Recently, I answered a call on my cell that came from an 800 number. I only did it because I noticed they'd been calling with some regularity and I wanted to basically tell them they could shove it where the sun don't shine. I thought it was a sales call and was going to tell them to take me off their list. But when I answered the girl on the other end said it was a fund drive from my alma mater. Well, I softened then, because I know the girls who work those drives are girls on scholarship like I was, working extra hours for cash.
The girl said, "We've noticed you've contributed generously over the years."
She must have the wrong Rachel, I thought to myself.
She continued, "and we want to know if you'd be willing to donate at the very generous amount of..." I cringed to hear it,"...25 dollars."
"Oh!" I was surprised. "Oh yeah, I think I can do that!"
Then she went through the whole rigamarole, double checking my phone number and address. Then she said, and this is what really got me, "Are you still self-employed as a novelist?"
I laughed and said, "Yeah, I guess." I tried to think back on what moment of largesse (read: grandiosity) had allowed me to write that down. I've been working so many different jobs over the years, why would that be what I chose to write down? Also, the word employed, while it does imply work, which I am doing, also somewhat implies money, which I don't have yet. Maybe my assumption was that if I wrote that on the alumnae page, some wealthy benefactress in her infinite wisdom would see it and call me up and offer me some money. Yes, I still believe in benefactresses. Or maybe I wrote the profile when I was working in retail and didn't want to put that down on my fancy college's alumnae page.
On the phone, I kept giggling, but the fundraising girl asked, "How's that going for you?" I laughed again. "Er, slowly," I said.
"The reason I ask is, I write, too!" A sinking feeling gripped me. I was going to have to encourage her. "Well," I said, sounding a little like someone's southern Grandpappy, "it's a hard road, but it's worth it!" I should have added by cracky or goldurnit for emphasis, but I didn't think to.
It was one of those moments where I wish I had thought of something better to say, where I wish I had explained why I referred to myself that way, how hard won it has been to call myself anything resembling a writer, and how she too, will probably have to fight every step of the way and keep going no matter what. I wish I had told her not to give up.
Writing is what it is. It is worth itself. And sometimes, it is worth knowing you connected with a reader. (er, even if you're as yet unpublished and that reader is just an acquaintance or a friend of a friend, or a cousin you don't know all that well, or a very encouraging agent :)) But mostly, the worth of writing is the act of writing, the act of living in the imagination.
I wish I had thought about it longer, though, and I wish I had said something like, "If you have a story to tell, then don't stop until you tell it. Just KEEP WRITING." That's the best and most worth it part of being a writer. Oh, right, I meant a "self-employed novelist".