Today, I know he was right.
He was right because within a few months of my byline’s first appearance, I had a stranger come up to me at the local ice skating rink and tell me how much he enjoyed my column. Even bundled up in my parka and stumbling around on the ice with my children, he recognized me, thanks to the photo that accompanied my column. I thanked him for reading and promised myself to never leave the house again until I’d at least applied some mascara.
Fame makes so many demands on a writer.
My editor was wrong, however, when it came to the fortune part. True, I received a mere $5 a week for the short column I labored over for days, and no New York book agent or Hollywood scriptwriter came knocking at my door offering me any contracts. My net income from writing is abysmal, I’m still clipping coupons for groceries, and my husband politely refrains from laughing each year when he prepares to file my taxes.
But my fortune has steadily grown over the years and sometimes even surprises me with dividends I didn’t know I’d earned.
My fortune lies in every reader I have reached and in every life I have touched, whether I know about it or not.
This realization came to me especially powerfully a few months ago. I had an email on my author website from a woman I’d never met, asking me if I would give her permission to use my poem in an online anthology she was preparing for young mothers. When she told me the name of the poem – “A Mother’s Midnight Prayer” – I was stunned, since I’d written it 17 years ago, and it had appeared in a monthly magazine to which I occasionally contributed. The woman told me someone had given her my poem to read, and that it had inspired her in the course of many long nights with her own children. She also told me that my poem appeared on several websites for moms, and lo and behold, when I searched for my own poem, I did, indeed, find it on the web, always with my name attached, and often accompanied by reader comments noting how meaningful they found my poem. One reader even reported that she’d had my poem on her refrigerator door for years, reminding her to cherish the fleeting days of her children’s early years.
To connect with others in our humanity and love – this is why I write, and it’s worth more than any material fortune could hold.
What unexpected dividends have you experienced in your writing life?