at the heart of the book and what makes it work or not work. I’ve got a mental list of things I go through when I write a review, too, of certain elements I want to touch upon. I don’t hit them all in a review, but I do think about each one of them. A good review can take me two or three hours to write, and it can take me another hour to reread, revise, and prepare (and sometimes, to be honest, that is in and of itself draining when you’re looking for images, saving them, fighting with Blogger to format them correctly, and so forth). And except for that very last part, I love the process. I love thinking about how to construct a review, how to speak about what the book does or doesn’t do well, how I can convey it best with my own words. It’s a huge mental challenge. It’s writing. I’ve been writing my whole life. Blogging has just been one of the best means of doing it and doing it regularly.
I don’t compare myself to anyone else who is blogging because it’s just not my style. I don’t really care what other people “are getting” from blogging. I know what I get out of it, and that’s good enough for me. When I write a good review or a good post, it makes me feel good. I get satisfaction knowing I’ve expressed physically what I’ve been bouncing around mentally.
But as I sat down to review today I found myself completely disinterested. And it wasn’t just today. I’ve been putting off some of these reviews for weeks. Over the last couple of months, I’ve put off writing reviews for books for weeks, too (in one instance, I put off writing the review for 6 months, even though it was a book I loved and wanted to talk about). As much as blogging is for me, I know I blog for a readership and an audience, too.
There’s this competing voice in my head that also reminds me of that when I sit down to write a blog post. It’s not just for me, or I’d not use blogging as a platform for my thoughts and then promote it. It’s also for readers (of all shapes — I don’t know exactly who reads STACKED). There is a level of interaction and engagement that comes from blogging, and I find myself thinking about this when I do write a review. I’ve talked before about how I think stats are a load of crap because they don’t tell you anything about a blog other than it gets a lot of traffic. It doesn’t show or tell you anything about effort or about heart or about passion.
If you go through the first page of STACKED, you can see what gets people talking. It’s not book reviews. That’s not to say people aren’t reading book reviews or thinking about them. They just don’t interact with them the same way they interact with sexier content. And writing that sexier content — posts about covers, sharing amazing interviews and guest posts, posting the lines I’ve been reading — is fun to do. It only becomes further reinforced as fun, too, when you see people are talking about what you’re writing or sharing. Seriously. It’s FUN.
Writing book reviews, as fulfilling as they are, though, sometimes feels like work. Like a job. Even if I’m setting my own limits and making my own decisions about what I am and am not reviewing, it still can feel like work. And I always wonder if they feel like work for readers, too. I know it’s not the case. I know intellectually that devoted readers read everything (or at least skim it). The reviews are there for those who are here for book reviews. They’re the perennial readers who are going to be there no matter what. These are the same readers who often don’t comment. And that’s okay.
But it still sometimes makes sitting down to write a review so, so hard. Because the response sometimes just isn’t there. There’s not a payoff at the end of it except for whatever it brings me personally. But it doesn’t make it any less hard.
I say all of this but I also own this: I am a terrible blog commenter. I read a lot of blogs, and not just book blogs. I read a number of excellent author blogs, a number of excellent publishing-related blogs, and an excessive number of food blogs. But I’m terrible at commenting or at interacting with them. It’s not that I don’t care — I do or I wouldn’t read them — but it’s that I don’t always think to do it or I mean to do it and click out of the browser or, really, I don’t have much to say. But then I have these moments when I’m doing my own blogging and I remember just how much work and effort goes into blogging, no matter what the topic. I know I’m much better at commenting off-blog than I am on-blog: on Goodreads, I can click “like” easily and let someone know I read and appreciated their book review. On Pinterest or on Facebook, I can do the same or I can leave a quick comment with a “thanks.” I don’t know why it is that when I’m reading a blog, I don’t stop to drop a thanks or I don’t stop back by and follow up when I’ve read/cooked something recommended there. I think the internet “like” has made me lazy.
The truth of it all is that blogging is hard. It can be fun and fulfilling — and it is both of those things — but it is so much work, too. I put the pressure on myself to do what I’m doing, but that’s just because I am who I am. That doesn’t change the fact, though, it’s hard and at times draining. That doesn’t change the fact I get burned out or tired or wonder why I put in the effort at all. Because blogging both is and isn’t for me at the same time. I stress about little stuff (never the big stuff) and lately, it’s been reviews and why I write them or how I write them or if anyone even reads/cares about them at all. Are they for me? Are they not for me? I’m still not sure sometimes.
Just like an author worries about how their book will do when it’s out in the world, I worry about what I write and post right here. It’s not the same but it is the same. It’s sharing a part of yourself and your thinking and even if it’s something you’re passionate about and love doing, it’s still work. It takes effort and sometimes you wonder and worry about whether it’s worth it at all.
I’m not going to quit blogging or quit writing reviews. I find satisfaction in it. But I know I speak on behalf of a lot of bloggers who get to this point. This burnout, this worry about whether or not it’s worth the effort happens, happens to every single person who ever spends the time to write and share what they write. It’s just hard to talk about.
Kelly Jensen is a former librarian turned editor for Book Riot. She's the author of IT HAPPENS: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader and the forthcoming Feminism For The Real World (Algonquin Young Readers, Spring 2017).