“I have to ask…are you writing a novel?”

BACKGROUND: I bought an Alphasmart 3000 word processor a few months ago. It’s kind of a ridiculous looking plastic toy that has become my lifeline to getting significant words down each day. Every day at work, around noon, I go down to the cafeteria, buy a salad, go sit myself down at the smallest table I can find (because when I sit at the longer tables, I end up getting crowded by people when I’d rather have my personal bubble), break out my Alphasmart, and get to work for 45 minutes.

Anyway, so that’s what I’ve been doing almost every lunch break for the last few months. I plug away at my little, silly-looking Alphasmart and try to ignore the people staring at me (because, yes, I have actually caught people staring at me a few times). And then something happened a couple of weeks ago that kind of made my day.

An older gentleman came up to where I was sitting and he said, “Excuse me, but I have to ask. What is that?”

So I explained to him that it’s a word processor that I can keep in my bag and hook up to my home computer later.

And then he asked, “I guessed you were writing something! Are you writing a novel?”

There’s something incredibly…humbling, I guess…about seeing someone get so excited when they find out you’re writing a novel. There’s this whole idea that novelists are magicians of sorts, people to be admired. Or, rather, there’s that idea among people who like to read, anyway. I don’t know about the rest of the population. But you always hear about the dream of “writing the next great American novel” and people say this with a sense of wonder.

And I get that, because I’m a reader. And I follow my favorite authors on the social networks religiously. And I love hearing the backstories.

But, at the same time, I write novels myself. That separation has disappeared for me. I no longer look at writers and say “that’s amazing, I want to do that” because I DO do that. I may not be published yet, but I create worlds of my own, and have characters that bug me in the middle of the night, and fend off the plot bunnies, and do word counts, and celebrate finishing a first draft manuscript by getting frozen yogurt. I feel all the ups and downs of writing a novel. I procrastinate like hell in that lull in the middle.

Over the last couple of years, writing novels has just kind of become, well…life.

So it was something a little surreal when this gentleman got really excited that I was working on a novel during lunch. And then the surrealness has continued, as apparently the two of us eat lunch at the same time, so I’ve run into him almost every day since. Usually, he’ll just wave enthusiastically, but today we got into a conversation about what I’m writing and if I’m published and all the bookstore drama going on.

Seeing someone I don’t know so intrigued and excited about my writing just renews my love of it. It makes me remember what I do, through the eyes of people who don’t do it too. I create worlds. I tell stories. I suck people into these times and places that they never expected to be. There is definitely something magical about being a writer.

So thank god for the random strangers who ask things like “Are you writing a novel?” to keep that in perspective.