The following account is a story that few have heard. It has never before been made public.
Like everything personal I post, I hope my experience somehow speaks to you.
As best I can recall, it was some 10 years ago when one of my best friends, Stephanie, sold me on the idea of applying for an MFA program in Creative Writing. Steph has a lot of strengths, one being that she can be quite convincing when she puts her mind to it. She made a hard sell: we could study together, write together, and hang out whenever we wanted. Plus, acceptance to grad school would mean another big change—I would finally have an excuse to leave the small town where my husband and I met and move to the Twin Cities in Minnesota. Between good college friends and family, I've got a lot of connections in the Cities, and I wanted nothing more than to make a life there.
But I wasn't necessarily keen on the idea of entering an MFA program. Hell, I had no idea what that really even meant. But I was certain of one thing—I wanted to write. I'd been penning stories since I could write sentences, and this opportunity felt like destiny. Finally, I could focus on writing and move closer to my friends. It was a win-win situation.
At the time, I had just finished what I consider the first novel in my adult writing career, Popular. I had written a number of novels and novellas and portions of novels in high school, but I was now a college graduate and it was time to start over. And I would, just not in the way I'd expected.
I debated heavily on whether or not I should send an excerpt from Popular as my writing submission for the MFA application. Thankfully, I didn't. That strung-together POS is basically just word soup—a bunch of mediocre ideas surrounded by sort of compelling characters and a story arc that's more a roller coaster ride if you're blindfolded and just drank two milkshakes. Instead, I fabricated a new short story with cleaner, clearer writing and a decent plot. I pored over it for hours, days, weeks, teetering back and forth between genius and self-loafing. Even so, I sent in my submission, as did Stephanie, and waited.
I took a trip to the Twin Cities around the same time I expected an answer regarding my application. Steph was at work when her younger sister and I decided to watch Labyrinth. Not more than five minutes into the film, my husband called to give me the news. He hated to open the letter, but figured I'd want to know that I hadn't gotten into the MFA program.
I remember feeling this infinite weight caving in on my chest. I couldn't breathe, or talk, or respond, only sob. I wept into the phone for a good half hour, one single thought racing through my mind: I'm not good enough to teach? I've been writing my entire life, twenty years, and I'm not even good enough to teach?
Steph's sister tried to console me, but it was no use. After excusing myself in blubbering apology, I hid in Steph's room, under the covers, crying my eyes out until she came home from work that evening. I had the worst migraine of my life, I was heartbroken, and I had come to a decision: I was never going to write again.
I WAS NEVER GOING TO WRITE AGAIN. Never, ever, ever. Fuck you, world. You made me a writer, but you didn't make me good enough to teach? Double middle fingers to you and your whole family!
I have been disappointed by a lot of things in my life, but writing has always been my constant. When my parents split up and I spent my teenage years contemplating suicide, writing kept me alive. It was the one thing in my life I could absolutely without a shadow of a doubt always count on, and it had let me down. If I couldn't be a writer, then what the hell was the point?
While my desperate, speculative questions remained unanswered, Stephanie received her acceptance letter from the prestigious St. Paul university. I handled it with as much grace as one can muster in the midst of a nervous breakdown.
My pity party lasted 2 whole days. Once I got out of my head for a while, I realized that it didn't matter how hurt I was—I wasn't going to give up writing. No, that wasn't the plan at all. If I wanted to be taken seriously as a writer, I'd have to take writing seriously. And that started with a promise that I'd never give up on myself.
I figured that reminder was best set in ink. For those of you who don't know me well, I'm extremely introverted and often have difficulty making small talk with strangers. I revel in routine, and won't voluntarily visit some place that I've never before been. Which lets you know how very brave I felt when I walked into the random tattoo shop across the street from Steph's apartment building and asked for a quarter-sized black star on the outside of my right wrist. I needed a reminder that I couldn't ignore, a promise to myself that I would have to face all day, every day, for the rest of my life—that no matter what, I will write.
While Stephanie dove into grad school, I dove back into writing. Instead of sitting in a classroom, I learned how to create compelling characters. Instead of turmoiling over peer reviews, I pondered story arcs. I fell in love with the craft of writing much in the same way one falls in love at 16—hard and fast with no backup plan.
In 2006, as a backlash to my rejection, I wrote 3 novels: Gifted, Gifted: Chosen and Some Lives Start Sophomore Year. The latter, a 110,000-word shitstorm of teenage angst, was inspired by a dream. I was walking with some guy in the rain; he was wearing a Death Cab for Cutie t-shirt. He kept asking to hold my hand, and I kept saying no. I woke up and wrote 40 pages. I both started and finished that novel during the month of November. A year later, I found out what NaNoWriMo was.
True to my word, I stayed focused on writing. I figured the worst thing that could happen by writing all the time was that I'd get good at it. In 2007, I wrote a record 6 novels: Gifted III: Destined, The Sluts in McMillan Hall, Falcius's Curse: The Heritage, Second Life, The After Hours Club: Infection, Notes on Reality (my first official NaNoWriMo novel!) and one week later, also written in November, Band-Aids for Broken Hearts. A note on writing two novels in two weeks: if you'd like to keep your sanity and shower once in a while, I do not recommend it. But best of luck to you if you'd like to give it a shot.
2008 slowed down with High School Should Be Easy and WTSHTF (When The Shit Hit The Fan). In 2009, I finished Gifted IV: Shattered (which I'd started in 2007), wrote Gifted V: Torn (the last in a series of 5 novels), and in November, penned the rough draft of a book that you might know, Bloodline: Legacy.
To tally that up for you, I wrote 15 books, including a complete young adult fantasy series, before I wrote the first book that I got published. I'll let that marinate as we continue...
In January 2010, I wrote Bloodline: Legends, followed by Bloodline: Broken, Shy, Getting to Perfect, Bloodline: Chosen and Bloodline: Revenge. During November 2010, while writing the final book in the Bloodline series, I received notice that Legacy was to be published. NaNoWriMo 2011 brought another novel, After the Fall, and in 2012, I was a bit more productive with Off Limits, Roommates and Sleep to Dream. In 2013, I managed two more manuscripts, I Can't Wish I Hadn't Met You and Losing It. Ever faithful to NaNoWriMo, my one chance a year to indulge in fresh writing, I penned As Long as You Love Me Back in November 2014.
My body of work is a living, breathing example of my growth as a writer. If I hadn't written the Gifted series, I wouldn't have gone into Bloodline with such a calculated plot. If I hadn't spent a good decade figuring out how the hell to write a novel, I more than likely wouldn't have had one published.
Hindsight is a magical thing. In the time it took Stephanie to graduate with her MFA in Creative Writing (go, Steph!) and write one novel (her thesis), I wrote more than 25 books and had 2 published. We are both writers, both passionate about what we do, we just weren't meant to share the same journey.
I could have let Stephanie's success be my failure. I could have given in to self pity and let it swallow me whole. I could have wasted a lifetime of work because of one stupid rejection letter. But that's just not the kind of woman I am.
Rejection is an unfortunate side effect of being an artist. We all come from different backgrounds, have different tastes, different ideas of success. Not everyone's going to get me all the time, and that's okay. I don't need them to. Art isn't about approval, it's about expression. It's not about competition, it's about community. It's about being secure in who you are and taking pride in what you create.
There's always going to be someone telling me I can't. I have to be the one to decide that I can.