THE WITCHING HOUR · Writing

Scaling Writer’s Block Mountain and How to Get Back to Basecamp

I’m talking this week about the mountainous challenge that is writer’s block.

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Most writers I know have experienced this at some point in their lives, some far more often than others (yours truly included) and some perhaps on specific projects where the finish line seemed to move farther and farther away each time they looked. Of course, there are some writers who don’t believe writer’s block is even a thing, but let’s not discuss those wily wizards here, because they clearly have magical powers and we should avoid them at all costs for fear of feeling even more useless than we already do (I’m joking of course, because they might just have a point, but we’ll leave that for another post).

I’ve experienced writer’s block (the curse, the plague, or whatever fancy name you wish to call it) throughout practically all of my writing life. I’m not sure there’s one project where this hasn’t been an issue, apart from maybe some naff short stories I wrote way back in the day. All the full-length works I’ve produced on Wattpad have been affected by writer’s block at some time or the other, sometimes for fairly short periods that I’ve managed to get over with a bit of perseverance, and sometimes for lengthy periods of time when I was left panicking that I was never going to write again and that I should probably just give up.

Now, this has always been partly due to my writing schedule, or lack of it, because sometimes when life just gets a bit huge and horrible and hectic, finding the time to write and focusing my mind on it, becomes something I can only dream about in some Disney-inspired fantasy where small tweeting birds and cute woodland animals clean my house, run all my errands, look after my family and do my day-job for me, leaving me time and peace to be able to write. Once life gets in the way, I can find it difficult to find my flow again and get back on track. I’m sure this is the same for other people, or maybe you do have time to write, but the words just won’t come. Maybe you write full-time (you lucky bastards) or maybe you have a set routine every day where you allocate time for writing, but no matter how hard you stare at your laptop screen, you come away with nothing but frustration and a desire to fire the afore-mentioned laptop out of a cannon (don’t do that, it won’t help you).

So, what do we do when writer’s block hits? How do we climb the mountain?

There’s many different ways to overcome it, and as with everything, one size definitely does NOT fit all. Often it takes trial and error, what works for one, will not work for another, and also, what works once for you, might not work again, but here’s a few methods that seem to be the most popular when I asked fellow writers on Twitter last week.

  1. Music – this proved to be a real tried and tested method of combatting writer’s block and it’s definitely one I use myself. Making a playlist inspired by your story is a great way to find your way back to your WIP. Whether you have chosen songs that are specific to your characters, or whether you prefer to listen to mood music that sums up the ‘feel’ of your story, making a playlist can really help give you a sense of what you’re writing about. I play my lists on the commute to work and when I’m doing mundane shit, like the household chores or walking around the supermarket. Listening to music while you write can also help kick-start the inspiration. I listened to classical (Eric Whitacre’s Deep Field) when I was writing the final scenes of Hedoschism, because it made me feel like I was watching a movie adaptation of my story, something I find always works for me when writing action scenes in particular (I need to see it, hear it, smell it). Whether it’s Little Mix, Nirvana, or Cliff Richard (okay, maybe not Cliff), music can definitely fuel the writing fire.
  2. Read – okay, now this one intrigues me, because quite often in the past, when I’ve really been struggling to write, reading something else – particularly when it was a good book – only served to make me more miserable and compound this idea that I lacked any talent whatsoever and should probably fire the laptop out of the cannon again. It took me a long time to get over this fear that reading somebody else’s work when writing would lead to nothing but certain doom. These days if I’m not reading when I’m working on a story, it’s usually because I’m crazy busy and want to remain focused, however I do know writers who won’t read the same genre as the story they’re writing because it encourages the same feeling of inferiority and leads ultimately to pointless comparisons where they only come off the loser. Reading figured highly on the list of things to help beat writer’s block when I put the question out there to others. Some said the emotions other books inspired in them, helped in turn to inspire them to write. Reading something completely different to what you’re writing can also help, or even reading through your entire WIP from the start can help pull you back into the story and work out where to go next.
  3. Write something – anything! – Okay, now this I LOVE. Love love love. It seems a weird idea, doesn’t it? Writing when you can’t write? However, often writer’s block doesn’t stop you from writing altogether, it just prevents you from writing the story you’re currently working on. Switching to something else can help you find your way over the mountain because it brings back that sense of self-belief and motivation that you were missing. Quite often I combat writer’s block by starting a completely new project or messing around with a new idea (weirdly enough, Playing Dead came about because I was stuck while writing the last of the Dark Sanctuary series and Hedoschism came about because I was stuck writing the last of The Whitechapel Chronicles). Write just three words. Or ten. Or fifty. Write poetry. Write a blog post. Write that YA paranormal romance you’ve secretly been harbouring a desire to write. Quite a few writers I spoke to mentioned flicking back and forth between multiple existing projects to help inspire them (and to those people I’m in awe, as it’s rare that I have more than two on the go and the second will be barely anything substantial at all). If you are one of those magicians able to have multiple projects on the go, it’s great to be able to move to another one every time one becomes particularly difficult. It keeps your words flowing and your mind moving. Others have said just write something, no matter how irrelevant it seems, or indeed, no matter how bloody hard it seems – sometimes a dogged perseverance is the only way to get through the wall.
  4. Research – now this was an interesting one that never occurred to me as a way to combat writer’s block, but was something that I did without even realising it was helping me find my way back to writing again. Researching can take you on all sorts of weird and wonderful journeys. One minute you’re reading about Archangels, the next, you’re writing copious notes about the Library of Alexandria or drug abuse (yes, I did this). I’ve got notebooks full of research notes and it has, at times, inspired me to write again, whether that be for a new story idea or using the research to write a new chapter of an existing story.
  5. Plotting – I’ve never been one to plot out an entire story before writing, instead choosing to plot maybe 4-5 chapters at a time, write them, plot again, and so on. If you’re not a pre-plotter and you are experiencing difficulties with how to take your WIP forward, taking some time to plan out the next block of chapters, or indeed the rest of your story, can be a great way to help you keep the words flowing. Not knowing where your next chapters are heading can fuel writer’s block and sometimes, just writing a few plot notes (it doesn’t even have to be extensive planning) can help you visualise the next steps for your characters.
  6. Watch a movie/TV – surely this is just pure procrastination, I hear you cry! And yes, you’re probably right if it only serves to take you farther away from your WIP, but one of my Twiter contributors mentioned this was something she does – watching a cheesy romcom, while writing at the same time. Now, I have a tendency to believe she might just be one of those wily wizards I spoke about earlier, because I do usually get more distracted when the TV is on, but, like I said, one size does not fit all and if it works, it works. Personally, I would use the procrastination time watching TV, to help give me a bit of a break from the pressure of stressing over my writing, in the hope that it will take my mind off it and give me a chance to breathe a little before I come back to my WIP, so however you do it, I happen to think there could be something in this suggestion that works.
  7. Brainstorm with friends! – because what’s a writer without their writing community? This is one I get behind whole-heartedly and I use this often to get over writer’s block, particularly if I’m struggling to see a way forward or untangle a plot thread that seems destined only for the deepest, darkest oubliette. Bouncing ideas off your friends (whether writers or readers) is a fantastic way of shining a light on the path ahead. When writing Hedoschism, I often called upon my nearest and dearest writers and betas to help me unravel the mess I’d made of things, to suggest alternatives, kick me in the shins when I came up with something stupid, or to just bolster the better ideas and tell me I’d done good. Writing can be a solitary and lonely artform when hibernating in your writing caves and internalising all your stresses and anxieties about your story – but it doesn’t have to be that way. There’s a wealth of help and support out there that can give you the kick up the butt you need to climb the mountainous hurdle of writer’s block and I know I couldn’t have finished most of my stories without my invaluable friends.

What do you think about the above suggestions? Do you have any tips and hints I haven’t covered above? How do you overcome writer’s block mountain?

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I’ll leave you with this little precious nugget of gold sent to me by Gerard Smith:

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Huge thanks to my amazing contributors on Twitter for all their tips and advice on how they combat writer’s block: 

Morgana D. James @MorganaDJames www.morganas-bookbox.com

Rodney V. Smith @RodneyVSmith www.wattpad.com/user/RodneyVSmith

Zeena Gosrani @zeenagos www.wattpad.com/user/NeverTrustADuck

Gerard Smith @francisxyzk www.wattpad.com/user/francisxyzk

Alison Archer @AlisonJArcher

Vee Lozada @BecauseItsVee www.wattpad.com/user/LittleVee

Thord D. Hedengren @tdh www.tdh.se

Madhurima Sappati @MSappatti www.thatbroketraveller.com

Shaun Allan @singularityspnt www.wattpad.com/user/shaunallan

Rebecca Robertson @rebeccajade_ www.rebeccarobertsonbooks.com

Jenny G. Rankin, PHD @JennyGRankin www.jennyrankin.com

Gary Jarvis @garyjarvis1976 www.wattpad.com/user/garyjarvis1976

Kate Y @kateBYac www.wattpad.com/user/MissKatey

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THE WITCHING HOUR · Wattpad · Writing

Wattpad and the Art of Dealing with Criticism

I’m playing with the title of one of my previous posts here, because of course, there’s no ‘art’ to dealing with criticism as a writer, whether on or off Wattpad.

In fact, if anything, it often feels like some kind of masochistic kink, where you allow yourself to be handcuffed to your manuscript and whipped soundly on the backside with somebody else’s opinion of how shite they think your writing is. Unfortunately for us writers, there’s no safe word to be able to say ‘enough’ and most of our readers sadly don’t look like Jamie Dornan (and yes, that was a totally blatant excuse for me to add a JD gif into this post.)

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If you’re a published writer, whether trad or self, the accepted norm is that you avoid Amazon reviews and never ever respond, even if some festering troll has decided to one-star you because ‘this is a paranormal romance, and I only like historial romance’ (pray tell then, Sandra, why in the bejeesuz did you download it in the first place?)  In these cases, I’ve seen many an author ask their more devoted readers to mark these reviews as unhelpful to push it down the list, but unfortunately for those of us on Wattpad, the comments board is there for the taking, and SWEET MOSES, do some readers take it.

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If you’re not familiar with how leaving feedback on Wattpad works, readers have the facility to leave comments not only at the end of each chapter, but to also ‘inline comment’ by highlighting a line or a paragraph and commenting on something they liked or disliked, something they found funny or profound, or to just randomly tell you that that their second-cousin-twice-removed has the same name as your main character (I kid you not).

Of course, this is a double-edged sword, as I mentioned in my previous post, because receiving feedback on your chapters – when it’s positive – is AMAZING. There’s nothing quite like uploading a chapter and waiting for those comments to appear. Being a bit of a stupid-o’clock updater, I would often upload a chapter at 2am, go to bed and then wake up five hours later, feeling exhausted and a bit grotty, only to be lifted by the lovely comments readers had left for me overnight. There’s no doubt it definitely jump starts your week with a healthy dose of positivity that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, and you spend your commute to work actually smiling at people, as opposed to flipping them the finger and biting the ears off anyone who dares to venture into your personal space.

However, when the comments on the board are not quite so positive, what’s a writer to do? How do we deal with it?

The problem with sending anything out into the world for public consumption, is that you are ALWAYS going to come up against someone who either doesn’t like your art and won’t be afraid to tell you (whether constructively or not) or someone who is just there to piss on your bonfire because they can. It’s inevitable, I’m afraid, and no, it’s not pleasant or pretty, and in many cases, if you haven’t had years to harden your skin into some kind of thick Armadillo shell impenetrable to even the most determined of trolls, it’s going to hurt like a bitch. Writing is a hard enough endeavour as it is. We toil over our art. We fret that it’s not good enough and have a difficult job convincing ourselves that we can tell a story.  Sending it out into the big wide world is a HUGE step (and one we should never dismiss as anything but brave AF), so to have to then face the kind of comments readers can hurl at you on Wattpad can have even the most confident of writers scuttling back into their hermit caves. Ask most writers you know about the reviews and feedback they’ve received and they’ll tell you that out of a hundred positive comments, it’ll be the one negative one they remember the most.

I will never forget the first ever negative comment I received on Wattpad. I’d been riding the waves of a sea of positivity (and luck, apparently) and when that first negative feedback came, it hit me like a sledgehammer. I cried. I’m not even ashamed to admit that either. I cried some more. I went into a dark hole for about three days and made all sorts of declarations to myself about how terrible my writing was and how I was stupid to think anyone would ever like it. I thought about deleting my stories. I wanted to rage at the person who’d left the comment, of course, but also didn’t want to come across as bitter and unable to accept criticism, no matter how that feedback had been relayed. So, instead, I festered on it for a few days, avoided Wattpad, and when I finally returned to the battle arena, I found I’d received some more positive comments and suddenly, I realised I could live to write another day. The feeling of receiving that comment never left me though, but, I like to think, the experience of that criticism actually helped me to work out how to handle future criticism and negative feedback.

Six years down the line and I’m still subject to the uglier side of Wattpad, ranging from readers who’ll hate on a character and diss them at every opportunity, to the odd troll here and there, who’ll pop up in the delightful way they do to tell you that your story is a huge pile of horse shite. On Wattpad, its par for the course, and it’s important to realise that 1) it’s inevitable and you need to prepare for that and, accept it, 2) there ARE ways to deal with it, that don’t involve forming pitchfork-wielding lynch mobs of your faithful readers and 3) it does NOT have to crush your writer-soul.

So, how do we deal with the comments that don’t tell us how wonderful we are? How do we deal with the ones that make us want to crawl into a dark hole and never come out again?

  1. FIND THE POSITIVE IN THE NEGATIVE – now, this might seem like a hippy motto, so forgive me if I suddenly sound like I’ve found my zen and am about to start chanting, but surprisingly, finding some positives out of negative criticism CAN work. The key here is to not be too precious about your work and to be able to step away from it and look at it from a different perspective. If one person tells you that your main character is annoying AF and they want to slap her silly, sure, maybe it’s that person’s personal gripe, but if twenty readers tell you the same, maybe they have a point? Too often I’ve received a comment that I didn’t like, and have been tempted to respond in haste, only to step away for a day or two and realise that maybe – just maybe – that reader might have picked up on something I need to work on. Sometimes it is possible to utilise the comments you receive to help improve your writing, whether that be character development, plot holes or genuine mistakes that you’d never spot even if you read your MS a hundred times. I mean, okay, not every reader is going to put this across to you in a way that seems constructive or even pleasant, but it IS possible to turn a negative into a positive.
  2. DON’T BE SO QUICK TO HURL A READER INTO THE BOG OF ETERNAL STENCH – this for me, is a toughie. I’m a redhead. I have a short fuse. I can be quick to react. However, hurling a tirade back at a reader who has left negative feedback isn’t always the best way to respond, and despite what you might think, it isn’t always going to make you feel better. By all means, channel your inner Maximus and swear that you will have your revenge in this life or the next, but be wary about wading into the comments to tell the reader exactly what you think of them and their opinions. One, as I mentioned above, it can reflect badly on you and make it appear as if you can’t handle criticism (some people won’t care whether they’ve worded it in a constructive way or not, they’ll just see you as a bitter writer who can’t cope with any form of critique), and it can also inflame your loyal readers who’ll be quick to defend you. No one wants a war of words on their comments board. These things can escalate quickly and turn into something nastier than the bog of eternal stench. Maybe there’s a better way to respond? Never respond in haste. Step away first and think about the best way to deal with a comment that you don’t like. You might have to grit your teeth while being diplomatic, but choose your battles wisely.
  3. AGREE TO DISAGREE – again, I know, it’s a bit hippy-bullshit, but this, I had found is KEY to having a more harmonious time on Wattpad. I learned very early on that it’s important to remember that not every Wattpadder is like you. We aren’t all from the same country, we don’t all speak the same language, we’re from different cultures and religions, we’re not all from the same age group and we haven’t all had the same upbringing. We have different opinions and different outlooks on life. You can’t possibly expect every reader to think like you do and you can’t expect them to interpret a story in the same way you intended it. They’re not in your head. They cannot see the same images you see or understand a character’s motivation in the way you devised it. There’s a chance they’ll see things differently to you, or have a differing opinion about a certain character, but sometimes it’s better to embrace their opinions and say ‘okay, I don’t agree but you know what? It’s okay you don’t feel the same way.’ You can’t bulldoze a reader into thinking the same as you do, nor can you bulldoze them into liking your work. As long as they’re not being abusive or offensive in expressing their opinions, accept your differing points of view, agree to disagree and move on. Life’s too short, right?
  4. DELETE! – okay, here’s something some people might disagree with me on. I was advised once that I should never delete comments, but there are some situations where deleting comments on Wattpad is a necessity. If you happen to be party to the attention of a troll who is just there to be abusive, I would say 100% delete their comments (and mute and report them). No good can ever come from keeping them up there. They want your attention. They want you to express your hurt and anger. Instead, I say, just delete their comment like they don’t exist. Being rendered invisible is the last thing they want and the absolute best thing you can do. I do also delete some comments where  a thread of negativity has ensued eg. one reader comments in a really negative way, only to prompt the next reader to check the inline comment and reiterate, and so on and so on. Now, I know some people are going to disagree with me on this, but I think it’s important to judge each situation differently and if, a thread of comments is making me feel terrible (eg. dark hole territory, wanting to delete stories, give up completely and throw myself into the abyss), then for my own mental health and well-being, I WILL delete the original comment. It’s important to protect yourself and your writer soul, and sometimes, when one negative comment balloons into something that damages you, it’s better to rid yourself of it. Of course, I would only advise this in particular circumstances and only you can judge when that might be, but don’t feel like you can’t delete, or let anyone tell you that you can’t. What’s acceptable for one person, doesn’t have to be acceptable to you. One size does NOT fit all, people.

One thing I’ve found from my time on Wattpad, and I mentioned it earlier in the post, is that the lesson of learning to deal with the negatives, as well as the positives, is actually a very valuable one and also one that I am strangely grateful for. No one in life is here to blow smoke up your arse and constantly tell you how amazing you are. No one owes you positive feedback. Learning to accept that, at some point, someone out there is not going to like your work and is going to tell you, is vital to being a writer, not only on Wattpad, but off-site too. If you want to build a career in writing (or any career for that matter, because this applies in all aspects of life), you have to learn to cope with the negatives, and yes, you even have to cope with Sandra-Authorslayer-from-Birmingham telling you that she’s only giving you one measly star because you didn’t write an historical romance and I only like historical romance, ‘kaaaaay? If you can learn to cope with it on Wattpad, before you make that jump out into the wider book community, then trust me, you’re doing something right and well on your way to hardening your skin like an Armadillo.

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REMEMBER: Negative feedback does NOT have to crush your soul, and more importantly, you should never allow it to.

And, if all else fails, you can always sell your writer-soul to the Devil in a cemetery on All Hallow’s Eve, in return for the old horned one to curse your haters with genital boils or a plague of locusts…

THE WITCHING HOUR · Wattpad · Writing

The Wattpad Dimensional Hole and How to Climb Out

If any of you are Hedoschism readers on Wattpad, you’ll already know that my main man Ethan Drake has an ability to open up dimensional holes and shove his unsuspecting victims into a void worse than being thrown into an oubliette in Jareth’s Labyrinth.

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If you happen to be a writer on Wattpad, you’ll also know that sometimes posting stories on there can be a bit like throwing them into a void of no return. With over 65 million users, over 400 million stories on the site, and new content being uploaded every minute, it’s no wonder that the idea of just posting on there can be daunting, let alone trying to tackle the fact that you’ve got to somehow make yourself and your story visible in a sea of 400 million.

Users are looking for all sorts of different reads and sometimes, when browsing the hot lists in each genre and checking out some of the more popular stories, it’s often a mystery as to what those stories possess that have earned them the numbers of reads/comments/votes that they have. Trust me, I’ve been there, and it’s a fucking conundrum that can NEVER be explained and is often the reason why Wattpad gets such a bad rap from those in the industry and from ardent book readers who see it as little more than ‘that place where kids write terrible fan-fiction’ (and I’m just repeating here, not confirming, as I know there’s actually some bloody good fan-fiction on there AND some amazing teenage writers who are a damn sight more talented than I am).

The problem here is that when there appears to be no magic formula on why a story has become popular on Wattpad (because bad plot/character development/structure/grammar appears not to be a deciding factor in many cases) it’s difficult to know just how to get the reaction you want. Of course, you could just opt for the easy route and chuck in a few ‘Slave to the BTS Vampire Kings’ or ‘Jungkook is my Step-Brother and My Lover’ (rewind a few years and you could replace with One Direction and Harry Styles) and yes, the chances are, if you appeal to a fanbase, then you could find what you’re looking for. However, there are plenty of writers posting original fiction who are struggling to find their place and, apart from requests for writing advice (to which I rarely feel qualified to give) I would say the number one question many new writers ask me, is how do you get noticed on Wattpad? How do you gain reads? How did I do it?

I’ll be honest. Usually when people ask me this, I send them in the direction of a couple of other trusted writers on the site who have penned some fantastic guides for new users. Katherine A. Ganzel has a great book called simply How to Get Reads, Votes and Comments – A Guide and Lauren Palphreyman has posted a book called 11 Ways to Wattpad Like A Pro. Everyone needs a little helping hand when they join Wattpad and trying to work out how to get off the starting line can be hugely confusing.

The short answer to these questions is: interaction is key.

I’ll never forget one user asking me to check out his work and throwing a passage from his WIP into my DM’s, and when challenged as to his method of going about getting people to read his story and what he does to interact in a more positive way with other users, he very confidently told me he ‘didn’t read’ and therefore didn’t see why he had to read other people’s work, because – I kid you not – he didn’t need to read to be a good writer. I mean, HELLO WHAT?

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Let me tell you something I do know with absolute certainty: refusing to read other writers’ work and believing you’re somehow above that kind of interaction is just plain wrong. I’ll die on this hill. Aside from sounding like a total arse, you’re also denying yourself the chance to be part of an amazing community AND gaining yourself readers along the way. When I started out on Wattpad, I was completely new to the writing community. I’d posted on here a little bit and made a few contacts via Twitter, but that was it. On joining Wattpad, I simply hoped that a few people would read my stories, but what I discovered was there was a whole world of amazing fiction that I just wanted to READ. Forget writing for one second. Put that aside, along with the terrible fiction that no doubt does exist on the site, and think about all the brilliant stories that ARE on there. The first thing I did was add a shit-tonne of books to my reading lists and began reading the ones I loved the look of the most.

Now here’s the thing – some of those writers read my books. Some didn’t. Some of the people who were also reading those writers’ books, began to read mine. Some didn’t. I discovered some of those readers were also writers and I added and read their books. And so on, and so on. It’s a never-ending circle of discovery – you find new writers you love and you gain a few readers along the way.

That kind of interaction – without agenda, just a desire to be part of a growing community of people who just fucking LOVE books was the first thing I discovered about Wattpad and it was also how I accidentally gained my first readers, some of whom are still with me today. It really is all about how much you want to get involved with the community and how much you want to put in to supporting other writers and connecting with readers who love all the same stuff that you do.

But… now here’s the other thing, and it was something I alluded to in my previous post Wattpad and The Art of Letting Go : you can read all the guides that you want, you can listen to advice and follow all the steps to the letter, but it’s no guarantee of success and certainly no guarantee of gaining the number of reads that you want. I say this with conviction, because with over 23k followers and over 6 million reads across my stories, I STILL find it hard to gain new reads. I’ve done most of the things the guides tell you to do. I’ve had successful stories. I’m part of the Wattpad Star program and this year won a Watty award. But YES, I still find it bloody difficult to gain reads.

Take Hedoschism as a prime example. It has 2 Awards under it’s belt, was the Wattpad HQ Read of the Week and was added to the Featured List, but it’s still taken me over a year to accumulate 165k reads. Now, compare that to Playing Dead which gained a million reads in the same amount of time. If you have any idea of how much time I’ve spent agonising over the slow uptake of Hedoschism and wondering why it hasn’t inspired as much reader interest as Playing Dead, I think you’d be surprised. But the truth is, I’ve really bloody agonised over it, so much so that I’ve thought about giving up at least a few times on a weekly basis and have severely doubted whether I should even stay on Wattpad as a result. Even after the Watty 2018 win, which saw very little uptake in readers, I have wondered what the heck I am doing pretending that I’m even remotely capable of writing a story that will hold a reader’s attention. (At this point, I’m completely aware some people will tell me that 165k is still a good amount of reads and there are many people who are on far less, and let me say, I understand that, but rather than focus on the figures, I’m simply making a case for the fact that just because you achieve a certain amount of reads doesn’t guarantee you the same again, and to try and prove that even those of us writers who you might think are complacent about reads or don’t care about stats, still agonise over them and doubt our own abilities just as much as anyone else.)

Rest assured, this is in no way a cry for sympathy. I don’t want that, because I know deep down that thinking in this way is complete and utter bullshit. I know it. And that’s not me blowing my own trumpet, or telling you I think I’m the dog’s danglies, because I don’t believe that either. What I am saying here is that to measure your worth as a writer by the number of reads you’re getting on Wattpad is, quite frankly, a one-way trip to Anxiety Central. Why, you might ask?

I’ll repeat what I said earlier: 65 MILLION USERS. 400 MILLION STORIES.

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Do you have any idea of the likelihood of becoming one of those lucky ones who has millions of reads and millions of followers? Or even hundreds of thousands?

Think logically about it. 65 million users across 400 million stories. Do the maths. Honestly, do it. It might make you feel a bit better.

If you’re not getting that level of reads, it does NOT mean that you’re not a good writer. It does NOT mean that the content you’re publishing is not bloody brilliant. It just means that the maths is counting against you. I know so many amazing writers who don’t get the reads I think they deserve. I know writers who didn’t get those level of reads on Wattpad, but who’ve gone on to have publishing deals, or who have self-published with great success. I’ve known writers who’ve moved to different monetising platforms and gained the traction they never had on Wattpad (disclaimer: I’m not endorsing those sites, but what works for one, doesn’t necessarily work for another and you gotta do what you gotta do, right?). The point is that the number of reads do not equal your self-worth as a writer nor do they validate your talent.

You want to know the key to writing on Wattpad? Start looking at realistic, personal goals and using the site to achieve those. Maybe your book doesn’t have many readers. Maybe you’re nurturing a small group of dedicated, loyal followers who’ll give you quality feedback. Maybe they’ll be the ones that help you become a better writer, offering advise and support. Maybe they’ll even become your friends – your community. This doesn’t have to be a community of thousands or even hundreds. It could be 5. It could be 20. It doesn’t matter. What matters is building your own community, while also improving your skills, and learning to be a better writer. Maybe you’re looking to try a new genre and want to test the waters? Maybe you have never posted your work online before and want to see if just one person will read it and love it? Start small. Nurture what comes out of that. HONE YOUR CRAFT (I can’t say that enough). Take care of your readers and they will take care of you. Keep those goals with you throughout your time on Wattpad. Remember what it was you set out to achieve and don’t lose sight of that.

Don’t be the writer I became. Don’t chase reads and then beat yourself up when you don’t get what you think you deserve. Don’t crave attention as validation of your art.

You are worth more than the number of your reads. 

 

 

THE WITCHING HOUR · Wattpad · Writing

Wattpad and The Art of Letting Go

This year marked my 6th year writing on Wattpad, and, it has to be said, it’s been quite a year.

Two of my works were added to the Featured List and saw a burst of reader reaction, one was made the Wattpad HQ Read of the Week and… finally, I somehow managed to win a Watty Award for my urban fantasy standalone, Hedoschism – a win, which was likened by one lovely and very funny reader, to Leonardo Di Caprio finally winning an Oscar 😉

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It’s been a fabulous 6 years, with Playing Dead (the first instalment of The Whitechapel Chronicles) reaching the coveted #1 in the vampire hot list, my short story The Fan getting Featured and hitting #1 in the short story and horror hot lists (back in the day when you could dual-categorise your works) and 3 Wattpad Star program commissioned short pieces for both the A&E TV network and Universal. While these are a drop in the ocean compared to what some Wattpad writers have achieved, to me, these were things I never dreamed I’d accomplish, particularly back in the day where the only place I ever published any of my work was on this very blog (affectionately known as the Tumbleweed Days.)

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However, while all these things are amazing, the best thing Wattpad has ever given me are my readers.

I joke-boast quite a lot on social media about how my readers are better than everyone else’s, but in truth, I do happen to think it takes someone quite special to be a reader of mine.

I’m not an easy writer to follow.

If you read my work on Wattpad, you would have needed a bucket load of patience to put up with my sporadic updates over the years, whether you joined me for The Whitechapel Chronicles – which was a 3 year labour of love, masochism and sobbing – or for my latest work, Hedoschism – which was meant to be my ‘easy-peasy’ standalone, that I was going to crack out in a few months, but ended up taking just over a year to complete.  The thing is, I GET IT. I do. Whether you’re buying a book from the store or downloading onto your Kindle, the chances are you’re not going to take a year to read it, so why wait a whole year for a book to be completed on Wattpad? I’m not even sure I do this, so why expect it from my readers?

The short of it is, I don’t, and I totally understand why I’ve lost readers along the way. I lost some during Whitechapel and I lost more during Hedoschism. I knew it was going to happen. I don’t have the kind of lifestyle that allows me to write as regularly as I’d like and sometimes it can be 3-4 weeks before I manage to upload another chapter, so readers are bound to get fed up waiting. Of course, there are many readers who do stick it out and they make sure they are there every time I update and I’m in total awe of their patience and endurance. They’re freaking superheroes to me. Also, it’s been lovely to see readers waiting for the book to be completed before diving in and then binge-reading until they’ve finished it – I’ll never get bored of seeing that rush of votes and comments and the warm, fuzzy feeing it generates to know you’ve captivated someone so much that they’ve given up a couple of their days to read all the way to the end.

And that, is really the crux of it all for me.

After six years, I still get a kick out of reader comments and a kick out of the interaction you can have with your readers on Wattpad. You upload a chapter and you get instantaneous feedback. After spending hours and hours slogging away at your writing, to be able to upload and get that appreciation and love, is immensely gratifying. It makes you feel like all the hard work was worth it. You might not be getting paid for it, as you would do if you had just made a sale on Amazon or in the bookstore, but for most Wattpad writers, it’s not about the money anyway. You’re on Wattpad to be part of a community, to hone your craft, and ultimately, to be able to engage with your readers in a way you can’t as a published writer. For a Wattpad writer, there’s nothing quite like watching the comments and votes and reads stack up against each chapter you upload. (Of course, this is a double-edged sword for those who aren’t getting the reaction they desire and can lead to a lot of disillusionment about their work as they seek validation through reader reaction, but I’ll leave that convo for another blog post.)  

Reader reaction is addictive and it’s what saw me posting Hedoschism when I was only a very short way through writing it, despite the fact, I SWORE after finishing the Whitechapel Chronicles that I wouldn’t post anything new until I was about 25-30 chapters in. Writing the third and last book of Whitechapel became a slog. The pressure of knowing I needed to update to keep my readers engaged meant that I struggled to write, and when I did, the quality took a nose dive or I would binge-write 5000 words in one day and then spend the next 2 weeks exhausted and sick of the sight of my own manuscript. In truth, writing online serialised fiction is not the healthiest way to write when you need to stick to a decent schedule. I found it harder and harder to dive back into my work each time I updated and it was much easier to lose interest and fall out of love with my story. Procrastination becomes a preferred past-time and I became a bit of an expert at it.

When I started Hedoschism, I promised myself I wouldn’t put myself through that kind of writing experience again. I was going to wait. I was going to work offline and then upload only when I had a significant chunk completed, but then, the inevitable happened.

I went through a Wattpad-reader withdrawal.

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Comments and reaction on Whitechapel had started to dry up as readers completed the series and I was left with… well, not much happening, if I’m being honest. Suddenly, I craved the attention again. I wanted to know that I hadn’t disappeared into the void and become a Ghost of Wattpad Past. And, much like social media junkies, I feared becoming irrelevant. Invisible. I worried I’d be forgotten and that when I did finally decide to upload a new work, no one would even care anymore. So, what did I do? Well, I made the fatal mistake of uploading a few chapters and plunging myself right back into the mire of feeling the pressure to update, knowing I couldn’t keep up with any kind of schedule and generally feeling miserable again about my writing.

I love Wattpad. I do. I appreciate everything I’ve achieved there. I appreciate every opportunity HQ have given me. I appreciate every single reader who takes time out of their day to support me, whether they’re vocal or silent. But, the sad facts are, that I have to learn the art of letting go of the buzz of instantaneous reader reaction. I have to let go of my addiction to it. If I am to do anything with my writing, I have to devote time to it. I have to nurture it a bit more. If I am to continue on Wattpad, I have to upload stories in a way my readers deserve and that means regular updates and a more dedicated schedule. I want to be in a position where I can say, ‘here you go, here’s a chapter and there’ll be another tomorrow and then another the next day.’

And, so, I’ve decided – with a bit of a heavy heart – that I’m going to take a step back and write my next full-length piece completely offline. I have a queue of ideas I am desperate to start working on, including one that’s been on the back-burner for months now, plus a couple of genre-swap stories that I fancy trying my hand at. I’m not withdrawing from Wattpad – I could never go completely cold-turkey – as I’m still going to post a few bonus chapters and maybe some short stories here and there, but there won’t be another novel until it’s done and dusted offline and ready to post in its entirety.

I’m hoping – praying – that this will kick start an increase in productivity and will help me fall back in love with the writing process again. I know it’s not going to be easy. Like I said, my readers ARE the best (and this is the hill that I’ll die on) and Wattpad is an addiction I’ve had for 6 years, but I’m determined to be a better writer and provide better content.

If you’re one of my readers, I love you – thank you for an incredible 6 years so far!

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PSYCH THRILLERS · REVIEW TIME

The House Swap by Rebecca Fleet

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‘No one lives this way unless they want to hide something.’

When Caroline and Francis receive an offer to house swap, they jump at the chance for a week away from home. After the difficulties of the past few years, they’ve worked hard to rebuild their marriage for their son’s sake; now they want to reconnect as a couple.

On arrival, they find a house that is stark and sinister in its emptiness – it’s hard to imagine what kind of person lives here. Then, gradually, Caroline begins to uncover some signs of life – signs of her life. The flowers in the bathroom or the music in the CD player might seem innocent to her husband but to her they are anything but. It seems the person they have swapped with is someone she used to know; someone she’s desperate to leave in her past.

But that person is now in her home – and they want to make sure she’ll never forget . . .

I’ve grown to love a good domestic noir and The House Swap by Rebecca Fleet definitely didn’t disappoint. Unlike some of the reviewers of this book, I’m a sucker for flawed characters.  Bring me your adulterers, your screw-ups, your goodies who do bad things for good reasons. In fact, just bring me your goodies who make mistakes because damn, don’t we ALL make mistakes? I’m always a bit perturbed by readers who want perfection and holier-than-thou goodness in their books, almost as if they don’t understand that sometimes people can be selfish and shite and get things wrong. I’m ALL for a bit of reality in my reading material, which is why domestic noir and psych thrillers, and yes, horror books, are right up my street.

I am so pleased that I found this book. I was having a bit of a rush on thriller books at the time and devouring a new one every weekend, and when I saw this, I read the blurb and knew I had to download it and I’m very glad that I did. I loved the premise of the story -without even knowing the story behind the characters, the idea of a house swap, to me, already held a ton of sinister promise, that I couldn’t wait to find out more. I mean, it’s one thing to go and stay in someone else’s house, but the idea of that person staying in yours? Of course, the film The Holiday did this already, but forget a handsome Jude Law dancing under your Christmas tree or a quirky Kate Winslet jumping on your Egyptian cotton bed linen, because The House Swap turned the ‘cute’ concept of house swapping on its head and gave me all the creepiness I was hoping for and more.

I loved the characters, flaws and all. Were they selfish at times? Did they make me want to reach into the screen and grab them by the scruff of their necks? Yes! But, so what? I want characters that rile me and keep me on the edge of my seat. I don’t want Ovaltine and cookies before bed. I want something that grips me and characters that challenge me and I got all of that in this book. The plot and characters were woven together so well that it kept me guessing most of the way through. There was something so tragic about all of the relationships, but so real and I found myself connecting with all the characters and understanding the choices they made, while not always agreeing with them.

All in all, I found this to be a brilliant thriller that I struggled to put down.

 

crime fiction · REVIEW TIME

Tell Nobody by Patricia Gibney

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I discovered this book, quite by chance, when another Bookouture author favourite of mine, Shalini Boland, mentioned it on her Facebook. I ended up downloading it and I’m so glad for that recommendation, because I loved this book from start to finish.

The boy’s body was so white it was almost transparent. But that’s not what caused the nausea to rise up her throat. He was so young. His body was unmarked, surrounded by a halo of plucked wildflowers.

One hot summer evening, eleven-year-old Mikey Driscoll is on the way home from playing with friends. Two days later, his body is discovered on a bed of wildflowers by some local teenagers.

The case is assigned to Detective Lottie Parker and this time it’s personal. The victim was a close friend of her son, Sean, from the run-down Munbally estate on the other side of town. Sean tells his mother Mikey was behaving normally before he died, but Lottie can’t help but feel that her son is keeping something from her…

Then days later, another boy is found dead, surrounded by wild flowers next to beautiful Ladystown Lake.

On the hunt for a twisted individual with a terrifying calling card, Lottie must uncover the web of secrets within Mikey’s circle of friends. Someone is hiding something but who are they protecting and can Lottie find out before it’s too late? Lottie is desperate to catch the killer before he strikes again because this time her own child could be in terrible danger…

I discovered soon after starting that I was reading book 5 of a series, but fear not! You can dive straight into any Lottie Parker book and not be instantly confused that you’ve missed something vital. There’s a few hints at backstory which are clearly in the previous books, but you miss out on nothing by starting later on in the series as I did.

The story quickly grips the reader as the prologue starts with a girl/woman (we’re not sure which at this point) who is staggering through the streets, in pain, possibly injured, and who ends up shunning the opportunity to seek help near the local football clubhouse and instead, stumbles down the tunnel next to the canal. I mean, nothing good can EVER come from walking alone near the canal, right??

The next, we are watching the aftermath of a children’s football match where one of the goal-scorers leaves the post-match party to walk home, only to accept a lift from someone he clearly knows, but who we, the reader, know must have sinister intentions after the journey takes a different route to the one the boy was expecting. Again, accepting a surprise lift always ends in disaster… the tension levels were through the roof already!

What follows is a complex but well-crafted plot of missing children, a missing baby, a confession of murder, and way too many locals who have connections to all the sinister goings-ons. In all honesty, at times, I had no idea how Detective Lottie Parker didn’t wring the necks of all those who obstructed her in her investigation. I wanted to reach into the screen and slap people within an inch of their lives as the wall of silence in the community and families went up. Everyone seemed to have a secret. Everyone was suspicious as Hell! On top of that, Lottie had to deal with her own son’s connection to the case, her new (but hopefully temporary) life living back with her opinionated mother and the fallout she still continues to deal with following the death of her husband.

I loved Lottie. I mean, I do love a damn good female detective anyway and am always intrigued by an author’s ability to make their female protagonist tough and ballsy in a world where she needs to be tough and ballsy, without making her instantly unlikeable to readers. There’s always a fine art to getting srong female characters right (trust me, I know) and it can always go one of either two ways – the Marmite effect, I like to call it – but Patricia Gibney completely nails it with her main character.

The story was compelling and complex, as I have said, although not in a way that confuses the reader because I was able to follow the plot and the numerous characters all the way through. At first, as the story was laid out, I was trying to work out how everyone could be connected, if at all, and it was fun guessing who were the villians of the piece. I always love a story that keeps you guessing and turns even the most innocent of characters into possible suspects, and Tell Nobody certainly ticked all my wannabe detetctive boxes!

This is a total rollercoaster of a read, that went through so many twists and turns that I couldn’t stop swiping at the screen. I can totally see this as a TV crime drama, it was so gritty and so real, that each character came alive on the page as if I was watching a TV show. As the pace began to pick up, I found myself addicted to every word, desperate to find out the secrets in Ragmullin.

This was a brilliant book that I would thoroughly recommend. Now I just need to go back and read the first four! Patricia Gibney definitely just gained a new fan!

PSYCH THRILLERS · REVIEW TIME

The Perfect Family by Shalini Boland

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‘Mummy, she’s gone…’

Gemma Ballantine is getting ready for work one morning when her eldest child comes running down the stairs, saying the words every mother dreads.

The front door is open. And her six-year-old daughter has disappeared. Frantic with fear, Gemma starts a nail-biting search for her little girl.

After what feels like forever, her mother-in-law Diane finds Katie wandering lost a few streets away. Relieved to have her youngest child back in her arms, breathing in the sweet scent of her hair, Gemma thinks the nightmare is over.

But then her perfect family starts to fall apart.

And she realises it’s only just beginning…

I always start reading Shalini’s books with a certain amount of apprehension, not because I think I won’t like it, because I know that within just a page or two, she’ll throw us into some horrible nightmare that’ll have me turning every page in anticipation.

The Perfect Family was no exception. I stayed up late to read as much as I could, then made myself late getting ready for work just so I could read another chapter and then I sat in the car outside the office just so I could finish it before I started work.

As always, I spent my whole time trying to work out which character was the villain of the story and was suspicious of practically everyone. Shalini has a knack of keeping the reader glued to every page, with situations that could be so real and I really do think it’s that which keeps you hooked – that sense of believable horror that these things could happen to you.

This was another fabulous page turner and I can’t wait to see what’s next from this author. My only complaint is that I read it too quickly and didn’t want it to end!

A definite five out of five stars from me.