In ninth grade, I decided to write a novel. I had no outlines, no experience, and nothing resembling a thorough plan, but I started writing immediately. I drafted up to a thousand words most evenings after school. The eventual result was a science fiction monstrosity that I titled “Deadly Angels of New York City.”
Why was my first novel a monster? Well, Stephen King would affirm that any beginner’s writing is horrible. Specifically in my case, the monstrosity was just that because I copied details and characters from my real life experiences but tried to weave together a convoluted plot about teleportation, time travel, and the collapse of modern society. As ridiculous and cringe-worthy as my book was, I did love writing it, and I needed to know if other people liked it too. So before I’d even finished the last few chapters, I began posting the others on Wattpad.
As a friend in ninth grade described it to me, Wattpad is a website for writers to post for free and for readers to read for free. To a ninth grade writer with no money or publishing experience, Wattpad sounded like a yellow brick road to success. And it was for me, at first.
Wattpad worked in my case because I needed positive reinforcement to keep writing. When I began anonymously posting finished chapters of “Deadly Angels of New York City,” the read counter ticked upwards steadily, and I earned many comments of praise from strangers on the internet. In my eyes, that meant success. Some of my readers even volunteered to create my book covers before I knew how to make my own.
On Wattpad, I felt famous. My completed book surpassed ten thousand reads, and my anonymous account (named after the monstrosity’s protagonist) gained seven hundred followers. This felt great at first, but I struggled with what to do next. The book was done! Had I reached my ultimate potential as a writer? Could I turn around and write a sequel just as easily?
No, and no. My book almost completely stopped gaining reads after I finished posting it. Wattpad’s users, I realized, only read new posts. Now seeking to impress my followers, I started a new story, “Write Away Jack,” (again, without an outline or ending in mind) and I posted one short chapter per day for over a month. The entire plan was to play the system of Wattpad and maximize attention on my page, and that plan worked—until the ideas ran out.
“Write Away Jack” became too intricate and confusing for even me to understand. I abandoned it, much to the disappointment of its loyal readership.
When I wrote for myself, Wattpad lost interest. When I wrote for Wattpad, I lost my mind. After the failure of “Write Away Jack,” I struggled to find a balance of objectives that worked for me and for a Wattpad audience. After some investigating, I came to understand that Wattpad just didn’t fit me as a writer.
Wattpad’s two most popular genres are short form fan-fiction and romance. My stories were neither! Wattpad gave me access to a wide audience, but my writing did not match that audience’s interests, for the most part. My friend had been right; Wattpad is a place for readers and writers to thrive at no cost, but that arrangement lends itself strongly to writing that isn’t or can’t be published elsewhere. Readers of fan-fiction especially love Wattpad for that reason.
Because Wattpad is free to writers, anyone with no experience can write anything and publish instantly. Any monstrous novel, short story, or poem can reach millions of people with a few clicks. This inherently lowers the standards of Wattpad’s audience. In a pile of bad writing, anything marginally better stands out easily. “Deadly Angels of New York City” stood out on Wattpad, at least for some time, and that’s why I earned praise for it. In ninth grade, I needed that in order to carry on. The quality of my first book relative to professionally published novels never really mattered.
Even if Wattpad never was my best option, it gave me a place to start. Without the experiences of posting chapters, marketing my work, responding to feedback, and planning ahead, I wouldn’t be where I am now. Without Wattpad, the monstrosity might have borne an even more monstrous sequel that now, I hope, will never be written. I have many better and more developed ideas, and thanks to Wattpad, I’ll know what to do next time I wake up and decide to write a book.