How My Dream of Becoming a Novelist Led Me Astray

I was so desperate to be the writer I imagined I should be, I didn’t recognize the writer I already was.

Jacqueline Dooley
7 min readOct 25, 2022


I once mailed a 600 page manuscript directly to Tor Books. I printed the carefully numbered pages on a dot matrix printer, tucked it neatly into a cardboard mailer (along with my SASE), and sent it to a long-suffering editor whose assistant (I’m assuming) threw it on the slush pile where it never again saw the light of day.

That book was 146,000 words of exposition, clunky plotting, overused fantasy tropes, and cringy cliché with a few good ideas sprinkled in. I was 27 years old and I thought the book was brilliant.

The rejection came months later. It was just a single page — a thanks-but-no thanks form letter. It had taken me over six years to write that book. In the years between penning the first page and submitting the manuscript, I’d grown up.

The rejection letter had arrived in the midst of my metamorphosis from young adult to actual adult. I’d meant to edit the book and send it out to more publishers, but life was busy. I got a decent job. I got married, had a baby, then had another baby.

I shelved the book, along with the dream. Sixteen years would pass before I sat down to write another novel.

I wrote the second book in 2013, the year my 12-year-old daughter was recovering from a liver transplant. She’d been diagnosed with a rare pediatric cancer that had destroyed her liver. After a hellish six months of treatment and several (extremely) close calls, she was cancer free.

I’d been freelancing for over ten years at that point, managing digital marketing campaigns for clients which allowed me to enjoy a small amount of creativity. The job was fun, at first. I worked for myself, set my own hours, and got to meet lots of different people.

I was initially relieved and happy that I could pick up where I left off. My clients had been patient during my daughter’s illness. I could now pump my energy back into the business and be more productive.

Yet, I was distracted. I’d seen how quickly things could turn bad. My daughter had barely survived. Cancer had traumatized…

Jacqueline Dooley

Essayist, content writer, bereaved parent. Bylines: Human Parts, GEN, Marker, OneZero, Washington Post, Al Jazeera, Pulse, HuffPost, Longreads, Modern Loss