Goodreads disappoints

I really loved the whole Goodreads idea when I first came across it about five years ago. A site that understands what you like and recommends books in the same genres that other readers have rated. Also, a community of like-minded bookworms, loving books and contributing back into the pool of knowledge, authors answering questions about their books and generating a following…all very sound.

Two problems that I am experiencing with Goodreads now have left me somewhat less enchanted with the concept; the IA behind the recommendations is not as clever as I first thought and the community of users appears to be gravitating towards the common denominator, i.e. no more collaborative or generous minded than a bunch of random people in a bus queue.

Recommendations : The more books you review, the better Goodreads can help you, right? Well, maybe…if you only read one kind of book. If your taste is wide-ranging and you read books that other people recommend, say because you’re in a book club, the less clued-up Goodreads is about what you really like.

Community : This is simple. I don’t have any in-depth psychoanalysis to educate you with. I did a Giveaway of ten copies of my last novel, ‘Dark Water’ nearly three months ago and only one of the ten has been gracious enough to write a review and leave any feedback. Now I know that the rules state that there’s no obligation on the recipients to do this but still, it’s common decency isn’t it?

Am I through with Goodreads? No, I don’t think so. Not yet. I think the soul is still in there. The passionate people are in there and I’m sure the AI will evolve…eventually. Right now though, I’m just a bit disappointed.

Writing Workshop

14th of July was a special day for me. I got to be a teacher for one day. Following on from my presentation to the Year 10s at Steyning Grammar School in March (see previous post), I was asked back to take part in a writing workshop.

Teaching isn’t something I’m trained for so it’s fair to say that I was significantly outside my comfort zone when I turned up at the school on Monday morning. In truth, it wasn’t hard. I had prepared a framework of what to say that also allowed time for the students to do some writing and for some critique. With that in place, I simply let my enthusiasm for reading and writing shine through.

“He was a big man.” – Well although there’s nothing technically wrong with this, it isn’t great is it? “He was a slab of a man.” – How is that different to the sentence above? Does it help you form a picture of the man?

“Steve picked me up in his old Vauxhall.” – Another weak adjective, ‘old’.
“Steve picked me up in his antiquated Vauxhall.” – Why use ‘antiquated’ instead of ‘old’?
“Steve picked me up in his dilapidated Vauxhall.” – Different again, isn’t it? This one’s falling apart. The antiquated one might be a classic car, the pride and joy of Steve’s collection.

English is an immensely rich and powerful language with so many extraordinary words to nuance what you want to say. The power of language has practical applications outside of the literary world, in business for example. It’s well known that you can influence the way people feel and make them behave differently using the right combinations of words.

The only real difficulty I faced was trying to get volunteers to discuss what they had written. The key to being a great writer is to review and rewrite your work. There’s always room for improvement and there are two key ways to ratchet up the quality of your own work.

Method 1) Allow other people to read and review it and really listen to what they have to say. Even if you’re sceptical, try and rewrite a piece of your work in response to some feedback. The result might surprise you and if it doesn’t, you can always revert to your initial draft.

Method 2) Review other people’s work and provide constructive criticism to others. It needs to be constructive; you simply must not trash someone’s work if you’ve offered to help. This will teach you how to look for improvements in your own writing. This is the best tip I can offer you.