Reminiscing about the past often points me to the work the Lord has done in my life and all the good that has happened, often in spite of (or even because of) the bad. As I thought back on the history of how Our Company of Fools came to be—which was full of highs and lows along the way—I was surprised to find how much it mirrored much of the highs and lows of my own young adult life over the past few years.
In anticipation of its release, I thought I’d share a brief, non-spoiler account of my writing relationship with this book since its beginning. This account won’t have any details on how the drafts evolved and the story changed over time (those details might be shared after its release, if there’s any interest). Instead, this account will focus on how I loved and hated this book and how it succeeded and struggled across five major seasons of its existence to date.
The First Writing: Let me set the stage. It was barely January 2016. I sat in the airport, about to leave the writer’s conference I’d participated in over the past few days, trying not to cry at the good-byes I’d just said. I was about to head back to Baylor to start my second semester of freshman year. College still held uncertainty for me, though I was excited about a couple of the opportunities that waited for me back on campus that Spring. Still, it was hard to leave the community of my writer’s group (the One Year Adventure Novel, or OYAN, community), especially since I did not know when I’d see those friends again. I’d been a part of OYAN for a few years, and felt close with a few of the people I’d met along the way. I needed to process this grief. Even as a military brat, saying good-bye and leaving people behind was never easy for me. (Still isn’t, to this day.)
So I opened the notebook my friend had gifted me at the conference, and I began to write. I wrote what became the last scene of Fools first, inspired by that present moment. When I returned to Baylor’s campus, I had my dorm to myself for a few days. Feverishly, I sketched out some plot ideas, characters, themes, and flung them together in a haphazard outline. I began to type, using my roughest of rough outlines as a template. It was as close to “pantsing” as this “plotting” author had been, up to that point. I wrote, wrote, and wrote more, any spare moment I had between classes and homework. Over MLK weekend, I hit almost 10,000 words in a single day. Here’s the crazy thing: I’ve never been inspired by a story and started writing a full draft immediately. I usually mull over ideas for at least months, if not years, before committing them to paper. And yet this book was immediately different.
I finished the first draft of the book in Moody Library on January 23rd, 19 days after I had penned that first scene in the airport. This is the fastest I’ve ever written a book of that length, and I don’t think I’ll ever write a book that quickly again.
At the time, I didn’t plan to share it. I had needed to write Fools for me, to process the lessons the Lord was trying to teach me about friendship and community. Those lessons would be very important for the rest of my college years. They are still important to me today.
The Early Days: 2016 was the glory year of Our Company of Fools. I was obsessed with this book after I had written it. I only let it sit for a couple of weeks before I picked it up for its first round of edits. At that point, I decided it was worth sharing, so I let others from the OYAN community read it. Many were touched. I received helpful feedback. I revised it again. Got more feedback.
When I couldn’t make the OYAN summer conference, several friends mailed me critiques of the first few pages of Fools. I still have those particular critiques. They are some of the most precious I’ve ever received, and still bring me joy to look over from time to time, even though those first pages have changed a lot since that summer.
In August, after my intense summer job at Baylor, I revised the book again, bringing Fools to its fourth draft. I entered that draft into the OYAN Student Novel Contest. It was the first time I had entered it and the last year I would be eligible. It earned semifinalist.
Then that fourth draft sat untouched, despite the work that still needed to be done. Fools, and the rest of my writing, fell by the wayside for a time, swept aside by my budding love for college student affairs and my involvement on Baylor’s campus. Fools still remained a big piece of my heart, but it started to become a challenging project. The early glory days of Fools passed with its first birthday.
Slumps and Sequels: Part of the struggle with Fools began with my stuttering attempts at a sequel, starting in late 2016. Those attempts at a sequel—which never came as smoothly as Fools—essentially put my writing in a chokehold. My life at college, too, didn’t help with that. My love for student leadership and desire to pursue a career in higher education overtook my identity as a writer during most of that time as well. In mid-2018, I finally finished that terrible sequel, which was the roughest rough draft I’ve ever written, even worse than some of the earliest stuff I wrote, and that’s not an exaggeration. It was a victory for me, though, as it was the first new book I’d completed since I had written Fools two and half years earlier. That two and a half year span was my longest writing drought since I had started to take my writing seriously. To be fair, not all of that drought was because of my sequel struggles; during my later years at Baylor, I struggled to figure out my own identity and find the path God was calling me to walk.
Why did I struggle so much with the sequel to Fools? Well, whereas Fools was a project of passion, its sequels were attempts at audience appeal. I think that’s why they never took off. The rest of the Fools sequel saga is short: I continued to dabble in sequel ideas and revisions off and on until earlier in 2020, when I finally determined that Fools needed to be a standalone novel. While I don’t want to say the coffin’s closed on Fools sequels, at this present moment, I don’t feel called to write Fools a second story. If a sequel is to come, it will be at the right time, when the Lord has something more to teach me through Leah, her friends, and this world they experience.
As for Fools itself, it spent a lot of time on the shelf following its glory year. I edited it to fifth draft at some point during the rest of my Baylor years. I can’t remember exactly when that happened, to be honest, but it happened before my final semester in Spring 2018. During my final semester, I workshopped the first three chapters of the book in my advanced creative writing class. My classmates gave me plenty of ideas I went on to implement. Some of these ideas truly helped. Others actually ruined the book—but more on that in the next stage.
The Big Overhaul: Taking the advice of my Baylor creative writing classmates, during my gap year (2018-2019), I returned to Fools and gave it a major overhaul. I changed big plot threads. I rewrote entire chapters and added new ones. I changed some pretty significant details about characters. In the spring of my gap year, I intended to make it ready to pitch to publishers; I printed out the sixth draft, did some scene rewrites by hand, and did line-by-line edits to fine-tune the wording and grammar. It was a massive undertaking that I spent a lot of hours on. The seventh draft was polished and ready to go by mid-March of 2019. I sent a couple of query letters to possible publishers, but received no response.
But that was okay. I stopped pursuing publication not long after those initial queries. Something didn’t sit right about the book, after all. I just didn’t know what.
So I let it sit for a year. Grad school, which I started in August 2019, didn’t leave much room for writing at first anyways. Then, in the midst of quarantine earlier this year, I tried to pick it back up, determined to fix it. With fresh eyes, I discovered why Fools felt off to me. Some of the changes I had adopted based off of feedback had actually killed the heart and soul of the book and of Leah, the main character. I as the author no longer loved the book or my protagonist. Maybe the changes I made helped the book become more “marketable,” but I hated the story now. It was no longer that precious projection of my passion and pain that I’d first written four and a half years before. It was no longer Our Company of Fools.
So, I decided to give up on it for good.
The Re-Overhaul: A thought occurred to me over the summer of 2020. It came to me suddenly, much like when I was first inspired to write Fools. What if I used the updated prose I’d labored over in that line-by-line edit and infused it with the older version of the story, the one with the heart and soul still in it?
And that’s exactly what I did. During my sliver of a school break in August, I took my polished but soulless seventh draft and merged it with the story and characters preserved in the fifth draft. (Save all your drafts, young writers.) This fusion created the eight draft that will be published in January 2021.
The result? I loved the book again. It had the soul of the story. It had the characters as I intended them. And it was sharp, prose-wise. It was the final version of the book.
And as I worked on it, a small, quiet question that I had never considered occurred to me: What if you self-published Fools?
And that’s where we are today. A path of joy, of frustration, of growth personally and professionally, of wrestling. Fools was born in a time of new adventures and growth for me, the year of 2016. As I wrestled with depression and fear of the future, Fools struggled to find its own path. And now, in a season of life where I am again about to step into newness and where I now understand the deepest sense of myself (rooted in Christ and who He has made me to be), Fools has sprouted its own wings and is ready to step into the unknown, too.
Our Company of Fools has meant a lot to me. It still means a lot to me. I’m so thankful it’s a part of my story as a writer. I’m so thankful the Lord struck me with the sudden inspiration and need to first write it. And I’m thankful that He nagged me to not give it up when I nearly walked away for good. I think it would’ve been foolish (get it? haha) of me to walk away from the book. I’m grateful that the story of Fools did not end back in May, with a disheartening dismissal of what it had become. Instead, its story, its history, is just beginning, and I can’t wait for you all to be a part of its story come January.
By the way, the release date of January 4, 2021 is significant too. Our Company of Fools will be published five years to the day since I started writing it in the airport on January 4, 2016. To publish it any other day didn’t feel quite right, and I saw the symmetry a fitting way to start the next chapter of Fools’ history.