Art and Reading: Combining Pleasures

Art and Reading: Combining Pleasures
"The White Horse," John Constable. The Frick Collection

“The White Horse,” John Constable. The Frick Collection

It is one of my small gifts to myself after I’ve visited an art exhibition to purchase a few postcards in the gallery shop that depict the paintings or drawings or sculptures that particularly interested me.

I bring these home and then I use them as bookmarks. I write notes on the back of the postcard about the book as I am reading. Then, when I have finished the book I leave the postcard in it, and later I can revisit not only the book and my thoughts about it, but also remember a work of art I have seen somewhere and particularly liked.

IMG_4225I suppose I could choose the postcard on the basis of how I think the book is going to “feel,” but I don’t. That would make me dither, and I have enough things to dither about as it is.

Two of the most satisfying things in life are reading good books and seeing good art. I love that I can combine these pleasures easily and inexpensively.

Wattpad: Engaging Readers as You Write

Note: This article previously appeared in a slightly different form in Write, The Magazine of The Writers Union of Canada

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Confession: Sometimes I have trouble writing the next page of my new novel. WPNot because I am short of ideas, but because I have a lot of other urgent matters that demand my attention. I have often envied the writers whose editors or literary agents I imagine standing at their sides like midwives, encouraging them throughout their labour, reminding them of the rewards of manuscript delivery, telling them how much the world wants to see their next baby, and finally urging them to “push.”

When I heard about Wattpad, an Internet platform for readers and writers that attracts 27 million unique visitors per month, and 200,000 uploads of writing per day, I thought it might be part of the answer to my problem. And it has been. But it is also other things.

What It Is

Wattpad is a social storytelling platform where writers can register to post all kinds of work – poetry, drama, fiction and nonfiction – and where readers can read that work: all at no charge.

Most writers post short segments of their works in progress (1,000 to 2,000 words at a time, sometimes much less, sometimes much more), adding to it at regular (or irregular) intervals. Some writers are posting whole manuscripts in serial format that they have previously completed. Others (like me) are posting early drafts of longer works one section at a time. Still others slap up writing fragments like ill-mixed paint with hairs in it, and leave it there to dry — perhaps intending to come back and edit later, perhaps not.

Once the piece is up there, the effort to attract readers begins. You can contribute to this process (but probably only once) by emailing all of your friends and inviting them to check your story out, and by posting your Wattpad link to other social media sites (here’s mine). Of course, you also want to encourage visitors to your page whom you don’t already know, and you can do this indirectly by reading and commenting on the writing of others on the site, getting involved in the discussion forums, and entering the informal competitions Wattpad puts on from time to time. The goal is to get people to “follow” you so that they will be notified whenever you post a new installment or an update.

Every time someone takes a look at a segment you have posted, your “read” counter goes up. Readers can also vote for or post a comment on your work. The more reads and votes you get, the greater are your chances of being noticed by even more readers.

Some people use Wattpad as an end in itself – they are not interested in publishing elsewhere. Others are creating works ultimately intended for self- or traditional publication. Many writers have several projects on the go. Some ask for input and guidance from their readers; others just write.

Who’s on Wattpad?

The two Canadians who developed Wattpad (Allen Lau and Ivan Yuen) intended it for readers as much as writers, and Ashleigh Gardner, Head of Content: Publishing, says that “Ninety percent of Wattpad visitors are there to read and comment, not to post stories.”

She also says that regular visitors include publishers and agents who are looking for new talent.

“Some writers use Wattpad to promote their books to publishers,” she says. “Perhaps their novel was rejected when they submitted it directly, but now they can demonstrate that there is significant interest in their work.”

Gardner also tells me that the Wattpad app for smartphones and tablets is downloaded about 400,000 times a day. “Eighty-five percent of our visitors now reach us from mobile devices,” she says.

The advantage of Wattpad’s mobility component is clear: your work is accessible to readers no matter where they are, and your followers will receive “push” notifications whenever you post something new.

Copyright and Other Concerns

Gardner says that the site features a very sophisticated data-checking system that not only protects what is posted, but also works to prevent piracy. “All work on Wattpad of course remains copyright to the author,” she says. “Further, it cannot be copied and pasted, and readers can’t download it.”

A few people have told me they’re reluctant to sign on to Wattpad because they fear it will lead to spam, but so far Wattpad has attracted no more spam to me than have Twitter, Linked In, Goodreads or Facebook (which is, in my case, none).

Wattpad has had a reputation for being a place where teens post stories for one another, but if that were true at one point (and wouldn’t it be great to know that there are millions of teens who are interested in writing and reading?), the demographics are changing. “The majority of visitors are now between the ages of 18 and 30,” Gardner says, “and the subject matter of the content is changing as the average age goes up.”

Making Wattpad Work

The important part of making Wattpad work for you is to remember that it is a social media platform. If you don’t engage with it (read others’ works, respond to comments, participate in forum discussions), you will miss out on the very important reciprocation factor, and your work will languish. Further, thanks to algorithms, the more readers you attract, the more readers who will find you on their own.

Networking is not as painful as you might think. While it’s true that the Wattpad platform sports lots of dabblers and thousands of very bad writers, it doesn’t take long to sort the wheat from the chaff. And there are also some very good writers there, clearly intending to do as I am — get the work written and noticed by intelligent and discerning readers.

I’ve found a few manuscripts on Wattpad whose next installments I am genuinely eager to read and I’ve also found a few very careful and helpful readers who will probably help me get through Seeds and Secrets far more quickly than I would ever have done on my own. There is a definite motivation to keep going when readers start asking when you’re going to post the next installment. (As of Jan 1, 2015, Seeds and Secrets had received 1,500 “reads” and 121 votes. It stands about 450 from the top in the General Fiction category.)

In addition to pieces of my novel, I’ve put up a couple of works of short nonfiction on Wattpad – one previously published, one not yet – and received encouraging – and immediate – responses on them as well. I am also posting blog posts from my 2011 solo trip to India – Watch. Listen. Learn – which seems to be very popular. In fact, the response is making me seriously consider publishing it as a book, which I had not considered doing before.)

For me, Wattpad is like a humungous writing group where no one has to make coffee or serve beer, get dressed before offering feedback on other writers’ works, or pay any attention to comments from readers who don’t get what they’re doing.

Wattpad is not for everyone, of course, but if it sounds like a tool you could use to stimulate your writing and find new readers for your existing work, check it out. I’ll be happy to read the writing that you post – as long as you read mine. :)

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Update: You can check out Wattpad’s 2014 Year in Review here. According to Nazia Khan, Wattpad’s Director of Communications, the company has noted some interesting trends this year:

  • People are writing novels on their phones
  • Episodic/serial reading is back (Dickens would be so pleased)
  • Everyone is a fan of something as evidenced by the growing number of fanfiction stories
  • Teens are reading. Yes, really.

I’m Checking out WattPad. Have You Used It?

 

WP

Seeds and Secrets is a novel about a woman who accidentally discovers a formula that will allow her to grow younger… or at least stop growing older.

One of the (few remaining) challenges about not having an agent or publisher is not having anyone give a damn if you ever get the next paragraph of your next novel written. I know that my kind readers will say that they care (at least I hope they do!) and I hope they will feel amply rewarded for their patience when the next book does come out. But their support is not the same as having someone say, “We need your manuscript in two months,” or whatever the deadline might be that a publisher can impose. I’ve never had that kind of encouragement, so this lack of external pressure is nothing new for me, but it is hard. I know many writers who live on advances and deadlines, and I envy that: I think it must keep them writing in a way that a vacuum cannot.

So I’ve decided that maybe an alternative route might be to get a few readers interested in my next book, and eager to see what happens next. For that reason, I have posted the first chapter on WattPad, where it can be read for free, as will subsequent chapters as I complete and post them. This is actually the second draft of Seeds and Secrets – I wrote the first one before I started writing The Adventures of Don Valiente and the Apache Canyon Kid with John – but now that DV is up and running (my sixth book! Hard to believe!), and I have almost unpacked following my move to my new life with Arnie, and done some (quite a lot of) work for clients, and completed the first half of the PD workshops  for The Writers Union of Canada, I have started thinking about what’s next. And so I’m revising Seeds and Secrets, which is a novel about a woman who accidentally discovers a formula that will allow her to grow younger… or at least stop growing older.

The first chapter is up here now. You can read it on your computer, or download their mobile app. My goal is to have the revised draft of the whole novel up by the end of August, ready for publication. Even if no one cares if I meet that deadline or not, the fact that I will be under the illusion that a few people might be interested will be of immeasurable help to me: I know, in fact, that it will keep me writing.

However, you don’t need to do anything but click through: you don’t need to actually read a word. I am just playing tricks with my own mind and — in the meantime — doing more research for another book I’m writing, called In Defence of Procrastination.

While I’m here though, I will ask for your input. Have any of you used WattPad? Did you learn anything I should know about? Are you on there? (I can check out your book if you provide a link. Community-building is one of the goals of the site.)

I’ll let you know what I find out and how I progress with occasional updates on my WattPad Experience here. In the meantime, soon you will be reading in this space a diatribe about why I am so sick and tired of reading everyone’s whining posts about all those bookstore closures. That should make me popular. ;) Stay tuned….

 

 

 

Introducing the One-Book-Only Book Club: January 1 to 31, 2014

What better time to read a novel about a woman who is struggling to get thin than in January?

TWCD_cover_v2Join other readers and the author for a fun, easy, interesting, on-line book discussion from January 1 to 31, 2014 to read and talk about The Whole Clove Diet: A Novel – the story of 29-year-old Rita Sax Turner’s frustrating and funny but ultimately rewarding journey to rid herself of sixty unwanted pounds (or so. Maybe more. Maybe less).

Each week we’ll read 100 pages, and then we’ll talk about them together. There will be set questions and topics posted at the end of each week, but you can ask the author anything about her thoughts on the book, or talk among yourselves – about the book, families, marriages, walking in the park, your own food-related issues, anything. If you have ever used food for something besides sustenance – like to make you thinner, or fatter, or just plain warm and comfy – you’re going to love reading about Rita.

The Whole Clove Diet tells the story of a young woman caught in a frustrating marriage with two step-kids, a nagging mom, a whiny mother-in-law and no clear plan for her future… well, at least none that she wants to think about. Not long ago she was a slim young thing with her whole future ahead of her, but as her options decline, she is getting fatter and fatter (her words) – not from hunger, but from frustration and rage, and feelings of despair and sadness. Her husband thinks that her getting pregnant would be just the thing, but this idea only makes her feel more trapped. She goes on diet after diet, and guess what? They don’t work. It appears that reducing your calorie intake does not take any weight off your problems.

Rita’s redeeming features include her ability to hope (true of anyone who has ever gone on a diet!), her wits, and her sense of humour (black though it may sometimes be). When an injury gives her an excuse to escape the home-front action for a week, she starts to figure it all out – and to figure herself out. The novel is ultimately a feel-good story that will leave you cheering for Rita (and feeling even more hopeful for yourself, and for those around you who are battling with addictions of any kind).

Some of the issues we’ll be talking about:

  • Is overeating an addiction – just as bulimia and anorexia are now thought to be?
  • How does the western world treat people who are overweight differently than it does people of normal weight?
  • Do we invite any of this treatment ourselves, by how we act when we are above our ideal weights?
  • What is self-discipline? Can you acquire it, and if so, where?
  • What is the difference between deciding to make a life change and resolving to make one?
  • Do women and men approach food differently? How much does this have to do with our historic roles?
  • Does one diet work better than another?

We’ll also get down to the nitty gritty:

  • Why exactly is Rita sexually attracted to a doctor who has been verbally abusive to her?
  • What can Rita do about the fact that her husband’s first wife keeps getting more and more attractive in everyone’s memory the longer she is dead?
  • What IS the recipe for Nanaimo bars?

As we read, your feelings of despair and sympathy for Rita will alternate with a sense that you want to sit down and have a talk with her, or maybe just give her a good shake. But she’ll also make you laugh and cheer.

Find out what the author was thinking when she wrote the novel, and what her own experiences with weight issues (and other addictions) have been, in this perfectly timed opportunity to join a book club that is reading only one book, ever.

Whether you’ve already read The Whole Clove Diet or have been intending to read it – or have never even heard of it until this minute – join us. (Check out the reviews by other readers first, on Amazon or GoodReads, if you’re so inclined.) If you have ever wanted to lose (or gain) a pound or two, are planning to make a new year’s resolution (about anything – the same principles apply if you’re on a weight-loss program, cutting back on the booze or cigarettes, or training for a half marathon), or just love reading some good writing, snuggle up with this book – and with us – for a truly satisfying launch to the new year.

Note: The WCD One-Off Book Club will meet on the The Whole Clove Diet blog, but the discussion will be copied to Mary W. Walters’s Author Page on GoodReads. Regular updates will also appear on the Mary W. Walters, Writer Facebook page, and on Twitter (@MaryWWalters). If you are not an on-line-forum kind of person, you can have printouts of the discussions emailed to you on request, and you can submit questions by email each week that will be answered and/or discussed by the group. (mary at marywwalters dot com)

The Whole Clove Diet is available from amazon.com in both print and e-book versions, and as a Kobo e-book.

Do you fall asleep when you are reading?

militant writerSome people seem to fall asleep as soon as they start reading, especially if they are sitting somewhere comfortable, and almost always if they are reading in bed.

Other people intend to read a few pages before they go to sleep and end up, two hours later, forcing themselves to stop and turn the light out only because they know how they are going to feel in the morning if they don’t. (That’s me. Always has been. I am currently reading A Widow for One Year. It was 1 a.m. for me again last night.)

The falling-asleep-or-not response does not seem to have to do with content. I can stay awake reading books that are so boring they might as well be instruction manuals on how to watch paint dry. And those people who nod off as soon as they’ve opened their books often actually really do want to find out what happens next but, page-turner or not, they just can’t help themselves.

militant writer istockphotoI do not believe this is a gender issue (despite the fact that I have known more men who fell asleep while reading than women, and despite the images I’ve chosen for this article). One of my dearest friends (love ya, Bonnie) wears old glasses that have an arm missing to read in bed because she knows that she’s going to end up sleeping on them anyway.

I also don’t think that those who nod off are more tired than those who don’t. No matter how tired I am, I don’t think I have EVER fallen asleep with a book open in front of me.

Maybe it’s neurological.

Maybe the same people who fall asleep over books also fall asleep in movies.

Someone should do a study.

Maybe someone has.

I wonder if any readers who fall asleep over books are also writers, and if those people also fall asleep while proof-reading their own stuff.

Does anyone out there know anything about this?