The Dilemma of Online Writing Communities

On the great advice of my big sister, I recently joined Wattpad. Like she predicted, I love it. The community is welcoming, the Wattpad people are nice and accommodating, and after only a couple of months on the site, “Tipani Walker and the Nightmare Knot” has 380 views and is a featured story on the main Adventure page. I’ll wholeheartedly recommend it to any aspiring or professional writer out there.

So why is the word “dilemma” in the title of this entry?

I’ll admit something I that hate about myself — I haven’t read much since I got a smartphone. It stinks, but lately I’ve spent more of my free time on Facebook and Twitter than reading, even though I literally have thousands of stories and books to choose from, not only on Wattpad but also Goodreads and through my writer friends. I could be reading all day, every day, if I had the time, and I can certainly spend most of my free time reading like I used to.

So why haven’t I?

It’s not an issue with the screen — I read Facebook and Twitter just fine all day without hurting my eyes. It’s not about an aversion to reviewing stories — I’ll review the stitches out of a story I love. It’s certainly not a lack of passion for the written word. That has NEVER been a problem of mine. I’ve been trying to figure out what’s wrong for a while now, and I finally think I have hit on the culprit.

Anonymity. Or rather, lack thereof.

See, when I read books as a kid or a teenager, or even an adult before the Internet went supersonic, I didn’t have to worry about whether I’d like the story or not. If I liked it, I could read it and find more books by the author. If I didn’t, I could just put it down and walk away. No muss. No fuss. The author wouldn’t know I didn’t like their book, and we’d both go on our merry way.

But things have changed, and oh BOY have they changed!

With online writing communities, people are always wanting you to read their stuff. That’s fine. That’s why I’m there, too, and I really do enjoy finding new, exciting stories to read. But here’s the issue — what if I don’t like their story? They’re right there online, and they know I’m reading their story. I can’t just put it down and walk away. If I do, at best they’ll be hurt and think I’m a jerk but never tell me, and at worst they’ll badger me for eons about what I loved about their story until I’m forced to tell them I hated it, and hurt their feelings. And this isn’t about reviewing, either. If I like something about a story but there are also issues, I have no problem giving a little advice if they want it.

This is about simply not liking the story. That’s it. I just don’t like it.

I can’t give constructive criticism on that because it’s my own opinion which has nothing to do with whether others will like it or not. Case in point: I have a lot of fellow writers friend me on Facebook, and many of them write romance. I won’t say I hate romance, because that’s a mean, mean word, but I will say most the time I’d rather gouge my eyes out with a spoon than read it. Does this make their stories worthless? Absolutely not. Do I read them? Absolutely not. I haven’t even read my best friend’s books for fear that the genre itself will make me hate them. Which would hurt her. Which I never, ever, ever want to do.

And therein lies my dilemma.

I can no longer simply enjoy or discard a story. With the internet comes a lack of anonymity that I once took for granted. This lack tints every word I read in “what-if-I-hate-it”, because I know the writer will want to hear my opinion. I certainly want to hear opinions on my own stories, too. And I’m a soft-hearted soul. Saying, “I’m sorry, I just didn’t like it” feels… bad. For me and for them. So, what is the solution? It can’t be not reading, which is what I’ve apparently defaulted to, so what can it be? I don’t know. What I do know is I have to fix this.

Because I miss reading like we’d all miss breathing.

Talk Ta Me!

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