Like a Distant Star Sending Signals

Is anybody out there?

Is anybody out there?

Sometimes, being a writer seems like the loneliest job on the planet: sitting alone in a room with fingertips hovering upon the QWERTY, hour after hour, days on end, for months and years. Stories emerge. Novels. In between, there are articles and press releases and blog entries and more. All of these I send off into the void.

I know people read them. I can see the number of “views” of my website via Google Analytics; my total “reach” by my facebook author page via their Insights tool. A few weeks ago, I posted something that went viral and my outreach increased by 24,942%. There were 13,158 people “talking” about it, which warmed my lonely soul. But interestingly, very few people actually talked to me about it. In fact, in the course of those hours and days and months and years, very few people ever talk to me about my work.

Apparently, I reached out and touched 114,443.

Apparently, I reached out and touched 114,443.

Sometimes I’ll meet someone who says, “Oh I’ve read your stuff!” It always comes to me as a surprise, because I have become accustomed to the mostly unidirectional relationship I have with my readers. The numbers indicate that people are reading, but mostly, the checks for my monthly magazine features are the only consistent feedback I receive.

Does this sound whiny? Maybe. I don’t mean to whine. Not really. Oh who am I kidding? I am definitely whining. The absolute truth is: I love writing deeply, but I don’t love the loneliness that comes with it.

John Steinbeck, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Grapes of Wrath said, “A writer out of loneliness is trying to communicate like a distant star sending signals. He isn’t telling or teaching or ordering. Rather he seeks to establish a relationship of meaning, of feeling, of observing. We are lonesome animals. We spend all life trying to be less lonesome.”

You’d think that the instant feedback of social media would ameliorate this sense of isolation, but it doesn’t. It can actually make it worse. I mourn the quiet between my readers and me. And when someone “unlikes” my facebook author page, I mourn that, too. (At least I’m not alone—one of my close friends, who also happens to be a NYT-bestselling author, admitted to me that it takes about 100 positive reviews of one of his books to mitigate the sting of a single bad one, and that an “unlike” leaves a vastly deeper impression than a dozen “likes.”)

So, thank you to those of you who occasionally (and sometimes regularly–you know who you are) let me know something I said resonated with you. I wish I didn’t luxuriate in that validation, but I do. And for those who don’t usually reach out, let me (or your other favorite writers) hear from you sometime. It would mean a lot. In the meantime, I remain that faithful distant star, sending out her signals to whomever may receive them.