Traditionally, writing and reading is a personal, private and secluded aspect of life. It’s not too often we can find people who operate on the same wavelength, to find those like-minded and similarly talented friends. We might even get weird looks if we start babbling about our favourite author’s cat, the latest plot twist in a series, argue about cliches or try to present our discourses about complex philosophies in literature. But in the technological wired-in era, we have many resources and opportunities to connect.
I’ve wanted to have a meet up with like-minded writers from Wattpad for a long time; it also isn’t the first time I’ve been to Wattpad HQ. Quite fatefully, the HQ is right in the city I live in which is a huge blessing. When I first met the Wattpad staff in person a while ago, I realized that this is a community. Behind the site and the scenes, these aren’t people who work in an office and slave over nine-to-fives – they are a huge team of dedicated staff who love what they do, who are passionate and totally enthusiastic about what we are passionate about as writers and readers. Even their spectacular and artistic office space represents their innovative forward-thinking spirit in every nook and cranny. Seeing their friendly, supportive, eager faces opened up so many doors and so many ideas right away both in my heart and in actuality. But the culture of Wattpad and of literature deserves to spread beyond the HQ doors, and at the Wattparty/Open House I had a chance to meet some of the famous chart-topping authors that are household names of the Wattpad community; and we realize that we are all ordinary, yet brilliant people behind the pen. I think this vibe needs to continue to spread: we can be a movement of connected 21st century high tech social literature lovers and inspire one another. Even if we live in different places, we are all in the same world and in the same family. Literature is quite a metaphysical experience that engages our hearts and minds, and in the same way, we are connected through literature on a very deep level.
I believe though we can connect online via Wattpad or social media, it is so nurturing and helpful to meet in person and realize that, wow, there really is someone in real life, living and breathing, totally friendly, enthusiastic and passionate about the same things you are. It anchors our passions and dreams to reality. It makes pursuing life as a writer or an avid reader more possible. These are the kinds of people you can pour your heart to because you know they understand and in turn, these are the people you will be inspired by. Many successful artists and authors will often have a small circle of contemporaries whom they trade ideas and have a strong bond with, almost like a secret society. When I organized the first Toronto writer’s meet up, I knew this would be an amazing experience. What else could happen when you have great writers in a great place, with great food and drinks?
Of course, planning began online and the original idea was to have a simple meet up in a coffee shop, but to my delight, Wattpad had the same idea at the same time and supported our initiative. So we had the great privilege of having it on August 24th at 6PM in the three-floor Wattpad HQ with a lot of orange and wood textures, book art and doodles, a massive kitchen, sofas and beanbag chairs, rooftop patio and onwards. A real party venue, even if it also houses many rows of high-performance computers and meeting rooms.
Initially, I planned a list of various activities – somewhat of a program – which included dinner (of course), introductions and the infamous game of Cards Against Humanity (with the Wattpad expansion pack – yes, there’s a Wattpad expansion pack), a collaborative storytelling exercise, personal writing approaches and experience, readings of our own stories, wrapping up with a tour of the office, signing one of their walls to leave our mark, getting Wattpad merchandise and so on. At the same time, it was meant to be a very casual and informal event, where we can feel comfortable without strict or rushed programs, depending on the atmosphere and chemistry between attendees. These activities were only ideas in case there’s nothing to do. But no doubt, when you put passionate people in the same place, conversation exploded.
I arrived early to get settled down, to talk to the staff involved and help out with setting up. Though I had met a few of the team members, I also got to meet Nick (Ambassador and popular author), with whom I had been corresponding for a while. We ended up on the rooftop patio as it was beautiful outside with the perfect breeze. We moved the drinks, the Cards Against Humanity collection and the Wattpad t-shirts up. The Wattpaders came one at a time (all quite on time to my delight)! There were a few who originally planned on coming but couldn’t make it, so our numbers were fewer, but nonetheless, fun! I think the smaller group (total was around 10 people) allowed room for more involved conversations. We ended up standing in a circle for a while and just talking, introducing ourselves, exchanging jokes and business cards. What struck me was how glad we all were to attend the meet up. Of course, the people who came were already eager and enthusiastic about the idea, but there were great genuine smiles, a wonderful creative vibe and it felt like everyone was clicking, right off the bat. It’s not so much of a surprise since it felt like meeting old friends rather than strangers, but it’s still so interesting because for example, I never thought Mark was so tall! Indeed being able to see real people behind the Wattpad accounts and walls of text is a great feeling. Most of the time, meet ups like this will bring together excited people with similar interests, so I believe and trust that we all felt at home. I recall my personality in high school being quite introverted, however over the years, after much experience as a teacher, as a leader of communities and organizer of events or initiatives, and often travelling and networking with new people, I felt comfortable in my role as a facilitator. However, it encouraged me and took off the pressure because I knew I didn’t have to do much: everyone was talkative and comfortable with sharing.
In any case, on the supper menu that night was pad thai which we had with the company of a bee, and at my table, a few of us discussed with Nick and KC in much depth about the Wattpad experience, its trends, youth culture, story discovery, reader and author engagement, website structure and organization, technology, expanding demographics, education and a lot more. It was interesting how we all jumped into it because we are so passionate about Wattpad. It was definitely an eye-opening and productive conversation.
However, our table dialogues ran on a little long, and it was 7:30 by the time I realized it – it was time to gather and continue with the rest of our night. We each donned a Wattpad t-shirt and took a group photo before sitting in a circle for an official introduction session where we talked about what we enjoy reading and writing. But what’s a Wattpad meet up without actually Wattpadding together? That was definitely part of the plan. We tagged each other and did a simultaneous Wattpad message board broadcast to our followers. At the time, it was getting a little dark and much cooler, so we moved back into the building’s enormous kitchen area.
The long wooden table and the dimmer lighting felt more serious – which was actually neat, since I was going to encourage a discussion on writing and our writing approaches. I had a few questions in mind but for the most part, it was free flow and we bounced ideas around, following up on each thought. We talked about when or where we usually like to write. A few of us would write early in the mornings, like at 6 AM, for some peace and quiet before the day’s activity. Without mentioning any names, one of us also confessed he once wrote during the white noise of boring lectures! Nature was definitely something that appealed to and inspired some of us as well, but on the other hand, perhaps a closed, isolated, dark space during the actual writing moment may also fully open the mind and imagination without disturbing the physical senses.
Some of us preferred to write in pure silence while others could listen to music, sometimes even with lyrics. Different genres of music may also trigger different emotional responses, thoughts or moods. In the same vein, other media, like movies and anime also provide inspiration. This led to a fascinating discussion on the idea of “stealing like an artist”, as no art is truly original anymore, especially as the universal patterns, archetypes, cliches, abstract concepts that exist throughout society and history are a part of human nature and won’t change much. We talked about our work being inspired by someone else’s, drawing influences from multiple sources, or sometimes being entirely coincidental – again because of the patterns in human nature or human imagination. The idea of the subconscious and being in the moment as we wrote also seemed to resonate with us.
Another great topic that came up was also the experience of reader interaction, or the telepathic dialogue between the reader and author through our text. Each of us come with different levels of knowledge, journey in life, upbringing and backgrounds that may influence the way we perceive and understand something. This comes through when we talk about our readers re-interpreting our work and coming to their own conclusions. We briefly discussed about our own multicultural background as residents in Toronto or other local areas, which may come through our work. On the other hand, it was worthwhile noting references to great books, authors, thinkers and literature like Stephen King, Shakespeare, Plato, Rilke, Syd Field, the Bible and onwards – it was truly the kind of talk only writers are capable of!
Such interesting conversation with interesting people naturally took up the rest of the evening. We regret that we had to cut short so that we couldn’t play Cards Against Humanity, or collaborate on a story game, but nevertheless, it was a rewarding experience. The depth, passion and enthusiasm everyone brought to the table was unmistakable and inspiring.
We wrapped up the evening by signing a spot on the wall on the third floor, next to the Wattparty section – leaving our own mark permanently! – and taking a tour around the homely and impressive facility. I would’ve preferred to stay over at the office, maybe on one of the hammocks or sofas, but I also wanted to see everyone off. It was a little sad personally, because some of us had travelled far – which means it isn’t every day that we could see each other and talk as writers – but we have quite an extensive guest list of local Wattpaders now and definitely will be organizing future events, hopefully soon!
I’d like to thank the Wattpad team for the support in making this happen, each who commented on the forum thread during our planning phases, and of course everyone who came out to the event. Without you it wouldn’t have been such a great experience. Stay tuned for what’s next if you live near Toronto on our Facebook group.