THE WITCHING HOUR · Writing

Super-Hero Pantser or Super-Hero Plotter?

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I often see posts and comments on social media about what kind of writer we all are.

Pantsing or plotting? Planning right down to the finest detail or winging it while sipping vodka, crying into your notebook and generally wondering what the Hell you are doing?

I mean, sure, I’m probably the latter most of the time (apart from the vodka bit, as I never drink when I’m writing, although it might explain a lot if I did), but I couldn’t help but be in awe when I saw author, Rachel Scarlet, post a video of an amazing story bible that she creates for all her WIP’s. Each page carefully stored in plastic dividers, from research notes, to character profiles (including how they dress and style of voice) to chapter plans, this was probably the most detailed story planning I had ever seen.

On retweeting her post, with a note of my own to say how story bibles are a beautiful magic I’d like to learn (because the aspiring Marie Condo in me just LOVES how organised it was), I found it so interesting to see how many writers expressed how intimidated this made them feel. There was a general consensus that this kind of super-hero story-planning made other writers think that maybe they were not planning their stories in the correct way and that whatever they were doing was inferior to Rachel’s method.

And then, there was this gem of a comment from K.B Mallion:

‘We are all so wonderfully different.’ 

And that, I think, is the key and one definitely worth remembering.

It’s very easy to feel intimidated by other writers, particularly when we are inundated on social media every day with successes and wins, news of signing with agents and publishing deals, book releases and writers hitting best seller lists. It can even be intimidating for newbie Wattpadders who are just trying to work out how to get a few reads on their stories, when others are like veritable powerhouses with millions of reads and hundreds of thousands of followers. But, while it’s important to remember that the writers achieving those amazing milestones all had to start from the beginning at some point in their career, it’s also vital to remember that one size does not fit all and however one writer works, does not mean that’s the Ten Commandments of Writing we all have to live by.

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The same goes for story planning. Whether you compile story bibles, use apps like OneNote or Scrivener, scribble down random ideas in notebooks or write notes on the back of a till receipt, it’s ALL TOTALLY FINE. Whether you makes notes on each chapter just before you write it, or make no notes at all and just wing it through the whole story, it’s ALL TOTALLY FINE. Whether you plot everything like a military operation, or are a pantser-extraordinaire, it’s ALL TOTALLY FINE.

I completely agree with K.B Mallion’s take on this. I LOVE that we are all different. I love that we all have different tales to tell on how we write. I love seeing the processes that everyone goes through – from what inspires us, to the programs or apps we use (and yes, even the fonts, I’m looking at you COMIC SANS army!), from whether we are Prologue lovers or just like to dive straight in with Chapter One, to how we celebrate writing ‘The End on our completed works.

It’s completely natural to feel a level of intimidation, but as writers, we mustn’t let these fears and feelings weigh us down because ultimately, it’s unhealthy to compare ourselves to others. We can, of course, experiment with ways of working that we think might aid us and use the experience of others to add to our own experiences and progress, but we each must find out what works best for ourselves. Pantser or plotter; it just does NOT matter as long as it works for you.

What kind of super-hero writer are you? Pantser or plotter? Have you learned anything from what another writer does that has helped you with your writing or with how you approach a story? Do you swear by writing guides or avoid them like the plague? Add a comment and share your super-hero writing powers!

 

 

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sci-fi · THE WITCHING HOUR · Writing

Genre-Hopping & Close Encounters

I wrote a blog post back in February about how I was experiencing a bad case of writer’s block which seemed something more akin to a weird apathy towards writing that I didn’t really understand. That apathy has haunted me so much this year, to the point where despite doing a good job of making it look like I’m working on new projects, all I’ve really been doing is creating aesthetics for each new idea in the hope that it might inspire me to write. Because every story must have an aesthetic before you start, right?

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The reality is that I haven’t really been working on new stories at all. Every time I’ve opened a new WIP or notebook, I haven’t been able to think straight to even start writing, let along manage a single paragraph. The longer this has gone on, the more I think I’ve allowed myself to make excuses about why I can’t write eg. okay, maybe I’m done with it, maybe it’s done with me, maybe I’m not really a writer, blah blah blah – you know, all the woe-is-me shite that gets to us all at some point.

At the weekend, however, I had one of those rare epiphanies (I don’t get them that often, trust me): I realised that I’d convinced myself so much that I couldn’t write that I had started to believe it and that, in essence, I was failing myself. What if instead of not being able to write, I had just made myself think I couldn’t do it, thereby allowing myself to give up before I’d even tried?

So, I went back over all my new story ideas and decided I would just pick one and start writing something. Anything. It really didn’t matter what to be honest.

The result? The one I ended up choosing was by no means the story that I ever thought I would write.

Why? Because it’s a genre I’ve never written before.

Now, I know many writers who hop genres. I know writers who hop genres to jump onto an emerging trend or because it’s a more lucrative and popular option. I know writers who hop genres because they’re just bloody good at writing anything they choose to write. I know writers who hop genres because they want to experiment with something different and end up finding they’re in love with writing that new genre. I’ve always looked at those writers with something close to awe, because I’ve tended to stick to the same genre – urban fantasy with a touch of horror or just horror.

I read far more genres than I write, and the older I get, the more genres I discover I like. There are definitely genres I’ve always wished I could write in based on my reading choices. Fantasy is one, thrillers and domestic noir are also genres I love. However, I never thought I would be drawn to writing sci-fi and yet, that’s the one I picked. It was definitely a late-runner in the new story idea stakes and came about mostly from my love for sci-fi films. I’ll be honest here, I don’t read a ton of sci-fi, but I love sci-fi movies, particularly anything alien-related. The Alien movies are some of my all-time faves. I was obsessed with the TV series, Taken. I grew up on a diet of Spielberg and stories of little grey men. I loved anything remotely linked to alien abductions and yes, I loved that cute little alien and his best mate Elliott. DO NOT JUDGE ME!

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Of course, I’m not writing about cute little aliens, but I am strangely excited about this new project despite it not being the one I ever thought I would opt for. I started writing at the weekend, making brief starter notes, then managing to get one very short chapter down that I surprisingly felt really good about. I have no idea whether this one will work out and whether it’s the next big project, but, right now, it feels right and it’s given me the kick start I needed to not only write something, but to also feel inspired about writing again.

Are you a writer that swaps genres? Are you a writer that wishes they could write in a different genre? If so, what genre would you like to write in? Are you a reader who’s recently discovered a new genre that you really love?

Drop me a comment and let me know!

 

THE WITCHING HOUR · Wattpad · Writing

The Guinevere Beck Problem

*Note: Contains spoilers about the Netflix series You, Wattpad books Playing Dead, Dark Sanctuary, A Dark Fall, Into the Dark*

My lovely work assistant and I recently binge watched You on Netflix (not while we were at work, I might add, just in case my boss or associated people ever read this) and were having daily convo updates on what we thought of the latest episodes we had both watched the night before.

Now, I’m not going to regale you with a step by step of our convos, but, her reaction to Beck really caught my attention.

‘Oh my goodness, that Beck girl!’ she said, ‘How annoying is she? That girl deserves for Joe to kill her.’

I found myself nodding my head.

WAIT. WHAT? I nodded my head in agreement? Why did I do that??

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I mean, sure, I’ll admit I did find her annoying at times, but what was Beck doing that was so wrong that the girl deserved to be killed? And why did I find myself agreeing with my assistant?

Of course, anyone who has seen the show will know that it’s mostly skewed in Joe’s favour. We get most of the story from his POV. We get his thoughts, his feelings, we laugh along at the funny things he says and we root for him when it’s looking like he might get caught. And to top it off, let’s face it ladies, Joe is very easy on the eye. We’re given a guy who is clearly creepy to the max, but good-looking, and Hell, all logical thought goes out the window. Suddenly we’re praying for the next girl to be his victim… because, well, quite frankly, that woman is just NOT good enough for our much-loved obsessive stalker-killer! 

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I’m poking fun at all this, of course, but REALLY, ladies? Is this what we have been reduced to? Do characters, and specifically female characters, deserve to get killed just because they’re cheats or flaky or because you just don’t like them?

What the writers and producers of You did was very clever. We need to be intrigued by Joe and need to somehow become attached to him to keep things going (and get to that all important second series before Netflix hit the cancel button), and while I don’t assume to know what kind of discourse they were looking for, it has reminded me a little bit of the furore involving the Ted Bundy Tapes and the subsequent Zac Efron biopic of America’s favourite hot serial killer. We had the same thing with Jamie Dornan’s character in The Fall. More examples of this fascination with good-looking killers who, and I will shout this loudly, WILL KILL YOU BECAUSE YOU ARE A WOMAN.

Okay, I’ve gone a little off tangent in a way, because this post isn’t about Joe or Ted or even Jamie Dornan (more’s the pity, eh), but it is about female characters and how we react to them. You might be wondering why I’m even discussing You here, because I primarily post about books and writing and the Wattpad experience and you would be right. As it happens, watching You came at the same time as I received a tirade of comments on two of my Wattpad books where readers were berating my female characters for their actions and decisions, so it seemed like perfect timing to bring up what I’m now calling The Guinevere Beck Problem, or The Art of Hating on a Female Character for Not Being Perfect.

One of the very first female characters I ever wrote in my incredibly amateurish Wattpad book, Dark Sanctuary, makes ALL the bad decisions. In hindsight, I know I made huge mistakes with that character, but I still maintain that because she had experienced so much horror and loss in her life, she had developed an innate ability to not trust people, even those who were obviously trying to help her. That distrust often found her ultimately taking the wrong route in life and putting herself in more danger, much to my readers’ frustration, and often anger.

Years down the line from posting this on Wattpad, I’ve become slightly numb to the negative comments, and I definitely don’t take them personally, but a couple of recent comments did make me stop and think ‘What? Really?

It went a little something like this:

‘I hate her now.  I hope something bad happens to her.’

And…

I hate her, I hate her, I hate her.

Sarah’s crime? Daring to put her trust in, and kiss a man that she connected with through similar life-experiences (and in the readers’ eyes, betray the vampire she was meant to love, even though he had bitten her and left her unconscious and then, deserted her, without consulting with her first to discuss the reasons why he had to leave…. damn, take a f-ing breath Lindsey).

Isn’t interesting that because she kissed another guy (and, I might add, only the 3rd guy she had ever kissed in her whole entire life) a reader can hate her enough to want her to suffer? What happens to us as readers when we turn against female characters so much because we don’t like  their decisions, that we wish harm on them, whether emotional or physical?

Likewise, in Playing Dead: Book One of The Whitechapel Chronicles, the kickback my main character, Megan, receives when she cheats on her husband, is markedly different to the reaction her husband receives when readers realise he has done just the same (and actually, far far worse than just committing adultery).

Why do we admonish female characters so much, when we are far less vocal about a male character’s misdemeanours and crimes? In Dark Sanctuary, the male MC was a vampire who had garnered a small personal fortune by charming and then killing rich women. In Playing Dead, Megan’s husband is an adulterer and killer, and even signs away the life of his wife to pay for his own crimes. Neither of these characters earn anywhere near the kind of reaction that my female characters do. How is it we overlook a male character’s faults and errors, and yet we hold our female characters to such high standards?

Of course, now I completely understand that this is fiction and fictional characters we are talking about, so I’m no way suggesting I have a bunch of sociopathic readers on my hands who wish harm on others (at least I hope not haha). Also, I am always aware that as readers we do get passionate about stories and this passion can play out in many ways – adoration, frustration, love, happiness, grief, anger – and what are books without passion?! But, this compulsion we have as readers to go that extra mile with our disapproval and sometimes, hatred of female characters is something that constantly intrigues me.

Fellow Wattpad writer, Scarlett Drake, author of The Persistence of Memory, A Dark Fall and Into the Dark (amongst others), has talked recently of also receiving negative commentary against her female MC’s, Alex and Eloise. Interestingly here, It’s Alex, the middle-class Doctor who gets most negativity out of the two (even though Eloise does have an affair). She’s wrong for being indecisive, she’s wrong for over-thinking things, she’s wrong for not staying with the male MC after discovering he’s a drug dealer (and of course, directly implicit in whatever happens to those people who take the drugs, the very people that Alex could end up treating as a Doctor), she’s wrong for taking a sip of wine when she didn’t know she was pregnant, and wrong for keeping her lover in the dark about that pregnancy (even though he has a ton of shady secrets himself). I’ve even read some of the comments myself and it’s pretty shocking that, from mostly female readers, so many are willing to condemn Alex for her actions, when it’s quite clear that Jake has done far worse. Why do we expect perfection from female characters, but not from the male characters?

In the case of You, Beck wasn’t perfect, but so what? Delve a little deeper and by the end of the series we saw many of the reasons why she surrounded herself with fake friends, why she struggled to hold down relationships with men, why she cheated. But what did she do that was so bad that we might want her to get killed? By the time the series had finished, I found myself feeling very guilty that I had so easily let myself be manipulated into disliking her and not having empathy for her. Even without getting a better understanding of who Beck was until the end, why did I so quickly assume the role of judge, jury and executioner?

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As authors, are we guilty of raising up our male characters onto a golden pedestal, to the detriment of our female MC’s? What role are we playing in creating the ensuing negativity? Of course, as I’ve said above, authors (and in the case of TV, screenwriter, directors, producers etc) do at times intentionally manipulate readers to love a character so much that they can seemingly do no wrong, even if we are quite clear about their flaws. But, in many cases, as readers – and I class myself as one of the guilty ones here – we are highly critical of female characters to the point where we wish they would do a Thelma and Louise off the edge of a cliff.

I’d love to know your thoughts on this, whether reader or writer. Have you experienced The Guinevere Beck Problem? Did you intentionally set out to create this kind of reaction on your readers, or do you think the reaction was unjustified? As a reader, have you ever reacted in a way (like I did) where you found yourself wanting the female MC to take a walk alone down a dark alley in the hope she’d meet a nasty end? Or do you see beyond a character’s flaws and try to find empathy with them, even if you don’t agree with their decisions?

 

 

 

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

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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