What in the world is Wattpad? It’s a “community for readers and writers to publish new user-generated stories in different genres.” It’s similar to writing sites like Archive of Our Own and Fanfiction.net, except more streamlined in appearance.
Moreover, the platform is gargantuan. Millions upon millions log onto Wattpad every day, whether to read or write. Hundreds of books ranging from a wide spectrum of genres are produced in vast quantities. Many land rankings – a trending system on Wattpad that lists the top 1000 books in whichever genre – several have millions of readers and a few even become movies (The Kissing Booth by Beth Reekles) or bonafide publications (Textrovert by Lindsay Summers).
The interaction between writer and reader is incredible, too. People can comment on each other’s profiles and their books, join clubs and have private chats. All of this is for free.
Wattpad sounds like heaven, and it probably is for most readers and writers.
But for some writers like me, it was more like a lesson. A terrific, traumatic experience. I started writing on Wattpad in the summer before seventh grade, and, like everyone else, I had to climb my way to the top by my fingernails. With forty chapters, my debut book (Here I Stand) narrated the story of a teenage girl who suffered extreme trauma, garnering about three thousand views. I was still trying to find my footing, so it was more like a test drive.
Months later, I created another book in the short story category, which performed exponentially better than the previous one. This one, titled Out of Ink, was told through a compilation of letters. It detailed the journey of a teenage girl (surprise, surprise, I was a very predictable middle-schooler) and dealt with parental abuse, dementia, tragic love. I poured all of my heart and soul into it, but now that I am older, I admit that it was not supreme quality material (bear in mind, my writing was still in the stages of development). My account was growing at an astonishing rate at this point, getting over two hundred followers in just twenty-four hours. My new story regularly appeared on the trending page in the top hundred, the highest being #27, and the number of views multiplied week by week.
Then, somehow, my presence on that site began to taper off. I posted a final message on my profile announcing my departure. Now, I am no longer an active member of Wattpad. Many factors led me to this decision. What I just explained to you was merely the bare bones of my journey in this community. It would take me a whole book to encapsulate everything, but I will do my best to explain in a 1,000-word article.
The popularity on Wattpad began to render an uncanny and frustrating resemblance to Instagram and every other social media.
At first, I was completely addicted. I would spend hours hunched over my computer, responding to comments and following other fantastic writers. Wattpad, I believed, was my true safe haven — a place to express who I was in a way I couldn’t do in the classroom. However, that rosy perception soon faded back to reality. The popularity on Wattpad began to render an uncanny and frustrating resemblance to Instagram and every other social media. Everyone seemed to be fixated on profile pics and background colors, the beauty of your biography and the quality of your cover. Of course, I know that appearance is important to consider, but it crossed the line for me into superficiality. Also, eloquent books with amazing plot lines would not even have half the amount of views of novels that were poorly written and terribly executed.
This is a poetry book with 739 current views. Her cover shows professionalism and effort, and her caption is nicely written — her actual poems are exemplary. However, hordes of tacky, unedited works end up receiving hundreds of thousands of views while worthy pieces such as this remain less seen. I’m all about exploring your craft in its infinite capacities, but too many don’t deserve to be at the pinhead.
This is just one example out of thousands. Even my Out of Ink story, I confess, was not as captivating as some others with lower stats. Ergo, I faced a huge dilemma.
I stopped doing what I wanted for my account and followed what the status quo was. I used pastel tones, grungy photos from WeHeartIt and made myself out to be quirky and sarcastic and elegant — when in reality I was just a nerdy girl with frizzy hair. I crafted a persona instead of being authentic. I’m sure many writers truly were quirky and sarcastic and elegant, but I’m also sure many weren’t.
Even worse, I didn’t just become superficial and fake. I became vain. My insecurities twisted in a poisonous need for validation all the time. I was obsessed with numbers and my ranking, and, at my cruelest, I would even judge those with pixelated covers and two views on their One Direction fanfictions. I lathered in my fame. It wasn’t about my writing at all, it was about me getting more recognition. Sometimes, I would feel as if I was covered in saran wrap, shiny and artificial.
These things I could change. These things were manageable. What pushed me over the edge was what should have kept me standing.
These things I could change. These things were manageable. What pushed me over the edge was what should have kept me standing. Wattpad also drove deep rifts between me and two of my best friends, whom I loved and cared for more than anyone. They were deeply talented, but my dream of the three of us writing side-by-side did not play out as I’d hoped. The competition was intense and spiraled out of control particularly between me and one of them. She exhibited passive-aggressive animosity to my success, and I never mentioned Wattpad to her because I couldn’t bear to see the anger in her gaze. However, by harboring all of my joy alone, I felt as if I couldn’t trust and confide in her if she couldn’t even be happy for me.
A couple of other major events between us deepened the rifts. Her reactions to my success also affected the other aspects of my life. I retreated back into my shell socially and academically, believing that if my best friend would treat me this way in the face of a small achievement, everyone else would too. My self-confidence was brought to an all-time low, worsened by my struggles with severe anxiety and depression.
Eventually, I re-evaluated my stance on Wattpad and decided that it wasn’t worth all the pain. I could let my friends have it and write somewhere else. Although it might seem like I was capitulating, I was actually letting go of something that was toxic to me, regardless of my friend’s resentment, and, in the end, my lifestyle improved dramatically.
Most importantly, I felt heard, even if just for a few moments. But those moments were like breaths of fresh air after drowning, and they cemented in my desire to be a writer.
Every experience is subjective, and I am sure Wattpad did nothing but enrich and enlighten others. Personally, Wattpad was not for me. I certainly can’t discount that I learned some valuable lessons, though. I mastered the basics of graphic design and got to experiment with my writing style, venturing into different genres to see what I preferred most. I managed the art of communicating with other readers and writers and also received great constructive criticism sometimes. I found the strength to keep going even when I felt shoved down. Most importantly, I felt heard, even if just for a few moments. But those moments were like breaths of fresh air after drowning, and they cemented in my desire to be a writer.