5 things I've learned from Wattpad (so far)
It's been almost a month since I completed the serialized re-write of As Long As She Lives and in an attempt to stop myself picking up the manuscript and fiddling, before I receive my editor's first notes, I've given some thought to the experience, which I hope may be useful to current or potential Wattpad users. I think the best way to think of where Wattpad might fit in the career of a novelist, is to compare it to a band gigging around until they are ready for the next step. If a band has at least enough skill not to be booed off stage (Wattpad's lack of reads is gentler, in that respect), they will learn inordinately more from audience reactions, night after night, than they ever could just playing in their garage, or making demo after demo and sending them to the music industry's gatekeepers. (I guess that makes the fanfic writers cover bands?)
For those who aren't following me on Wattpad, I wrote my draft as I posted it on Wattpad, I did not take an already existing piece and divide it up to post at regular intervals. The latter is a perfectly reasonable way to use Wattpad to try to gain readers for an already existing work, but it was the process of sharing my work with the community as I wrote which resulted in the following insights. I hope that you find something in them which will be useful to you.
1. Guilt can be good, or at least productive
I'm starting with this one because it is the reason my husband suggested I look for a site like Wattpad to serialize my next draft. I had been struggling to progress through to the end of all but the first, very short, rough draft (a Nanowrimo 50k draft in 2010); I was getting through about two-thirds of the way and then deciding to change some previous story element which meant that I had to double-back and re-write, again and again and I was getting in my own way. Don't get me wrong, I believe that a writer should always at least go to the trouble of considering more than just their first idea, but I was going overboard in the second-guessing department - a writer has to just choose at some point! Wattpad provided a cure for second guessing myself - a placebo of a sort - the guilt that I would feel should I double-back and confuse even the very few readers I expected to have, helped me to keep pushing forward.
2. You can (almost) always write yourself out of a corner - and sometimes you end up with a more creative result.
At around about chapter eleven, I made a choice to use an event which meant that most of my previous drafts and my outline were no longer relevant - a few scenes were still usable, but from then on I was pretty much writing and polishing a chapter from the ground up. Three times, after posting a chapter thinking I knew where I was going next, I realized my idea wasn't going to work. I was certain I had written myself into a corner and would have to back-track, apologize to the readers and change the previous chapter. Since the whole purpose of serializing on Wattpad was to get through to the end, the thought of back-tracking was horrible - it felt like failure - so I forbade myself to change what I had written, and used every trick I could think of, or could find in some of my favourite writing books, to come up with ideas - and, to my relief, I did! What is more, the ideas I came up with were definitely more creative than the ideas I was thinking of going back to implement.
3. Going negative can be positive.
This is one of the tricks I referred to in number two, but it was a brand new one, which developed out of the desperation of a very particular type of writer's block, so I thought I'd share it. The specific situation is this: I knew what came next, I knew the scenes I intended to write next. The scenes worked - they moved the story forward, they were right - but I wasn't writing them. Days were going by - by this stage a couple of hundred readers on Wattpad and Fictionpress were waiting for updates - and I couldn't bring myself to write them. A couple of times, I came up with entirely different scenes and wrote them with passion, sure they were better, but they were totally wrong -barely even in the style of the rest of the novel!
Again, I tried every trick to get myself going, but I realized I wasn't writing those scenes because I had a deep sense of loathing toward writing those scenes. I tried everything to pull myself out of the feeling, but I couldn't get rid of it - so I decided to write it out. I took up a thick sharpie and some big index cards and scrawled out questions like "Why don't I want to write these #$%^$#% scenes?" and I let myself write down whatever answers came to mind, no matter how irrational (or full of expletives!) Eventually, the loathing receded and I was left with some perfectly rational solutions to the problems!
4. Getting used to writing as a performance art.
When I left my job running an audio book studio so that I could write full time (my wonderful husband's idea), my intention was to put my studies to work and be a screenwriter. One of the lovely things about screenplays is that they are not the finished product, they are blueprints which (unless they become classics worthy of study) are only ever going to be read by production staff and actors - at best! I've always been more comfortable to be part of a collective work - at school and university, I studied singing, but I was always a chorister; I loved the theatre, but I was always back stage on audio, or lighting, rarely on stage (nor directing, which is what I really wanted to do). I loved to be part of a team, but a big part of never stepping forward was a dreadful lack of confidence, and to this day I suffer clinical anxiety.
So, when I decided to write novels, one of the things I struggled with was the thought that my words would be the product which I would be asking people to read - and even pay to do so! Wattpad has helped me get over that - it takes so long to reach the critical mass required to really raise those numbers, that you can slowly become used to the thought of your work being read, and nervousness turns to a little thrill as your notifications come through and you see that barely an hour goes by in which someone, somewhere isn't reading a part of your story!
5. Pleasing readers is different to pleasing "gatekeepers"... and it's AWESOME!
This is not an anti-gatekeeper comment, and it's certainly not a suggestion that writers shouldn't do all the craft work that would go into pleasing a traditional publishing gatekeeper (even if they are going to self-publish), it's an observation that the opportunity to have real readers read your work - people who are reading purely for pleasure, without an eye on any commercial interest - and to have them tell you that you've succeeded in entertaining them... well... it's magic!
Of course, I'm not for a moment saying that popularity on Wattpad is proof of literary quality - anyone who has browsed the offerings on the site knows that what is important to most readers is the story, but - again - that is no bad thing. There are plenty of creative writing classes, writer groups, and publishing houses filled with people willing to critique a writers' work, but there are very few places where a writer can simply offer their work to an audience and see if they take to the story.
As I've been writing, I've thought of other lessons learned, but I think that's enough for one article (or is it a "listicle", if I've numbered my points?) If I can make anything of the other thoughts, I'll post them later.
As always, happy reading and writing,