Fame and Fortune

Twenty-three years ago, when I first began writing a humor column for our local newspaper, my editor told me that I could expect local fame, but no fortune.

Today, I know he was right.

And wrong.

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?

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30 thoughts on “Fame and Fortune

  1. Thanks Jan. This is what it’s all about. “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 a gift.

  2. Ah, I love it. What a fantastic way to look at it. I have a local humor column, too, and my kids get yelled at a LOT less these days when they bring down whole shelves at the store, based on the sole fact my readership is growing. And don’t my kids know it! (My eldest decided to wander off in the clothing store last week, and when I got a hold of him, he said, “You can’t spank me here because someone is going to come up to you soon and say how much they love your column.” Booger!!!)

    • My oldest son was 12 at the time, and he threatened to sue me if I maligned him in any way in one of my columns. And no, he did not go into law…Becoming a public figure even in my own community taught me a lot about the virtues of anonymity, that’s for sure.

    • Sharon, so much is attitude about what we receive and how we perceive it, don’t you think? I often remind myself that God works on a totally different timeline than I do!

  3. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the best kind of validation that a person can receive. You are in the right field, for sure.

    • I think so, too, Rita. And I don’t have to claim it on my tax return, either…

  4. We all aspire for that kind of fortune Jan. To touch the hearts of people is why Christ calls us to write. We may speak in different genres, with different voices, but our desire is the same. To encourage one reader at a time.

  5. I have yet to publish anything, so haven’t touched anyone’s life. However, writing has given me a great fortune: meeting the most amazing, supportive, and helpful people. Even if I never publish I’ve still gained tremendously.

    • I agree! My life expands daily thanks to the people I connect with through my writing. And, Ann, you touch others’ lives just by meeting them!

    • My pleasure, Barbara. I find that writing here for the Water Cooler is such an affirming activity for me, as well. On tough days, it motivates me to keep at writing, because it really is a holy calling for me.

  6. This was nice. Like everyone else: good pay and fine living are nice but so are love, friendships and living the way we want. It’s nice that your spouse is willing and able to be supportive so that you can be a writer rather than having to do other things…unless it would be better for you if you did. ….That given, it is inspiring to see that you have moments of being able to enjoy others actually valuing and benefiting from your work. I’m the same way, and I’m sure its not just me.

    • We all need that pat on the back at times, and it’s a treasure when it comes.

  7. I conducted a Nuts & Bolts on Writing & Publishing session last week. During the session, I expressed how encouraging others is as important to me as my writing. In fact, it’s impossible for me to separate the two—which has made my writing more rewarding. It’s exciting to think that long after I’ve forgotten something I wrote, it could still be working on someone’s heart. Thanks for the confirmation.

  8. You hear so many scary things about the life of items on the internet and where they might end up, it was reassuring to me to find that there can be a very positive side to it, as well.

  9. Jan, you’re such a blessing today. The abiding rewards of writing are found in what is heard from someone who’s been touched with our message of hope. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • Thanks for reading, Pat. I’m touched by today’s feedback – sharing with other writers is a double blessing!

  10. I love this post, Jan! It really is all about how we define “fortune” or “success,” isn’t it?

    Thanks for the encouragement!

    • My pleasure, Joe! This kind of success is well worth the wait, I think. (Though I’d be very happy if it took less than 17 years next time around!)

  11. This was a fabulous post, Jan. Helps to keep things in perspective. Thanks.

    • You’re welcome! I’ll be curious to hear your fame and fortune stories in the future, Jordyn.

  12. I am not officially “published” yet, but my little blog has had an impact on my local homeschooling group. I had a writer on it talking about her son with dyslexia and how he benefitted from vision training. A friend of mine read the article and told some friends, who told some friends. My friend wrote an article for my blog as a follow up to the other and that is the most read article on the site. It obviously strikes a cord, hopefully helping lots of kids.

    • I love the feeling when I connect with readers and give voice to what matters to them. You do a service when this happens, Connie. Good for you!

  13. “My fortune lies in every reader I have reached and in every life I have touched, whether I know about it or not.” —that is a beautiful way to look at success, and so much more peaceful than obsessing over followers or ambiguous scores. Thank you for that reminder.

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