Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Truth: Blogging is Hard

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.

45 comments:

  1. What a great post. And I completely agree about the whole "liking" thing making it harder to make the effort to interact on a deeper level.

    Also, I think as more and more people read on mobile devices, it's more difficult to comment.

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    1. It blows my mind people can do that (I can't - the thought of looking at that little screen for more than necessary direction-checking or texting kills me).

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  2. Great post! As a new book blogger, I quickly found out how hard it is to write a review. I cannot fathom writing amazing, long, critical reviews like yours that explore themes, issues, etc. I love them, and I guess it's kind of a long term goal of mine :) But I know what you mean about being somewhat satisfied when writing a review, getting it all out there, but then needing some sort of response. If we didn't want a response, we'd write it in a diary or journal. But we're putting our reviews out there.

    Personally, I was hoping to interact with readers and actually discuss a book through reviews and comments, but that seems to happen pretty rarely... at least at my blog and the other blogs I visit. You're right, the "fun stuff" like memes, etc. get the most visit and hits. That can be a bit discouraging sometimes, but I don't really know how to facilitate more discussion, other than asking questions at the end of a review, which I do.

    As for commenting - since I've become a blogger, I've realized the importance of stopping and leaving a comment. I'm trying to implement a new philosophy: If I stop and read the post, I may as well take a few more minutes and craft a comment. It may mean I visit less blogs during the day, but I kind of see it as a quality visits versus quantity, if that makes sense.

    Yet another great, thought provoking discussion post! Thanks :)

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    1. I'm not sure if there is a way to encourage a discussion about a book review. I own my guilt as a bad commenter, and I own it especially when it comes to reviews. I don't read reviews of books I plan on writing reviews of because I don't want to be influenced by them. So that also impacts MY commenting and assume it impacts other people's, as well.

      I like your philosophy of if you stop, then you comment. I think I get lazy since I read through RSS, so I don't GO TO the blogs to read. But I should.

      And thanks!

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  3. I appreciate how thoughtful you are in all of your posts... reviews, discussions, whatever. It's clear that you put a lot of time and effort in to what you do. I admire you and your blog!

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  4. I am less likely to comment on reviews than other types of content because I frequently read reviews with one hand in front of my face, peering through my fingers because I don't want to know *too* much about a book before I read it. I'll skim your reviews, see what you liked, see what you didn't and then the action I take (most often) it not to comment but to open my library's website and request the book.

    Commenting. Sigh. I used to comment a lot more. I also used to blog a lot more. I just... don't have enough words at the end the of the day most of the time.

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    1. I get that because I do the same thing -- particularly for reviews that are for books I planned on reviewing because I don't want to be influenced one way or another.

      Commenting is HARD. I think because you're outside of your own comfort zone (i.e., your own blog) so you worry more about what you're saying and thus worry about saying something as simple as "nice review?" That might just be me.

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    2. I agree with sassymonkey, because many bloggers are reviewing books before I get to them. I usually take note of who has reviewed a book, then go back and check it after I've written my review.

      I don't always get comments on my posts, but I write them so that I can remember what books I can recommend to students. Having that purpose in mind inspires me to keep going.

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  5. Oh, absolutely, blogging and reviewing can feel like work, we all have experienced it. BUT, reviewing is what made me a better reader, I believe. I look back at the things I wrote about just a couple of years ago and I look at how I understand books now, and there is a huge difference. Reviewing makes you understand your reading patterns and preferences better, it makes you a more articulate writer. But yes, it is sometimes becomes hard work, especially when you feel like you have nothing of value to say about a book.

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    1. I don't disagree that reviewing has made me a better reader at all. That's part of what *I* get out of reviewing. And yeah, I go back and look at old reviews and find myself going...really? REALLY?

      For me it's less of the feeling like I don't have anything of value to say about a book and maybe more like, where to start because there's so much to say. I'm a lengthy writer by design, and sometimes the challenge is figuring out how to wrangle it in.

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  6. Thanks for this. I love your reviews--look forward to them--but know how hard they are to create. I work hard on my reviews, too, and I've been struggling with much of the same stuff you're struggling with here.

    Thanks for articulating what I couldn't.

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    1. I think everyone goes through it, and so few people talk about it. It stinks and I'm pretty sure it means I'm going to skip out on writing reviews for some of the stuff I want to talk about now, but I think it's what's best for me. The books will be there when I am ready to talk about 'em.

      And thanks!

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  7. I'm still enjoying blogging. I don't have the most innovative ideas by any stretch of the imagination but I enjoy writing reviews. It's the one way I'm still mostly involved in writing and I do not want to let it go. For me, my biggest concern right now is I'm just plain burnt out in reading YA books. Everything has taken on a sameness of quality which means I cannot get as excited for books as I have in the past. As much as I don't want to, I think a break from YA for me would be a very healthy thing.

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    1. I still love blogging, and I can't say I foresee giving it up because, like you, it gives me a great opportunity TO write and think and express my thoughts in a constructive (sometimes) manner.

      My biggest thing when I get into those reading slumps is just to read something totally different. And sometimes reviewing that non-YA stuff helps out, too, since it can force you to use a totally different thinking pattern and writing style. Whatever you skip out on reading now will be there when you're ready for it.

      I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to stay ahead of the game when really, we don't have to. We can go at our own pace.

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  8. I love how deep and thorough your reviews are! And I know all of us who write book blogs know exactly how it feels to both want to and not want to write reviews. Sometimes a nice break helps and sometimes it's just more postponing. I'm a terrible commenter myself, especially since I generally have no idea what to say on reviews. Thanks for articulating the things many of us feel at some point!

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    1. I've had a couple people suggest taking a reviewing break (I have plenty in my queue to get me through July, easily!). It's silly, though, because I still feel guilt and pressure -- all self-imposed -- about skipping out on reviewing some of the titles I want to. I'm one who likes to sit on the books a while before I do write a review because I like to talk about what sticks out days and weeks later. And maybe that's how I need to think about THIS time. It's a settling time and if the book sticks out a month from now, then it's one that is definitely worth reviewing. Ugh, even that stresses me out. Obviously, I stress about the Very Important Things.

      I'm a terrible commenter, and maybe that's where I should focus for a while.

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  9. I suffer from blogging exhaustion and have for some time, but my projects are nowhere near as ambitious as yours.

    My version of "liking" is to share the link of the post on Twitter.

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    1. YES! I've tried to make an active effort to share things via Twitter I've found and appreciated (and also through the bi-weekly(ish) links of note posts). It is still so hard though. Always being on is just..hard! That's all there is.

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  10. Ah, clearly we are brain-twins, as I've had all of these thoughts myself.

    Sometimes working on reviews can be draining - and they don't garner the kind of comments and conversation that memes can.

    But I feel I must do them - they're the most uniquely "me" thing about my blog after all.

    But, I

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    1. Ha! Speaking of commenting... I typed this on my iPhone. Apologies for any errors!

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    2. It happens.

      The reviewing DOES get draining, even if you love doing it, which I do. And you're right -- they're what makes you unique.

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  11. Well, my hat is off to you and to other bloggers who put so much time and effort into writing a blog and reviewing books. Know that you're appreciated!

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    1. & likewise: I speak on behalf of Kim and Jen when I said we ALL appreciate everyone who reads. Seriously.

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  12. I love your reviews. They are very objective and honest. Your reviews help me find new books to read as well as books for the writing workshop I run at a juvenile detention center. But even more important is the reviews help me as a writer. When I hear what worked and did not work for you, I look at my own WIP in a new way. I do admit, I read my blogs on a phone reader while making coffee, and it is hard to comment on the phone.

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    1. Thanks -- that seriously does mean a lot. And comments AREN'T everything, and I hope that's not what it sounds like I'm saying because it's not. Just a general feeling that it gets hard because there isn't any sort of easy feedback system.

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  13. I'll agree with so many of the people ahead of me and say that your reviews are amazing. They're insightful, analytical and critical. I haven't, to be entirely honest, read too many in full, just because I try not to read reviews of books I'm planning to read, as they can color my experience as I read, drop spoilers or leave me wanting to comment solely on what that person has pointed out in my own review, all of which is no good.

    That said, when I do read your reviews, I am always impressed and humbled. You obviously put a lot more time into your reviews than I do, which is evident from both the length and the comprehensiveness of them. I really admire that you're able to do that.

    Of course, I know (now anyway) that this is because our formats are so very different. I review absolutely everything I write, and, with my terrible memory and laziness, I just can't sit on a review. I write it as soon as I finish the book (sometimes as I'm reading if I don't want to forget a salient point). While I would love to be able to take the time to do what you do, I'm not sure if I would be able to fight off the resulting doldrums. I make writing up my review part of the process of finishing a book.

    All of that stuff about myself was not intended to be vanity. I'm trying to show 1) that I hugely respect the work you do and 2) that perhaps if you change up some of the timing on review writing, you might be less frustrated. Do you think it might help if you dashed off a quick review just as you finished it, then rewrote, polished, edited and published when you felt ready? It might seem like less work if some of it was already done.

    Anyway, hope you get your motivation back!

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    1. I do write down quick thoughts as soon as soon as I finish a book -- but I do it in Goodreads, which is *my* space to think about books. By that I mean, I write down my gut reactions and feelings and a lot of times it's sloppy. But it's for me as a reference point.

      My process of review writing is rewarding for me, and I love the way I do it (as egotistical as that sounds). It's MY review writing and my process and it's what brings me satisfaction. But it doesn't make it less tiring or exhausting or lead to burn out. I think if I tried to change what I do, I'd be cheating myself and ultimately be disappointed in myself.

      I do envy bloggers like you who can do it quick and right after reading and who DO review everything. If I did, I'd not want to read because I wouldn't have time to.

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    2. Believe me. It's a struggle reading and reviewing so much, having some semblance of a social life, and commenting on other blogs so that I can make bookish friends. I really don't know how I'm managing.

      Most book bloggers have their own unique style, and there are some I like that are like yours (long and very in depth), some that are quite short impressions, and some that are in the middle between the two somewhere. I'm in that middle ground usually, depending on how much I have to say. There are some things where there's really not much to say. If I didn't review everything as a policy, I would skip those for sure.

      Side note: I should follow you on Goodreads so I can see ALL of your reviews. :)

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    3. The truth is -- and it's something I didn't take as a policy for a long time -- I just read what I like to read and what interests me. So that's why I don't review everything. I just don't want to. I'm pretty open about not caring whether or not that means I get to take part in a neat promotion or not. The philosophy here (and part of why Kim, Jen, and I work so well together) is that this is and always will be where we get to do what we want to do.

      That's not to say people who do review everything are wrong or ANYTHING because like I said, I have total respect for people who can do that. But it's just not my style.

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  14. I so empathize with this post. I've had to cut back a bit on blogging (from 3x per week to 2x) because it's just feeling hard right now. I've got a lot of other stuff that needs my attention. I'm trying to keep from getting burned out, so if that means cutting back, that's where I am right now.

    It's a shame your book reviews don't generate more discussion (and I'll try to remember that and comment more often!). I think you write some of the best, most thoughtful and thought-provoking reviews around.

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    1. It's not so much being busy or needing to dedicate time to other things. I think it's just simply burn out (if it were a time issue, I'd feel way less guilt, actually).

      And thanks!

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  15. Like I said on Twitter, Kelly, I completely agree with you.

    I've been around blogging world for what feels like a long time, though only in the book blogging world for a short while. I used to write (with my husband) a really popular sewing/crafts blog and at some point it just wasn't fun for me--I felt like I was only writing it because people *expected* a certain amount of content and I *had to* provide that to my audience. I completely burned out and just quite entirely. Around that same time I started managing several blogs for a trade association, one of which I was required to post on every single day--including weekends/holidays. Again, that really became just about producing content to produce content. I mean, I was getting paid for it, but it still bored me to tears. Frankly, blogging with that mindset is the fast path to being boring.

    I tend to write really long reviews of books I feel strongly about (I'm kind of done reviewing books I'm indifferent about--I have nothing unique or insightful to contribute to someone's decision making as to whether or not that book would be a reading choice). When I started CEFS, I committed myself to making sure it was fun--for me, for the other contributors, for readers. (This is why we're not limited to a single genre/category--my reading habits are all over the place.) I also committed myself to not letting external pressures dictate my blogging choices. I teach a blogging/digital journalism class at a local college and we talk (because of my own experience) about the importance of blogging being fun and not pressure-filled--because it is hard, and if it's not enjoyable on some level, then it's that much harder.

    Obviously, I have a lot of opinions on this subject (shocker)--thank you so much for sharing, Kelly.

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    1. We pretty much follow the same philosophy about blogging you do. No pressure, whatever we want to do. It helps there are three of us (for sure!) and our interests are wide. But it's not about external pressures at all, and part of that is I refuse to let myself feel them since it IS my blog. That's why I rarely do book tours or other big promotional things because...well...it's our blog.

      And yeah, I definitely dedicate more time to lengthier, more thoughtful reviews to books I feel strongly about. The ones I don't have a whole lot to say about aren't worth my writing time.

      I don't know the answer, but it is such a nice thing to not feel alone about this. It's pretty much self-induced guilt and stress and it's sort of ridiculous that it gets me worked up but it does! I think it's because I care.

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  16. You've just voiced the problem I've been having since the beginning of 2012.

    I've been reading more than ever, but my desire to write a review comes in spurts. I purposely read books I know I won't be reviewing on the blog just so I don't have to add another book to the pile of books I need to review, some of which I read as far back as February. I have no real motivation. I feel like my blog is stagnant and I want to do new things, but I just can't think of anything. The few ideas I do get don't produce many results. It's frustrating, yet I can never imagine leaving blogging for more than like a week at a time.

    I love blogging. I love being a part of this community. I love what this community has done for me and I love that even though I'm a 17 year old nerd, I'm doing things that help other people. I'm making some tiny difference. But sometimes making that tiny difference happen each day feels like I'm performing a root canal on myself with a razor.

    Thank you for saying what I've been feeling in a more eloquent way (because seriously, I just talked about root canals and razors. I would fail utterly if I tried).

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  17. YES a million times. Blogging is hard! And the longer I have my blog the harder it seems. Maybe because I've gotten busier, I've taken on a different position, I'm on a committee, but my life just gets in the way of blogging-writing and reading blogs. And it's hard to find time to do it all. And yep, the burnout is there. So I just take a break. Maybe I don't post something that day. The world will survive if I don't post every single day.

    I used to be so good at commenting and mostly because I've gotten so busy I hardly have time to read my blog reader anymore, I don't comment as much. And I hate that! I've also noticed the comments have gone down on my blog as well, unless I post something that gets people really talking. But general reviews and news and stuff, not so much. I think the blogging community has gotten so big that it's hard to take time to comment on everyone's blogs. I hope I can get better at it!

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  18. Just wanted to say that although I don't comment, I read your reviews and based on that decide which books I'll be reading. I'm not so on top of what's coming out when etc so the reviews on blogs like this are all the info I have. So, thank you!

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  19. As an author who writes very slowly I am always astounded by how much good writing goes into a meaningful blog. I couldn't do it! I am too much of a tinkerer and so one blog post would take me 2 weeks to complete. Stacked is timely and thoughtful, I really like it, the librarian aura is strong. But sometimes when I read a happening blog like this one, with lots of comments and reactions, and many intensive reviews, I think: when do they grocery shop? when do they hang out with friends? When do they sleep? I honestly don't know how you do it, It is very impressive!

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  20. I hear you and I think I can just about sign every word you wrote down in your posts(well I'm not that great a critic but I enjoy blogging books). My best work is the posts I've spent hours on and. I have to say that writing a review usually takes a lot of time for me to write, English is only a second language for me so parts of the time spent is also due to that fact but still I spend a lot of time on it.

    I hope you continue to write reviews like you say, and do it when you feel like it :) Excellent post!

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  21. Hi! I'm a new author and I happen to be in the midst of a project about "truth"; what it means, how others perceive it, quotes and perspectives. I stumbled across this post and thought it was perfect for my project: 365 Days of Truth, so I hope you don't mind me featuring a link to it today, day 115. Thanks for your honesty and insight and please check out my project if you're curious! (my book too!).
    authortanderson(dot)com
    The project is on my Facebook fan page. MONAD 12.2.12 The Awakening of Stella Steinar

    ReplyDelete

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