Wattpad has increasingly become a very popular platform among young writers. Allowing anyone to share their works and providing a route for aspiring authors to be discovered by the publishing industry, it has become a compelling route for those to looking to develop professionally as a writer - 95 books were published from the site in 2020 alone. However, despite the surface appeal, there is a more troubling side to Wattpad and other platforms and apps that encourage writers to share their work fast and early, take on unfiltered feedback, and evolve in the public eye.
When I first started writing on the platform, Anna Todd’s books had just been published by Gallery Books, following the huge success she had reached through Wattpad. For me, the appeal of a large audience and potential publishing deal was heady. I believed that Wattpad would be a lot more accessible than pursuing traditional publication, since I knew nothing about the dynamics of the market and had no connections in the industry. I fell into a common naive belief that young people tend to have when they follow a dream: that, unlike the generations of writers who laboured for years to hone their craft and get a book deal, I had found a shortcut to success.
Before engaging with the platform, I wrote short stories and poems throughout my childhood, and at 15, had one published by the school newspaper. I started to participate in national competitions and made it into the finals of one hosted in Rome, as well as winning third prize in a local poetry competition. However, these successes didn’t matter very much to me, because winning a competition didn’t give me the same satisfaction that I got from likes and views in Wattpad. I had started to value my achievements solely in terms of social media popularity.
Wattpad weights the writer’s success through likes and visualisations, like any other social platform. Just like Facebook, Instagram and TikTok, it promotes the content that is most appreciated by the public, and that can be a dangerous draw for an insecure writer. Think about trends on TikTok: if a video gets many likes and visualisations, the creator will be induced to repeat the content that made them popular over and over, in order to maintain relevance. Other creators, too, will hope to achieve fame by copying their content. This vicious cycle happens daily on Wattpad. If a story achieves great success because it follows certain stereotypical patterns, it will be copied over and over in the platform. This can encourage bland repetition, and make it particularly hard for new, different and diverse writers to get noticed.
Validation is not channelled through talent or originality, but through imitation and likes, variables that writers don't usually have to deal with during the writing process. Additionally, when writing on the platform, you have to constantly produce content. Yes, this can be a positive discipline – but it can also put writers under painful pressure. Wattpad doesn’t give you the mental freedom of going back to your work at any time, to review it, edit it and change the story through its course. The pressure coming from people starting to read the story can easily prevent you from revising your work before reaching the final product – it’s already been shared, so what’s the point, and where do you find the time when you have the next segment to publish, anyway? Moreover, young writers rarely have a full plot in mind when they start writing, and so the relentless drive to add chapters to their story can translate into weak completed books and stereotyped ideas.
I don't believe the platforms to be ultimately bad, but there needs to be more awareness about the risks of these social writing platforms. I stopped using Wattpad several years ago, and have instead explored the more ‘traditional’ routes that were to me, as a young writer, totally unknown – from agents offering advice to websites commissioning short stories to niche magazines. They’ve widened my horizons, given me room to make mistakes and space to breathe. There are so many possibilities out there, and I think it is important that young writers know that failing on Wattpad shouldn’t discourage them from seeking longer-term, slower and less socially-validated success.
Lisa Greghi is a second-year student at the university of Exeter. She writes for the university newspaper "Razz".