On ratings, reviews & love

It means a great deal to me when someone tells me how much he or she liked a particular book of mine. I think almost all writers feel this way . . . writers love to hear substantive commentary or praise. It may just be because it feels good to have your ego stroked, but I think it’s also because writing so often delivers delayed gratification, and the sudden pleasure of a reader’s reaction is a welcome burst of immediacy. Mostly I just enjoy getting hard evidence that people who aren’t my mother or my relatives or my friends are actually reading what I’ve written.

Meg Wolitzer
author of The Interestings

Sing it, sister!

Writers are a hungry bunch. We crave. We want to be known, heard, seen. See me, see me, can't you see me? When you're filling a deep well of need, no praise is too loud, too often, too much.

And social media doesn't help. It feeds the addictive nature of our need for attention. In this age of hyper-visibility, every experience is reduced to a rating, a star system, or a "like" button which leaves little room for nuance. We live in a time in which everything — from books, to movies, to meals — is "amazing."  Nothing is ordinary, and what was once satisfactory, say three stars instead of five, is now seen as undesirable. Okay is obsolete. Exaggeration is king.

I'm part of this system — active on Facebook, LinkedIn, this blog and others — and increasingly I want out. On Goodreads recently I was excited about a colleague's new book and promptly wrote a positive review. It's a good book, and I said so clearly. Within hours the author questioned me. Why, she asked, didn't you give the book more stars?

We are hungry. We cannot be filled.

Last week I came home to a wonderful surprise. Among the stack of bills and credit card offers addressed to Mr Drew Myron was a letter from a friend. She had taken time to read my book and give a nearly page-by-page response. It was praise and I lapped it up like a puppy.

That's what we all want, isn't it, someone to take time to weigh and consider, to carefully care. Sure, stars and "likes" and Amazon reviews make us feel good. But don't we really want more? To be seen, to be loved, to be understood?

I'm looking for a solution to our incessant need (our meaning my). We are human. We scream for a voice, and cry for acknowledgement. Is our social media culture feeding our need or reflecting it? And is the answer an easy one, such as simply turning off the computer? Or a more complicated pursuit, such as finding fulfillment in deeper and more lasting ways? I don't want to erase ego, or even self-promotion, but in this crazy pursuit of attention there must be some way to saner ground, to a place that leaves us more balanced, less desperate.

My office is open, please send suggestions.