(Originally posted on January 31, 2022)
When I was a kid, I loved to write. I wish I knew why I stopped. I wish I hadn’t stopped, but the last time I remember writing purely for the fun of it as a kid was in fourth grade. But life went on, and for about 30 years, the only things I wrote were for school, or college, or work.
I didn’t start writing for myself again until 2014. I’d moved around every few years for most of my life, and we’d moved again the year before, for my husband’s job. He was working long hours, and I spent most of my time in charge of our three kids, the oldest of whom had just turned seven. Our two oldest were in school, but the youngest was home with me full time. This was well before the pandemic, so we were constantly shuffling from one activity or outing or errand to another. I was running on empty in every way.
I’d had no luck finding a full-time job that I was qualified for and didn’t require a security clearance, which I didn’t have, so I had no coworkers. Most of my neighbors weren’t interested in being friends, and all the friends I’d made living in other places were busy with their own lives. Thank goodness for a concept I’d just learned about – fandom – and the fandom for my then-favorite TV show, Covert Affairs. I made the jump from Facebook to Twitter (which I’d sworn I’d never do!) in order to see some Covert Affairs fan art – I had no idea what a huge impact that would have on my life.
Annie and Auggie from Covert Affairs
Now I had online friends, so I had someone to talk to in the midst of all the kid wrangling. Still, my life revolved around my kids’ schedules, and I was losing my mind little by little. I needed something for myself, but nothing fit into my child-centered schedule. Around that time, I’d been reading a lot of Covert Affairs fan fiction. Then the kids went to their grandparents’ house that summer, and I binge-watched another show called The Killing, and loved it. When I got to the end of the series and couldn’t face the fact that there weren’t any more episodes, I started writing more of it myself, in chapters, and posting it on the same fan fiction site I’d been reading on.
Linden and Holder from The Killing
Finally, I’d found something I enjoyed, that I felt like I was good at, that I could squeeze into my life when the kids were napping, or watching a movie, or in the playroom at the YMCA. Writing didn’t require me to coordinate schedules with anyone, I didn’t need equipment besides my laptop, and I didn’t need to leave the house. I could pour all of my thoughts and frustrations out through the characters – like when I had a severe allergic reaction to poison ivy in 2016, and I gave one of my fanfic characters that same allergic reaction, too, because misery loves company. For me, writing was like free therapy.
For so many years I’d been searching for my “thing,” and this was it!
I branched out and wrote fanfic for other shows I loved as I discovered them. The Walking Dead. Fringe. Covert Affairs ended, and I bobbed along for a while, until I found a new favorite show – Blindspot. That’s the one I wrote by far the most for. Over a little less than four years, from 2014 to 2018, I wrote a total of about 1.3 million words of fanfic, many of the stories even longer than a standard novel would have been. My last fanfic brought me full circle, with a one-chapter alternate ending for the old favorite of mine, Covert Affairs. It seemed fitting, since that was the one that had started me on this path.
Carol and Daryl from The Walking Dead
Olivia and Peter from Fringe
Jane and Kurt from Blindspot
Meanwhile, sometime around 2016, my husband had begun a campaign for me to turn my writing into more than just a hobby. “You need to monetize this,” he told me over and over. (If only we’d known how hard it was to make money by writing, he might not have used this argument, but that’s another story…) I wasn’t interested. I was happy writing about someone else’s fictional characters.
But he didn’t give up. When I protested that I didn’t have an idea for a book, he started brainstorming and came up with a concept for me that he thought I’d like. Grudgingly, I accepted that I did like it. Sometime around March 2017 I started my first chapter of my first “non-fanfic.” Was it good? Probably not. But once I’d started, he would ask me every day when he came home from work, “Did you work on your book today?”
I was so annoyed! Why wouldn’t he just leave me alone about that “book,” which was only a few pages and had characters who were strangers to me? The funny thing is, his harassment eventually worked. Some days I worked on it just so he wouldn’t give me grief about not working on it. And then somehow by that summer, I’d gone from “Why is he forcing me to do this?” to “Everyone leave me alone so I can do this!” All it took was time and harassment and finally becoming friends with my characters. By the end of September 2017, the first draft was done.
Don’t get me wrong, it was terrible.
I revised and edited so many times, I couldn’t even guess how many. Hundreds, at least. There were many chapters rewritten or just deleted, and many others added. Plot holes discovered and filled. Beta readers. Comments. Edits. “Hey, it’s done!”
Rejection, rejection, rejection.
“Ok, maybe it’s not done.” Beta readers. Comments. Edits.
“It’s so much better!”
Rejection, rejection, rejection.
That same darling husband who’d pushed me to start this journey once told me to “Nuke it from space,” when he didn’t like a chapter. The annoying thing was that when I followed his advice, it usually got much better. Then back to beta readers. Comments. Edits.
Rejection, rejection, rejection. SIGH. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
The cycle continued, on and off, for three and a half years. I was increasingly sure that it wasn’t going anywhere. I’d leave it alone for a while, and then come back to it, edit it some more and remember why I loved it. I couldn’t bear to give up on it – not yet.
I was nearing the end of another round of the cycle and was close to shelving it again. Over several years of querying on and off, I’d exhausted my list of literary agents to query. So, I decided to send it to a much shorter list of publishers that accepted non-agented manuscripts. I had nothing to lose, after all. I told myself that after that, I’d put it aside indefinitely.
But it only takes one yes. I was so used to being told no that when I got a yes, from a small publisher I’d never heard of, it was months before I actually believed it. I bought a few books they’d published, and they were interesting stories. The books were good quality. Still, it didn’t seem real. Even after I signed a contract with the publisher, I didn’t quite believe it. Even now, holding my book in my hand, reading reviews of it online, and knowing that as of today, it’s a real, published book, it seems too good to be true. Not because it was easy – it was anything but easy. It was more that after so much rejection, it felt like it would never happen. And it wouldn’t have, if I hadn’t kept trying.
My favorite quote from my favorite author, Katherine Center, is “Stories can save you.” Looking back now, that’s what happened to me. Not just because I’ve loved reading and books all my life, and they’ve gotten me through so many hard parts. It’s also because this one story in particular saved me at a time when my life felt completely out of my control. That story didn’t change my circumstances, but it gave me something to pour myself into, it gave me a goal, and that helped me survive until slowly but surely, things got better.
Fast forward about eight years from when I rediscovered my love of writing. Today, a very different version of that book that saved me made me a published author. I am so grateful for all of the things and the people that happened to me along the way, because without both the good and the bad of those years, I might not have ended up where I am now. (Plus, as a writer, it all gives me new material to work with.)
Thank you, Koehler Books, for this chance.
Welcome to the world, Jen and Will.
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