Two years ago today, I edited the last sentence of the first book I wrote, 1000 Paper Cranes. As I shut the cover of my manuscript, a tear rolled down my cheek. It was like saying goodbye to an old friend, shutting that cover for the last time.
I had spent two years writing about Jordan Johnson, his best friends—Jon and Joanna—and his beloved girlfriend, Robin. Every day for two years they had lived in my mind. Interacting, evolving, loving, being. Every day I saw their lives playing out for me. I grew to know them more intimately than I even knew myself. I knew their hopes and their desires and their dreams. I knew their fears. I knew their favorite foods and their favorite books and their favorite songs. I could hear their voices; I knew their laughs.
And maybe this all sounds crazy; I’m not denying that. Writers are all a little crazy, aren’t they? You have to be to be able to spend so much time in your own world creating and recreating a land that nobody will ever experience the way you do. And I did experience this world, this every day life of the teenagers who had taken root in my imagining.
I can remember the day Jordan and his story popped into my head very clearly. I was driving home from work, listening to an audiobook. I used to have an hour commute to work. I know it sounds miserable, but I listened to so many audiobooks then; I consumed so many books during those drives. The book this time was Linger by Maggie Stiefvater, and what a beautiful book it was. I was drawn into her world so easily; the audiobook narrator was spectacular and Maggie Stiefvater’s writing was wonderful (as it always is.) The wolves of Mercy Falls held me captivated. Grace and Sam were complicated and wonderful and full of emotion and complication.
When the story ended, a beautiful piece of music started to play, written and performed by Maggie Stiefvater. The piece was called “1,000 Paper Cranes” and harkened back to Sam Roth’s knack for folding paper cranes. Something about the music drew me into myself and on the middle of the interstate, Jordan Johnson was born. Just plopped, fully formed into my head. His entire life played out before me as I drove.
Like a madman, I had to pull over onto the shoulder of the road. I put on my emergency flashers and dug through my bag in the backseat for a spiral notebook to frantically scribble down everything I could. I wrote for a long as I could before getting back onto the interstate and going home to start putting this boy’s story down on paper.
In my remembering, very little actually changed from Jordan’s inception to what appeared on paper. In practice, however, I know that there were so many changes that the Jordan who exists today is nearly entirely different from the Jordan I first met. Not that he is different in character or in appearance. He’s just more fleshed out, more real. Not idealized as he once was.
I posted Jordan’s story on Wattpad, where you can still access it today, though it is grossly unedited in its existence there. It was featured by Wattpad and garnered thousands of reads. And I felt unstoppable. People loved what I wrote. I got message after message of praise and thanks for it. People were actually thanking me for writing a book they loved. It was so touching, so moving. I didn’t know people could be so nice. Especially when I, myself, didn’t see 1000 Paper Cranes as something earth shattering or lovely. It was just this thing that I’d made, that I’d spent hundreds of hours writing and revising and drafting and editing and loving.
I allowed that high to carry me for a while. I had fans. I had people who wanted more from me. I was living this surreal dream. I used the free time I’d gained from finishing 1000 Paper Cranes to let me finish a second project I was working on. It was not really as successful on Wattpad, but that didn’t bother me. I had two books that I was proud of. I knew they weren’t literary wonders, but I had convinced myself they were good enough. That if people on Wattpad loved my writing, then professionals in publishing were bound to as well, right? Because I was connected to their audience. I had received email after email asking me where this book could be purchased. People would be foolish not to take a chance on me, right?
And for the first time in my entire life I experienced true failure. In the least bratty way I can possibly say this: it was the first time I hadn’t gotten exactly what I wanted after working hard. Sure there were plenty of times in my life that I didn’t get something that I wanted. But I had never once been denied something after working at it, after putting in the effort, after proving myself.
Agents didn’t want me. Agents didn’t think my writing was going to sell. Nobody was willing to gamble on me. And it was starting to take its toll on me. I once blogged about the awful process of agent queries on here: submitting your letter and manuscript and then waiting, waiting, waiting for no response. Because you don’t just get a rejection if you’re not liked. No. You get ignored. You get ghosted. And I wasn’t just ghosted once. I was ghosted time and time and time again.
So I tired a different avenue. I signed up for Kindle Scout. I tried the American Idol approach to publishing. I submitted my project and got votes and eventually got word that I had progressed and the publishing team at Kindle was going to read my project. It was the best piece of news I’d gotten in months. Somebody was actually going to read my book. And even better, they were going to give me feedback. I was going to get actual feedback on my book.
So I waited and waited. And more time passed.
A year ago today, I received the news that Kindle would not be publishing my book. I didn’t even have the heart to read the feedback at that point. I had been rejected, yet again. And on the heels of that rejection followed the only rejection letter I received from an agent on the other manuscript I had finished.
I was devastated. I didn’t know what else to do or where else to go. So I sat in my car and wept. I wept for the shattered dreams and I wept for the two years I’d spent writing and I wept for Jordan and Robin and that their story would never exist in the pages of a book, no matter how hard I tried.
And I had to come to terms with the idea that maybe I’m not good enough. Maybe I’m not as talented as I thought I was. Maybe I wasn’t as gifted a writer as I thought I was. Maybe all those people on Wattpad were wrong and I was just completely average. I wasn’t ever going to be a writer.
And I was crushed. It was the only dream I’d had for myself since I was in middle school. I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to see my name on bookshelves and to share my stories with the world.
And instead I was rejected over and over and over.
So I quit. I gave up. Because what I couldn’t take anymore was the constant wondering, the writing great things about myself, the convincing total strangers to read my book. What I couldn’t handle anymore was this process.
What I couldn’t bring myself to do was face myself in the mirror. Because I was a failure. I. Failed. I had never failed before.
And since then, I haven’t been able to devote myself to writing the same way. I have stories floating around in my head everyday. Good idea after good idea after good idea, all begging to be put down on paper. And I can’t manage to do it. I can’t manage to bring myself to write again. Because it doesn’t end well for me. Because I fail time and time again. Because I’m simply not good enough.
The characters in my mind plead to have their lives played out, but I just can’t do it. I can’t be crushed like that over and over again. I can’t bear the thought that maybe I won’t be a writer. Maybe all I’ll ever be is moderately successful on Wattpad. An English teacher who can teach students to read, understand, analyze, and criticize great works of literature, but never create a work for myself.
And so I’ve sat here for a year, lost and angry and feeling sorry for myself. Because maybe Disney wasn’t right and dreams don’t come true. And what happens when the boy who manages to finish his entire bucket list can’t manage to achieve his greatest dream? What happens when the real world comes knocking?
What happens then?