Hello, dear readers, and welcome!
Today I wanted to talk a little bit about what I consider "social writing" -- or posting drafts of your work online, generally at least parts or wholes of the to-be-finished product (or sometimes the finished product). I don't mean for BETAs, but for anyone to read.
You may be familiar with sites like Wattpad. There are plenty of other sites out there like it, including the new Write On from Amazon, but since Wattpad is the King and I'm familiar, I'll probably be focusing on it.
I'm not sure any of us are ever pros at publishing, especially since the rate at which things change is high in the industry at the moment (though there are certainly many things that never change), but after nearly 5 years of self-publishing, I've tried many things: and Wattpad is one of them.
To be honest, I enjoyed posting on Wattpad. The readers were generally very nice, and it was really easy and fun. I didn't get too many hits on my stories, mainly because I'm a somewhat slow writer, and I tend to jump around from one project to the next (within a confined number of projects), so updates were tedious, one of the reasons I decided to leave. Also, unfortunately for me, I struggle with posting anything for free -- I worked hard on it, after all! -- and part of this is probably due to the fact that I cringe at the thought of posting anything unfinished, no matter how excited I am about it. When I was young, I was very into art (I still love it, though writing has taken over a bit), and I remember covering up my work in art class, so my teacher could not see it until it was finished; I hated showing anything before it was finished. Looking back, I suppose this was an early sign of my beastly perfectionism, with I war with daily.
I've gotten much better since then, and have become comfortable with sharing my drafts with my very picky friends, my editor, and a few trusted others...and I'm working on sharing a bit more. Feedback is necessary and important, and it isn't something that we should ever ignore. But when it comes to getting feedback -- and sharing our work -- how much is too much?
Social writing sites like Wattpad are places where you can post your drafts, your finished work -- whatever you want -- and get feedback, not unlike fan fiction sites of the past and present. And while this sounds wonderful, because who doesn't love feedback and excitement from readers, it can also become frustrating. Writing is a close art, a fragile art in many ways, and some writers (not all, mind you, because everyone is different) need space to get their ideas and visions out. If you're allowing others to comment constantly on your first draft as you're creating, you may end up with too many voices in your head, and therefore lose some of your vision. Even my close friends and editor, who are always up front with me and offer wonderful feedback, don't get to see the first drafts of many of my stories; I also like the fact that some pieces of writing are mine, and mine alone.
So, can this be solved by posting your draft after it's finished? Or perhaps posting a second draft? In a way that sounds fun for both reader and writer, but it still leaves an issue: offering writing for free.
I'm certain this has been debated before, torn apart, but I still want to offer my two cents. I've spoken many times about how frustrating it is that e-book prices are low (for what is, to the author, the same content), that authors feel like they have to offer books for free in order to gain readers (and in some ways, they do), but I'll try not to rant upon it too much.
I understand the value of free books in a crowded marketplace, and therefore free books on sites such as Wattpad. People love to point the finger when authors talk about pricing, and ask readers to pay for things, saying that we're greedy or only care about money, but that isn't the case -- not for me, or for a lot of other writers. I love writing because I love writing, and there's really nothing more to it...but that doesn't mean I don't want to be paid for my work; no one wants to go into work, work their designated hours, and not get paid. Offering free books can lead to sales later on, but it can also not lead to sales, and often it doesn't. I have "sold" I can't tell you how many copies of Clara Claus for free over the years, during specials or to gain readers, and though the reviews are positive and the fans love it, there aren't nearly as many reviews as sold books, nor as many sold sequels; obviously there are readers who enjoy the story, and there are copies sold of the relating books in the series, and that thrills me, but the frustration lingers at times.
The most important thing to me is that people read, and enjoy my work. I honestly hate money, but it's a necessity, which makes my desire for readers to read and enjoy difficult. A place some point out to authors who are frustrated over free books is the library, which offers free books to the public, but I love the library, and here is where another contradiction pops up. I understand that not everyone can afford books, and so I do offer my books free to libraries through Smashwords. There was a point in time where my family had no computer, no internet, and certainly no money to buy books, and the library was invaluable to us. I love libraries, and I understand that to some people, sites like Wattpad are libraries -- ones where they can interact with their favorite scribes, and be a part of their creative process. Generally, however, the library would pay for the book (unless it is offered free or donated), and that is a difference.
I have no issue with free reading sites, as long as authors are supported -- not just by words but monetarily, because we deserve it...but I do worry that, as time goes on and more free books and free sites pop up, not to mention pay by month plans like the Kindle Unlimited, and sites like Scribd, will readers want to keep buying books, when they can read them online for free? Where will authors, already underpaid, be then? I'm sure I'm not the only concerned person, and it isn't just books, but everything. I don't see us going backwards, and these sites disappearing, because we are a sharing culture, but I do wonder where perfectionists, who are very protective of their work, and are nervous and worried about sharing it in an unfinished state, fit into this world.
Alright, enough about prices -- let's get back to the nitty gritty: writing.
Talk of being nervous or unsure about sharing may come as a surprise from an author who spent much of her teen years (and beyond) writing fan fiction. I believe that I started writing fanfic when I was around 13, much later than many of the people my age. I loved it, and would update quickly, delving into the story. It was a lot of fun, and very much like the platforms we have now (and of course, there are plenty of fanfic platforms, including the one I used to use, around still). So why does sharing writing now seem so impossible and frankly a little bit terrifying?
As I said above, the more you share, especially if it's in the middle of a first draft, the more feedback you get, and the more voices there will be in your head. It's extremely hard to find your own voice if there are too many around you -- like trying to sing in the middle of a screaming crowd, and be heard. Not only that, but writing your own fiction and writing a fanfic are two entirely different things, even though they both consist of writing (I may talk about that in another post, but basically it's your own thoughts, versus someone else's, which are already preconceived, with a skeleton for you to add to or manipulate). But the most important thing, I think, is the closeness a writer has with their first draft.
Would I ever go back to Wattpad? Possibly I might. Like I said, I did enjoy it, though I still war with the idea of free books and sharing drafts. Only time will tell.
Looking back to those days of fanfic writing, or writing my first few stories, I can truly agree with Thomas Mann, who said: "A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people."
Writing only gets harder as you go along, even if you love what you're writing. The easy reason is: we care about what people think. It's difficult not to, even when we know it really doesn't matter. We want people to like our stories, to see the beauty in them, and perhaps that is why social writing is so popular: because we all want to be liked, and to be part of each other's lives.
There is also one more, very important thing, to consider: are you writing to write and have fun, or to publish? The two are becoming closely correlated with sites where reading is free, or almost free, but they are still very different. When I was writing solely to write, I found it much different (and a lot easier, honestly) to write than when I write to publish, even if I will publish the work far down the road. There is a different mindset between the two, and sometimes it's difficult to separate businessperson and creator. There is nothing wrong with wanting to write to entertain, to just have fun, but as that grows, again, how might it affect writing as a career?
No one can say what is right for you when it comes to your writing, but I can say that we are a very social society, for both good and bad. Sharing work may gain us feedback, more readers, and more purchases, or it may not, but it's not a choice to make lightly, and there are plenty of options for everyone, and not necessarily a right or wrong. Before you post, be sure to look at how it might affect you, your writing, and your process of crafting stories.