Student Spotlight: How She Wrote a Novel in 6 Months (and Landed an Agent 10 Months Later) with Stefanie Medrek
I recently sat down for a conversation with Stefanie Medrek—one of the writers I have the immense pleasure of working with—to talk about her writing, editing, and publishing journey over the last few years.
To give you a quick overview of Stefanie’s amazing accomplishments, she wrote a first draft (and edited it multiple times), and then landed an agent—all within about a year.
In our conversation, Stefanie shares some advice for writers who might be questioning whether they really have what it takes to write a book. She also shares a funny story about one of our very first conversations when I suggested starting her whole story over (even though she had about 40,000-words written already–it was literally the last thing she wanted to hear!). You’ll get to hear about how long each part of the writing, editing, and publishing process took—because I know that’s always something other writers are interested in. And finally, she’s going to talk about what worked for her, some of the lessons she learned throughout this experience, and where she’s headed now that she has a literary agent and is working on book two.
So, this is a jam packed episode with my sweet, humble, and brilliant student Stefanie Medrek and I’m so excited to share her story with you. If you want to listen to this episode, click here or search for the Fiction Writing Made Easy podcast in your podcast player of choice.
Transcript: How Stefanie Wrote a Novel in 6 Months (and Landed an Agent 10 Months Later)
SAVANNAH: Thanks for coming on the show, Stefanie! You have such a fun story, and I think it's a really important story to tell because you're a great example of what's possible for writers. And I know that this episode and your story is going to inspire so many people. So thank you again for being here!
STEFANIE: Thank you so much for having me!
SAVANNAH: Let's start at the top. Tell people who you are, what you're about, what kind of books you write, things like that.
STEFANIE: Sure! My name is Stephanie Medrek. I write Young Adult Action Adventure. I’m going to branch into fantasy in the future as well because I read a lot of fantasy. I've wanted to write a book my entire life, literally since I knew what books were. But it took me a really long time to get there. So I wanna say I started this book when I was 31 years old.
STEFANIE: Yeah, and now, ever since I started writing this one book, I know that I'm never gonna stop.
SAVANNAH: Yeah, I could never imagine you without a story idea in your mind and a draft in progress, so…
STEFANIE: Right. I agree!
SAVANNAH: And so in this episode, we're gonna talk about your whole entire writing journey. And I just wanna give listeners a very quick highlight reel, and then we're gonna go deeper into things.So let me just recap all the things I know about you. You wrote an entire book. You did multiple rounds of revisions on that book. You got an agent, and now your book is out on submission. And you are writing book two, correct?
SAVANNAH: So, a) congratulations because that is amazing!! And b) we're gonna dig into all of that. But that is just the highlight reel of Stefanie’s writing journey. Now, I want to time travel back to the end of September, 2020, which is when you and I first met.
STEFANIE: Seems like a long time ago now!
SAVANNAH: It does, but it also doesn't because I don't know about you, but I think of that time like right after the pandemic started, and I don’t know. Oddly, it doesn't seem that long ago, but maybe that's just me. So anyway, we met. And I guess tell me a little bit if you remember, like what was the journey like up until that point, and then when did you realize you needed some help with your writing?
STEFANIE: Sure! So like I said, I'd wanted to write a book for literally my whole life. I'd made several attempts in the past, especially when I was in high school. And they always kind of fizzled out except for when I was really young in like third grade, I'd staple together papers and write the story and illustrate it, and that was really fun. But yeah, we're talking about serious tries, right?
STEFANIE: So I tried a few times in high school, and then I actually had my first baby really young, so that kind of took that dream off the rails for quite a few years for me. But when he was getting old enough where he's a lot more self-sufficient, and I had a lot more time. I had the bug to write, and again, I sat down, tried a few times. I'd get like maybe a chapter into a story idea and it would fizzle out. Then in July of 2020, and I wish I could remember the exact date because that would be my book's birthday.
STEFANIE: But I can't remember—Sometime in July 2020, I had this really vivid dream about two of my main characters. And they were like real people to me, like super vivid. Their relationship was complex, colorful. The dynamic between them was like really intriguing and some of the plot that ended up in my final book was there. It was one scene—it was a scene near the midpoint that I had this dream about, and it was like so emotional and so vivid and so bright. When I woke up, I ran to my office and found a piece of an envelope and wrote down as much as I could remember on the back because I was like instantly bit by the bug to write this story.
SAVANNAH: That's so funny!
STEFANIE: Yeah, and that's what pushed me through in the end, like I had never felt so excited and so in love with any characters I'd made up before or any story idea I'd ever had before. But I've never taken a creative writing course, and I've never like really known how a story is supposed to be structured or how to go about writing a draft.
So what I did was from that envelope of details, I just started like at the scene that I had the dream about, which I knew wasn't the beginning. So I didn't start on chapter one. But I started there and I wrote like, I just brain dumped like 20,000 words. And then I was feeling like the story was like lost and meandering, because I was just making it up as I went. I didn't plot at all. I didn't outline at all. So then I went back to the beginning. I was like, maybe I need to start from chapter one and connect to where I started this time. So I went back to chapter one and I connected like another 20,000 words or so—connected it to where I had started originally and then I just had this big mess! Honestly, it was really bad and I knew it because I read a lot. I've always read a lot. I love books, but like, and I knew I loved my characters and I knew my story was a good idea. So that's when I started trying to seek out help because I wanted to do it justice and I wanted to do myself justice. And I knew that if I just kept trying to do it on my own, I wouldn't be able to do that.
SAVANNAH: Yeah, and I think that's actually a common feeling and a common fear that a lot of writers have is like, what if I can't do this story justice? You know? And so some people give up, but I love that you actually went out and you're like… What are some tools I can use to make my dream a reality and to do this story justice? So that's really cool. Now, before we get into anything specific about your story, do you have a little blurb or a little description of what your story's about for listeners?
STEFANIE: Yeah, definitely! So I'll just read it. If 18 year old Melanie Snow can't unravel the coverup of her parents' sudden deaths, she'll never be able to move on. She's certain their former employer, a government contracted weapons manufacturer, is involved. Rebellious, impulsive, and desperate for answers, she takes a job at the company's New Hampshire headquarters, determined to uncover the truth. On the morning of her first day of work, Mel meets the mysterious and oh-so-attractive stranger
Tommy, who seems drawn to her yet oddly lies about where he lives. As their relationship deepens, he confides that he is the sole witness of her parents' murder at the hands of those she suspected all along. When Mel discovers that Tommy is part of an underground resistance against the dangerous network of criminals responsible, she must risk her life and sacrifice her freedom to bring down her parents' killers or live with the knowledge they will never suffer the justice they deserve.
SAVANNAH: That’s a great summary! And I know you have that on your website, which we’ll include a link to in the show notes for listeners. But if anyone wants to check it out, definitely go read the blurb on her site. So a) great job with that, and b) that is not where the story started necessarily, right?
STEFANIE: Oh, definitely not. Not even close.
SAVANNAH: So let me take you back down memory lane to when we first started this coaching process together, and I think I suggested that we were gonna need to kind of dismantle what you had in order to rebuild it up again stronger. So what was that like for you?
STEFANIE: That was super painful because I had about 40,000 words already written. But I came into the coaching process kind of knowing that I was gonna have to throw it all away essentially and start over. Because I had the idea that maybe… Mel and Tommy originally both started out not in the resistance and like completely unaware of the criminal organization and all of that. And I was thinking in my head that it might be a lot stronger if Tommy was already in the resistance and Mel was not. And that would add some conflict. Not that I really thought of it in those terms back then. But I was so like unwilling to let go of those 40,000 words and all of that work I already put in that I was really hoping I wouldn't have to do that. But I remember on the initial call that you and I had, I brought that up and you were immediately like, yes, you need to do that.
SAVANNAH: Right. And my two cents on that kind of stuff is always like, we want to try to keep as much of your original draft or your original ideas you have, but we also want to make it match this dream that you have for your story. So, you know, part of that is, let's take the spirit of what you have and let's build that structure that I think you said earlier, you kind of knew you were lacking.
STEFANIE: Yeah, I knew my characters inside and out, but I really didn't know how to plot and what the bones of a story needed to look like, so I was just kind of free writing, and it wasn't turning into a story really. It was just revolving around these characters that I had in my head.
SAVANNAH: And that is, I remember one of the things that was really strong were, two of the things actually were your characters. They were nicely fleshed out, and then their relationship was pretty fleshed out as well. So we had to spend, if I'm remembering correctly, time thinking about the conflict and the plot and just the story that was going to really bring them together. And we did that. Right? I mean, from that blurb we can tell there is definitely a lot of conflict. It already sounds like such an amazing story. But when you think back to the beginning of the coaching period, was there anything you were worried about other than getting rid of those 40,000 words?
STEFANIE: Not exactly. I knew that I needed help and I knew that I needed education, so I kind of came into it, first of all, to do my story and my character's justice, like I said before, but also I came into it thinking of it as an educational opportunity. Kind of like how if someone might go to college and pay for a degree in creative writing, except this is a lot more applicable to my journey as a writer.
SAVANNAH: Right. And that's such a good mindset to have! So walk me through, like when we worked on your draft, do you remember having any big aha moments or anything where things clicked into place and you're like, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and this might actually work?
STEFANIE: Yes! So when you taught me how to outline and the structure of a scene and the five commandments that go into a scene, that was a huge aha moment for me because it's exactly what I was missing. It was exactly what I needed. And then the other really big aha moment. The chain of continuity. So one scene causing the next scene to happen, which when you think about it, it makes a lot of sense and you'd think that as a writer, you would already know that that needs to be what happens. But having it laid out in front of you like that just makes such a huge difference and seeing what's going on and being intentional about it.
SAVANNAH: Yeah, and I remember we spent a lot of time on your outline and really making sure that like each of those scenes kind of knocked into the other one, like a row of dominoes. And I don't know if you felt this way, but a lot of writers I work with will get frustrated a little bit during that process because it's like, you really want me to pressure test this chunk of my outline again??? You really want me to think through this cause-and-effect logic again?? Did you have any of that? Was it frustrating?
STEFANIE: Not really. I was so excited, honestly, about knowing like what I was gonna be doing and I was super inspired at this point in my life, like writing. Finally, after all these years, I had all this creative inspiration flowing, so I was just sitting down every opportunity I had, like writing as much as I possibly could and trying to get it all out and it was really fun for me.
SAVANNAH: Yeah, I know. I remember you were always so lit up like a light bulb every time. You'd be like, here are some scenes! And then we'd talk about them and it was always so much fun. But fast forward, I think like five or six months into, I wanna say it was the end of February, 2021. You had a finished draft, a new finished draft.
SAVANNAH: So how did that feel?
STEFANIE: It was one of the most amazing feelings in my life. There was like the birth of my children and my marriage, and then there was finishing my draft .
SAVANNAH: Right! And I remember we, we maybe took a little bit of time off cuz I always recommend taking a couple weeks away from it and then going back and reading through it just to see how it feels. But we kind of went right into a second draft after that.
STEFANIE: Yeah, I was still like super inspired and feeling super creative, so I was almost kind of afraid that if I took time off, I would lose that. Yeah. Which I'm sure I wouldn't have, but that was my fear. So even though you and others told me that I really should take some time off, I just, I ended up not doing it. And who knows if it would've been better in the end.
SAVANNAH: I mean, I don't think so because you are kind of a unique case where you were so motivated. I remember that about you and I mean you still are, but I'm curious, what was it like after like spending all that time working through the groundwork and that foundational work for draft one and really like digging into that outline for so long? Was it a lot easier to write a draft?
STEFANIE: Yeah, like way easier! There were definitely modifications that needed to be made, but there was nothing major. I mean, we might have, we added five scenes and we removed a few scenes, maybe moved some things around, if I remember correctly, but it wasn't. Anything so big that it felt daunting.
SAVANNAH: I remember once you finished the first draft, we kind of zoomed out and we talked about, okay, here are the things that are working on the page. Here are the things that maybe we, we like and we wanna highlight more. And then maybe some things that kind of fell away or became less important. Was it easier for you to see those things once we got to the end of the first?
STEFANIE: Definitely! Yeah.
SAVANNAH: I always recommend that to writers… Even if their draft is messy, get to the end because you'll know so much more. So having gone through that process, do you agree with that sentiment?
STEFANIE: A hundred percent!
SAVANNAH: Okay, good. You heard it here first! I have on my notes here that your second draft kind of went from the timeframe of like February to June, so if that's all correct, that means your first draft took about six months. Your second draft took about four ish months, and then we moved on to draft three, which I wanna say you did in less than a month or two.
STEFANIE: Yeah, there wasn't much left to revise after that. I know you recommend not doing like sentences and stuff until the very end, but I know when I did my second draft, I did a lot of that and maybe I'll be able to hold off on that this time, but I know that last time I didn't do so well.
SAVANNAH: A lot of that too was us talking about it saying, do we foresee any big structural changes happening or do we think it's okay to go to that level? And because we had spent, I mean, you really went through that outline in so much. You put so much thought into it in so much detail that there wasn't a ton of structural stuff like you said, so it almost allowed us that freedom to go into draft three fixing sentences and, and really expressing those emotions on the page and things like that.
STEFANIE: Right, right.
SAVANNAH: So, just to recap how exciting this all is… you started a draft around September, 2020 ish and we had to rebuild the whole thing, which you did by July, 2021. You were pretty much done with the draft that you were gonna query with, right?
SAVANNAH: And I know during that last month or two, we also worked on your query package stuff, so your query letter, your synopsis, and things like that. So, it probably took even less time than we're quoting for you to finish that third draft, which is awesome. But when you got to the very end and you were done with draft three, how did you know that it was the right time to query?
STEFANIE: So that's a hard question. You never really know when it's the right time to query. And I'm lucky because my dad is actually an author too. He's had actually a lot of success and he's been through a lot of this before. So I would talk to him about it and I'd always say, I wanna fix more things! I wanna fix more things! And he was finally like, “You can fix things forever and ever, but eventually you need to just send your baby out into the wild and see what happens.” So that was part of it. The other part of it was that there was a #PitMad event in June, and for those who don't know what #PitMad is, it’s basically a Twitter contest where you can find agents. So there was a #PitMad event in June and you encouraged me to pitch during pit mad. And I was like, absolutely not!!
SAVANNAH: Yeah. You didn't think you were ready. I remember that!
STEFANIE: But you convinced me to do it. And like the night before, I was scrambling to put together pitches and that is ultimately how I got my agent. So Savannah, thank you for that encouragement!
SAVANNAH: Well, you did all the hard work, but you're welcome. But you know, that's amazing because a lot of people see those types of events, like Twitter pitch contests and things like that, which I'm pretty sure #PitMad is not around anymore. Correct?
STEFANIE: Yeah. Unfortunately not.
SAVANNAH: Yeah, but a lot of people see opportunities like that and they're thinking like… Who am I to think that I'm gonna get chosen? Or like, what are the chances anyway? And you are kind of living proof that it can work out.
STEFANIE: Yeah! I never thought anything would happen with it. I was like, okay, I'm gonna go into this expecting to network with other writers and maybe see a few good pitches and have fun. And then I got that heart and I was like, I remember I was on the phone with my dad almost crying like, OMG an agent actually hearted my pitch!!!
SAVANNAH: Right? And you know what's so funny is right before we got on to record this episode today, I went through all of our old text messages and I was just smiling ear to ear because the evolution of like being done with the draft and then getting that heart on Twitter and you know, we'll talk about this in a second, but you got some rejections, some full manuscript requests, like it was a wild ride!! But it all started with the #PitMad event. And I remember going into that saying and talking about like, you know, we had three or four versions of your pitch and we were thinking, let's just see what happens. Like, which one will people like more? And maybe that could inform our query letter, right? And so we didn't, I mean, we had hopes, but we didn't have big expectations for it. And yet here you are! So, it’s amazing!
STEFANIE: Yeah, I still can't believe it, honestly.
SAVANNAH: Yeah. I can't believe it either. And then, so after getting that heart, what was the next phase of querying like? Like how many people you sent your stuff out to and what kind of responses you got?
STEFANIE: Yes. Actually, it's not that many. So I ended up getting pregnant in March. I had a really rough pregnancy. I was really sick the whole time. So I had been planning to query like 10 agents a week or 10 agents and then just send a new query whenever I got a rejection or something like that. I was like, really gonna dive into it. But I was feeling so sick that I was like… okay, I did the #PitMad event in June and we finished up with my draft and we worked on my query package and then I queried some agents, but I dove into it way less than I was planning. So in total, I ended up querying 13 agents.
STEFANIE: And out of those agents, I got a partial request from one and two full.
SAVANNAH: Yep. And the rest you got rejections from, right?
STEFANIE: Rejections or I just never heard, which at this point would definitely be a rejection.
SAVANNAH: Right. And so how did each of those different things feel? Like when you got a rejection? How did that feel? And then when you got a request, do you remember what that felt like?
STEFANIE: Yes! So I guess I'll start with the #PitMad request. I got the heart from Cindy, my agent, who I have now, and she wanted my query with 10 pages. So it wasn't a full request or anything, but I sent that off and then we finished my query package. And it turns out, interestingly, I got a full request from Cindy, like two days after I queried her in June. So I had sent off that full manuscript before I was even really done with the third draft and the query package. So I did that and then I kind of put it out of my mind—I tried to, but it was hard. But when I got that full request from Cindy, I was literally crying in tears. I was so excited. Remember that was the first query I've ever sent. Ever. And I got a full request in two days. So it was exciting, but I was also kind of afraid that it was giving me false hope or false expectations. That this was just the, like the one agent who would actually want my full, and then I'd be excited to get more full requests and then maybe I wouldn't. So it was kinda like a dichotomy. It was, it was interesting.
SAVANNAH: For sure. I remember you being like, Is this real?! Like, how does this even happen? You were so excited, but also so nervous and scared too.
STEFANIE: Yeah, it's really a feeling like no other!
SAVANNAH: I also remember—before we get into the rejections—I remember because you were in the middle of being pregnant and like you said, you had a hard pregnancy. I remember a message you sent me where you're like, “I've been blubbering to my husband for the last few days about how my book is trash and no one's gonna like it!” Blah, blah, blah... So you fully had like the whole range of emotions throughout this whole thing.
STEFANIE: Yeah. I forgot about that. I literally, I don’t know if it was before the full request or if it was later on. This is later on, I guess. Like an hour before Cindy requested the call with me, I was literally telling my husband, “I think I should give up”.
SAVANNAH: And it was because of the rejections, right?
SAVANNAH: And okay, so one more time. An hour before you got a call from your now agent, you were having that whole like, you know… “Who am I to write a book?
Everything sucks. This is terrible…” And then…
STEFANIE: A hundred percent!
SAVANNAH: Which cracks me up because I mean, yes, you’re pregnant, so that's going to factor into it, but all writers go through something like this, pregnant or not. You know, when we're drafting, we think sometimes our story's great, then we think it's terrible. When we're querying, we sometimes think, oh maybe there's a chance. And then we go into, I'm a failure and I should just give up. So it's, it's amazing…
STEFANIE: That's really easy to flip into that kind of mindset, unfortunately.
SAVANNAH: Yeah, and I love that you kind of, your emotions were running the gamut on this, in this experience, and it worked out so well for you. So it just goes to show that you know, even when something is positive that's happening, you can still feel all these different things.
STEFANIE: Yeah, totally!
SAVANNAH: And so speaking of that, I did want to ask you… In this whole process of like writing, editing, and querying, did you ever have like besides this one moment of, I think my book is trash, was there ever moments of writer's block or imposter syndrome that came up at any other point?
STEFANIE: So when I was actually writing my draft, I was just so focused on like the creative energy and how much fun I was having that that didn't really happen to me when I wrote my first draft. And I think that's kind unusual. But it certainly happened to me when I was revising, when I was querying, when I was revising again with my agent and now on submission, like a hundred percent. Yeah, it's like, it's very up and down.
SAVANNAH: Right. And you know, I think, I think part of the reason why you might not have had those typical feelings of writer's block or you know, doubt was because you had spent so much time nailing your outline. I think without that you may have had some things crop up. What do you think?
STEFANIE: Yeah, for sure.
SAVANNAH: Yeah. And I don't have the exact timeline it took to do your outline, but do you remember how many weeks we went back and forth on that thing? Like it was a while, right?
STEFANIE: Maybe six?
SAVANNAH: Yeah, it was a while, I guess… of just like working on your outline. It was a lot of effort, right? I'm sure you can tell us.
STEFANIE: Yeah, I think my outline ended up being somewhere around like 30,000 words. Yeah, if that gives anyone an idea.
SAVANNAH: It was almost like a draft zero, which is something that I try to have writers think about an outline like, so it's not something that has to be super rigid. It's more like you are vomiting your first draft onto the page, and then we kind of shape it as we go.
What do you think about that?
STEFANIE: Yeah, I think that's pretty accurate. That's pretty much what happened.
SAVANNAH: Okay, so fast forward to December. You got the email that your agent, Cindy, wanted to represent you, right? What did that feel like? And how was it when you sat down to sign that contract? I know you have the cutest picture on your Instagram of you signing the contract, so everyone has to go look at that.
STEFANIE: It was just the most amazing feeling ever! So I had gone through the query trenches while I was pregnant, so I was extra emotional too, and I had gotten all these rejections and they were always nice, but they were form rejections, so didn't really mean that much. And then I get the email from Cindy that she wanted to set up a call and it was just like my heart went up into my windpipe and blocked it and I couldn't breathe. I was like, hyperventilating. And I'm yelling for my husband, telling him to read the email. Like, “Look at this, look at this. Could this be like the call?” And yeah, I think I called you then I called my dad and I called everyone and I was asking them could this actually be it? Cause I almost didn't wanna believe it in case it wasn't true.
SAVANNAH: Right! And it’s so funny because I remember when you called me, normally we just text back and forth if we don't have scheduled calls with each other, but I remember you called me and I'm thinking, “Oh my gosh, what's wrong!? Why? Why is she calling me?” It was evening my time, which meant it was later for you. And then you were so cute and so excited on the phone that I almost cried because I was so happy for you. But yeah… what a 2021 you had, right!? You wrote a book, you revised the book, you had a baby, you got an agent. I mean, that's like a dream year!
STEFANIE: Yeah, it was like the most amazing year anyone ever anywhere has probably ever had.
SAVANNAH: Yeah, and so then after that, like fast forward, you had your baby in December of 2021, right around the time you're getting your contract and signing with an agent. So it’s not only a big 2021, a big December in 2021! What was it like after that? Did you get edits from your agent?
STEFANIE: Yes. So I signed with Cindy in early December, and then she put me in an editing queue. So she was working with her other clients at that time and she couldn't start on my book immediately, but it wasn't that long that I had to wait. And then we dove into edits back and forth, kind of similar to how it’d work if someone was working with you. Like we would look at a section, she'd give me her comments, I'd make the edits, she'd give me her comments.
SAVANNAH: Were there any big changes that she recommended or was everything kind of minor?
STEFANIE: It was all kind of minor!
SAVANNAH: How did that feel?
STEFANIE: It was really satisfying because I expected that… if I had an agent, that I was afraid of how much they’d want to change things. Because I loved my story so much and I didn't want the bones to change, really. But, I knew from our call that she wasn't anticipating any major revisions, but I was still kind of nervous, like, what is she exactly gonna want me to change? Like, what is she gonna think doesn't measure up? But it really wasn't anything big. Maybe like some word choice here or there, or maybe a few moments where she thought I could maybe amp things up, or if something didn't quite make sense to her. But there really wasn't much at
SAVANNAH: Right. And that's amazing because I know a lot of writers, they're worried about that, so they're worried about that when working with an editor, they're worried about that when they get an agent or a publisher. And, you know, I think it goes to show how much hard work you did on your book that come, you know, querying and submission time, there wasn't a whole lot of work to be done, so that's pretty dang cool!
STEFANIE: Yeah, it was awesome!
SAVANNAH: Can you tell everyone the title of your first book—or the working title—I'm sure it could possibly change, right? If a publisher picks it up.
STEFANIE: Yep. I will change it if a publisher wants me to, but I'm kind of hoping not because I titled the whole trilogy with meaning. So I'm hoping that I get to keep the titles, but we'll see what they say. The first book is called Into the Fire.
SAVANNAH: Okay, cool. And we'll put a link to Stephanie's website if you guys want to go read her blurb. She did an awesome job on her story blurb and on her website. So we'll go over that later, but now we can move into book two because that's what you're working on right now.
SAVANNAH: And that one's tentatively called A light in the Darkness, right?
STEFANIE: Yep. Yep.
SAVANNAH: Okay, cool. So first of all, that’s very exciting to even be on book two. It's like a dream. I mean, that's great. Second of all…
STEFANIE: Yeah, Younger me would be like mind blown if younger me could know.
SAVANNAH: What was it like starting book two after having gone through this whole writing, editing and querying process?
STEFANIE: Iit was interesting because I started book one with so much creative energy and so much excitement and I was waking up at 4:00 AM to write and I was writing for hours and hours every week and like that was amazing. But then I had this baby, right? So I was planning to use my maternity leave to really outline and nail down book two because I wanted to do it right when I ended book one. But I had been so sick that I was like, okay… I'm gonna do it after the baby comes and I'm gonna give myself grace during this time. So I maybe tried to like write down some notes here or there about my ideas, but I didn't really do anything until months after the baby was born. So baby's born and I forgot what the newborn phase is like (my older son is 15 now), and it's just, I mean, if, if there are any moms listening, they know… But otherwise I can't really describe it. Like the brain fog and the tiredness is just unreal. And I was like, okay, I'm not going to put pressure on myself to do this right now. I asked my agent about it and she said, if we got a deal that had more than one book involved, then the publisher would give me a year to write the sequel probably. So I was like, okay, if that happens, I'll button down and like make sure I do it. I know I can do it in a year.
SAVANNAH: That's right.
STEFANIE: But if not, I'm going to give myself some grace and like wait until I can actually wrap my head around it. So that only happened like maybe a month ago. Maybe a little bit more than that. Finally, I'm getting a little bit more sleep and I decided I'm gonna dive in now. So I'm, right now I'm working on my outline for book two.
SAVANNAH: Between when you ended book one and you've started book two, I know there's been a ton of thinking that's gone into it and these characters don't just walk away while you're, you know, going through the pregnancy and post birth brain fog. They don’t leave you alone, right?
STEFANIE: Correct. I had like 65 notes in this huge file when I sat down to make the outline.
SAVANNAH: So you've been thinking about it, you've been letting it marinate and I'm curious, was it, did you have those same kind of fears or that maybe a little bit of overwhelm like that could have been around before book one coming into book two?
STEFANIE: Yeah. Everything that I got to skip out on regarding negative emotions for book one has come in tenfold for book two because now I have this success story with book one and I mean… I'm on submission, we'll see if I get a publisher or not. But yeah, the so far success story with book one is that I absolutely love the manuscript, how it turned out, and now I'm gonna do it again. Can I really measure up to that kind of success again? And then also my creative energy is completely gone at this point, and I'm sort of starting to get it back, but only through effort and intentional writing every day—even if I don't feel like it or if I don't feel creative.
SAVANNAH: Well, and I think probably you would agree, even if you don't produce as much as you used to, like even if you only produce a couple hundred words, we're still counting that right.
STEFANIE: Yeah, that's like all I can do these days.
SAVANNAH: I love that you're kind of taking the approach that you're not gonna beat yourself up about it because honestly, what would that help at this point?
STEFANIE: Yeah, that's exactly how I'm thinking about it.
SAVANNAH: And it's so funny because I have a lot of writers ask me, or they'll say something like, “Oh, it's so nice for this person because they're on book two! It must be way easier!” And what I have found is that sometimes book two is actually a little harder. Because like you said, you have these emotions of like, how can I do this again? Even though the proof is there that you've done it once?
STEFANIE: It almost feels like I did it once and the book came out—I mean, in my opinion, amazing. I love it. And of course we'll see what readers actually think about it, but I love book one and I almost feel like it came out so great and everything wove together so well that I feel like I can't do that again, even though I know that's not true.
SAVANNAH: There's this quote I like, or this little saying… “new level, new devil” so, it’s like… you've reached a new level in your writing and now you're facing a new devil, you know? And when you write book three, there's probably gonna be another one. But I think what's important is you're not quitting. You're gonna push through it just like you push through book one.
STEFANIE: Yep! And I have to say that I took your Notes to Novel course and that like the mindset unit in there, and the mindset shifts in the course really helped me. Like, I don't know if, if I hadn't heard those, if I would be writing the outline right now.
SAVANNAH: What's one that stood out for you?
STEFANIE: To keep going and to keep writing every day. No matter, like, I think actually it wasn't in unit one. I forget which unit it was in, but when you talk about writers block, and you were saying that no matter how blocked up you are, just sit down and write something every day and that will help unblock you. And then also talking to someone about it, that kind of thing. If I hadn't heard that unit, I probably would just be sort of paralyzed and not moving forward. I would feel like, I don't feel creative today, like how can I write?But because of that unit, I've been sitting down to write anyways and it's really helped me get through that blocked up time and figure out what I'm gonna do next.
SAVANNAH: That's awesome. I love hearing that! And just for people who aren't familiar with what's exactly in the module she's talking about, I say in there something like, even if you don't write a full scene, you can probably write a little bit of dialogue or maybe you can have a conversation with your antagonist through a journal entry or you know, some days, even if we don't feel creative enough to write a scene, maybe we can, you know, format something or just something where you're touching your book and you're making some kind of progress. So it's, it's good to know that that's helped you, and I love being able to remind listeners of some of these mindset things. I have another question for you about Notes to Novel, if you don't mind, Stefanie… Because you've done one-on-one coaching with me and you've been through the Notes to Novel course and a lot of writers will ask me which one is right for them. Is coaching better than Notes to Novel or vice versa? Do you have any opinions on that?
STEFANIE: Yeah, definitely. So I think what I will say is that I worked on an entire manuscript with you before I ever took Notes to Novel. So by the time I took Notes to Novel, a lot of it was almost like a refresher because I had gone through the whole thing with you 1:1 and I was going to dive into book two. It was the perfect time for me to have a refresher of all of the basics of what I needed to do to get through another draft. But if I had never worked with you before, I think that Notes to Novel would've been a really thorough and well rounded education on what I would need to do to get to the end of that first draft and then moving forward what to do next. I think that if someone either doesn't want to or maybe can't afford one-on-one book coaching then Notes to Novel will definitely be enough for them. However, it is really, really nice to be able to have those phone calls with you and have the notes directed specifically at your work and the words that you wrote, so I’d say that if someone can do both, that would be the ultimate amazing package to do and I would highly recommend it. If you can do the book coaching, it's well worth it. But Notes to Novel is also amazing.
SAVANNAH: I love hearing that and that's so cool that you said it's kind of the similar groundwork you would need to finish your draft, because that was my vision while creating it. So, I love that it's like coming across to you that way. I have one final question for you, Stefanie… What would you say to someone who's feeling stuck or feeling overwhelmed or afraid and wants to get help, but they're just kind of scared to take that next step?
STEFANIE: I would say a few things. I would say make sure that you're writing every day. I would say don't give up just because the negative emotions are getting you right now, because that is how you never achieve your dream. Like you have to keep going even when it's really hard or you'll never get there. And then I would also say that seek out help, like do the Notes to Novel course, do book coaching with Savannah or whoever you think is best for you and your story. Get that help because you deserve it and your story deserves it. And it's just amazing when you actually produce something that's like readable and cohesive and has depth.
SAVANNAH: I think that's something writers don't sit in long enough is like that feeling when you read your draft, whether it's the end of a first draft or a second or third, and you're like, oh my gosh… I wrote this and it makes sense, you know?
STEFANIE: That's really fun when you get to a point where you can say that.
SAVANNAH: And so I know we're gonna, we're gonna get there soon for book two, but any final like thoughts or words of wisdom or anything that you would wanna share with other writers?
STEFANIE: The biggest thing I want to say is what we talked about… I threw out 40,000 words when I started working with Savannah, and that was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my writing career. But it was also one of the best things I've ever done. So I've come across other writers, in writing groups or whatever, who will post something and they'll say, I have written like 30,000 words, but I feel like I should throw it out, but I just can't do it. And I always wanna comment and say, “DO IT! Throw it, throw it out. It'll be worth it!”
SAVANNAH: Yeah, and it’s so scary because we pour our hearts and souls into whatever that word count is for you. It was 40,000 and it took a while, right? It took a lot of effort and it's hard to throw it out, but I mean, look what happened when you did and you, you built it back up from the ground and honestly, knowing what you had before and what you've ended up with, the spirit of your story is still there.
STEFANIE: Yeah, Mel and Tommy are the same people that they were when I was writing that draft. That didn't change.
SAVANNAH: Right. And that's one of my favorite things to ask people is like, you know, for you, in that 40,000 word draft, is the story you ended up with still the story you wanted to tell originally?
STEFANIE: Yes! It's better because when I was writing the first draft, the draft zero I guess, that I threw out, I had a really good idea of Mel and Tommy and their relationship, but not of much else. And because I was able to be intentional about my theme and the messages I wanted to convey and all of that stuff, it has not only a much better plot, but just like a lot more depth and a lot more meaning as well.
SAVANNAH: Yeah, and that's so cool! I mean, that's what we all want for our stories and those are the types of stories that affect readers and stick with us until the end of time. So I mean, that is just so cool to hear. So I cannot thank you enough, Stephanie, for coming on the show today. You are one of my all-time favorite people. I'm so glad that we finally got to sit down and kind of highlight and talk about all the amazing things that have happened over the last couple years, but especially in 2021. I just love your story and I actually talk about you a lot because. I think your story's so inspirational, and I know that I got to be a part of it and I was in the weeds with you, but like I said, talking about it today gives me such joy and it's so cool to see how far you've come in the last couple years. It's really incredible. So people are absolutely gonna wanna check you out and see what you're all about. So where can they go to learn more and find out about you?
STEFANIE: Yeah, sure! So I have social media channels, which they can find me on through my website.I also have a newsletter on my website, which I would love if anyone's interested in signing up for it, they can get updates on the rest of my journey. Hopefully I'll get accepted by a publisher and then when I have a release date and all of that. So my website is www.medrekwriters.com
SAVANNAH: I'll put all that information in the show notes just so people can access it easier. But again, thank you so much for spending your time with me, and I really can't wait to see what the next steps bring. So good luck with everything, and I can't wait to have you back to celebrate your next big milestone!
STEFANIE: Thank you so much for having me, this was a really fun experience!
I hope my conversation with Stefanie has inspired you to keep going—to keep making progress towards your big, beautiful writing goals. That was my favorite takeaway from my discussion with Stefanie—that she didn’t give up, and that she took her dream so seriously that she got the help she needed to make it happen. To learn more about Stefanie, and to get all the details on her debut novel, check out her website here or go follow her on Instagram @medrekwrites!
If you want to learn more about my Notes to Novel course—and how it can help you finish your first draft—you can click here to get all the details!