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How Wattpad Saved My (Writing) Life -- Teaching "Old Dogs" New Writing Tricks

05/22/2014 11:48 am ET | Updated Jul 18, 2014

Promotional video for Educational Experience

I'm never going to write that mythical Great American Novel. I excel at nonfiction -- made a living at it for years as a reporter.

But planning and plotting out and preparing to write fiction has never been one of my strong suits. I am a devoted "drafter." I just jump into the deep end and start swimming as hard and as fast as can. And then I rewrite 'til I get down to that golden nugget of truth I can't wait to share.

It's somewhat easier to do that successfully with nonfiction. You're working with facts or telling a story that already has a plot -- you, or someone, lived through it. You're just prioritizing, summarizing, narrating -- and eventually, making it "sing."

Fiction forces you to start from scratch. You can research to a degree, but at some point, you're off into uncharted territory. You must create a real world with believable people in it who do believable things-even if that world and what will happen within it takes the reader 'way "out there."

Some of us are natural story creators who can plot out everything from A to Z before beginning. Others, like me, start talking to our characters so happily that we don't care where they're going.

And so, we get lost somewhere in what screenwriters would call "Act II." That's the part of the novel, play or film where "complications ensue." If you're doing it right, your character faces a series of increasingly costly trials and errors that force him or her to face demons -- real and internal -- in order to obtain some longed for goal. And also to be changed for the better in some way.

That journey is sometimes called the character "arc," but it's also like a circle. The protagonist leaves her safe world, goes on a scary adventure, meets and slays the dragon and comes back home again -- but forever changed.

My characters like to march along insisting that they're just fine, no complications required, thank you very much. And for years, while I had other writing to do and a day job that kept me struggling to get to it, they were like friends just dropping by to remind me they were still around. Very intriguing people in search of a story worth telling.

Some were from a screenplay I had always wanted use as an outline for a novel. It was the first project I started after I retired early to write full time. I hoped following the script would help me stay focused.

It didn't.

Like most drafters, once I waded into it, the "Oooo! I wonder what would happen if..." game began. The prospective plots obscured the path the screenplay was supposed to provide. New characters arrived to lead me even more astray.

I put it away.

But I was rather proud of the first three chapters -- the ones that introduce the leads and hint at the adventure to follow. And a few weeks ago, after reading a blurb about the publishing and movie offers some writers had received after posting their work on Wattpad, I decided to do something drastic.

Now, I didn't fall in love with Wattpad at first sight. I write literary fiction. Wattpad seemed to cater to Romance, Fantasy, YA, FanFic -- and very young people chatting about things I have no knowledge of or interest in.

But after a little more exploring, I decided to give it a test run. I posted a rewrite of the first chapter of my novel-in-progress, Educational Experience. And then, I used social media to announce it, followed by messages in some of the Wattpad clubs.

People started reading the thing.

In three days, over 100 people had read it. Several had even posted comments -- mostly very generous comments, but I was delighted.

I was also listed on the "Hot," "New" and "Wattpad Life" pages -- the quickest way to get read on phones, tablets, et al. I haven't been "Featured" yet, but I got an email letting me know they're interested if and when I finish the whole thing.

As of this week, I have nine chapters up and my reads have topped 1000 -- that's nothing compared to the millions some writers have, true. But just having regular readers and knowing people are interested in what I write has changed everything.

I can't just meander anymore. I have "passengers" waiting to see where we're going each day.

That means following a "map" of sorts, or at least being careful that each chapter adds something significant based on what came before, not just an idea I had that morning. I also write leaner -- if I've used three sentences to say something I could've said in one, the "superfluous jive" gets cut.

People are reading me on small screens in small bites during their busy days. Remembering that helps me keep things short and sweet -- and stunning.

An article on The Blacklist advised screenwriters to make sure there was a "whammo" moment after every 10 pages. I hate formulas. But I try to at least raise an eyebrow every few pages even so.

Will I wander off again? Undoubtedly. But I've made it clear that I'm on the "kitchen sink" draft that will run long and right off the rails from time to time -- Wattpad is fine with that. Even the well-known writers there use it was a test track. The readers enjoy works in progress.

They even stop by to give you a "thumbs up" and a quick tip or two. You should return the favor of course. If you're not too busy trying to give them another chapter to read.

Are you sitting on a novel you never showed anyone -- or showed too many people before it was ready? Find a few pages worth posting to Wattpad. And get 'em up there. Today.

Your audience awaits...

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