Monday, November 26, 2012

A Hello From Stefanie Gaither: The Writer Who Almost Wasn't

Pssssst. I have a secret. Which seems an apt way to start off this blog, doesn't it? Right. So, here it is. Don't tell anybody, though, okay?

I, Stefanie Gaither, was not always going to be a writer.

I know, right?

In fact, I basically came into this career kicking and screaming. Of course, now the thought of doing anything else for a living makes me want to kick and scream even harder, but I'll get to that in a minute. 

First, let's talk about that moment when you decide - really decide - that you're going to do something incredibly difficult. Impossible, almost. But more importantly, something worthwhile (if only because it makes you so very, very happy).That decision is not always easy. But you know how sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same?

Yeah. That.

Okay, flashback time. Picture me: young, adorable (of course) kid. Like most writers, I constantly had my face stuck in a book. And around age nine-ish, I got the crazy idea that, "Hey, this whole book business doesn't seem so hard!" (Ha. Ha. Ha). I added a notebook to the pile of books I always carried around with me.

Pen in hand, I was unstoppable. I filled my own books with gibberish and bad poetry, elaborate maps and magic systems and details on fictional races. On school writing assignments, I was that obnoxious kid who wrote three times the required word count on anything. Teachers started noticing the wildly creative (and let's be honest, the wildly weird) stuff I would write in my journals. They told my parents. They told the other teachers. It was the first time in my life that I remembered actually being good at something. Better than most people were at something (I'm allowed to brag about this because I failed really hard at math... like oh-my-god-does-she-really-have-a-functioning-IQ? hard).

So I had the support of my teachers, my family, and a fresh pen and a fresh pad of paper... and I lived happily ever after, writing best-sellers until the end of my days, right?





Please. That would make a terrible story.

Don't worry though - my story found its conflict, and thus became a lot more riveting (and by riveting, I of course mean painful, gut-wrenching, frustrating, etc, etc, etc... all the things good stories are, basically).

See, the older I got, the more people I met. The more books I read. The harder I looked at the publishing industry and the more I started to think to myself: "Hey, maybe this isn't as easy as it looked at first" and then "Hey, pretty much everyone chasing this publishing dream is their own special breed of crazy, and maybe I should just go to clown college or something" (although I'm sure clown college has its difficulties, too. Also, clowns are frickin' creepy).

Because for all their wonderful variations of crazy, I couldn't help but notice a few recurring experiences of every writer: 

Failure. Rejection. Big-Ugly-Tear-Crying.

These things absolutely terrified me. Another secret of mine: I don't like to lose. I never have. I'm very competitive; I still race my husband to the car, and a part of me dies inside whenever I lose. Plus, I was comfortable with the way things were, still secure in the praise that all my grade school teachers had given my writing all my life... so why mess that up? Why pursue a career in writing when there was such a small chance of ever succeeding, and if even then, it would only mean that criticism was going to start flowing in along with that praise?

There are a million reasons why, as I eventually discovered, but at the time all I could think about was the possibility of failure. I was so afraid of failing at something I'd always felt like I was good at, that I just started avoiding putting my writing to the test anymore. I stopped working on stories, stopped reading books. I started hating words, as though it was all their fault. I changed my major in college six times, trying desperately to avoid the English/Creative Writing major. 

And I was very, very depressed for what seemed like a long time.


Then I realized I was being very, very stupid.

I realized that if you're going to be successful, it starts with giving as much energy to your goals and dreams - however crazy impossible they are - as you do to your fears. And believe me, I was feeding my fears LOTS of energy. An embarrassing amount of energy. Sometimes I still do.

But at the end of my sophomore year of college, I switched to an English major and I haven't looked back since. That was the same year I decided I was going to write a book. From start to finish. I was going to write a book, and not care if it was awful or wonderful or "good, but not good enough" or if I failed and got rejected a million times by every agent under the sun. I would write because I loved writing, because of all the times words had pulled me out of the dark and made me feel something again. And as for the business part of things? As for making this a career? Well, I could learn to lose gracefully, if that's what being a writer meant (and a lot of times it does). I could learn to take criticism. I could learn to fail. And I could - and did -  learn to keep going, in spite of it all.

I FREAKING LOVE WRITING....AGAIN!

And oh yes, I failed.

In the interest of transparency (one of our goals with this blog), how about some stats? I loved stats when I was querying, and I stalked the crap out of authors to get them. But I'm going to make it easy for you guys:

First Book: 90k YA Paranormal Romance (yes, there were werewolves)
Time Spent Writing/Revising: 8 months
Queries Sent: 35ish
Requests: A whopping three. (8.5% request rate)

Second Book: Another YA Paranormal Romance, with grim reapers this time
Time Spent Writing/Revising: 3 months
Queries Sent: 25ish
Requests: Five, plus three more from contests. Getting better, but still mostly form rejections in the end. (32% request rate)

Third Book: 95k YA Sci-Fi-that-I-think-might-have-unintentionally-been-part-fantasy
Time Spent Writing/Revising: 5 months
Queries Sent: 25ish
Requests: nine, and also a revise and resubmit (36% request rate)

I know a lot of people query way more people than I did before moving on, and there's nothing wrong with that. There are certainly more than 25-35ish awesome agents out there. I write fairly quickly though, and so by the time all the rejections rolled in from the first batches of a manuscript's queries, I generally had a newer, better project ready to go and so I just moved on.

And now, the stats I don't mind posting at all:

Fourth Book: 80k YA Sci-Fi with clones and murder mysteries and fun stuff like that
Time Spent Writing/Revising: 2 1/2 months
Queries sent: 20
Requests: 12  (60% request rate)
Offers of representation: 4

And I'm now represented by the very first agent who ever rejected me, Sara Megibow of Nelson Literary, who I adore. I feel like I should put an inspiring quote about persistence here, but all I've got is this gif:

Just imagine "Eye of the Tiger" is playing in the background,  alright?

So there you have it - a little bit of my background, a few of my secrets given away. And just so you have the whole story, I'll post my query that "landed my agent" (I really hate that phrasing, by the way, because then it makes it sound like Sara's a fish, and I don't think she's very fishy at all; but I'm writing this at two a.m. and sentences are hard). Anyway, here you go:

Dear Ms. Megibow, 
I’m currently seeking representation for my YA novel, FALLS THE SHADOW. Given your interest in science fiction, I thought it might be a good fit for your list. Here’s a quick look at the plot:
When Cate Benson was twelve, her sister died. Two hours after the funeral, they picked up Violet’s replacement, and the family made it home in time for dinner and a game of cards.
It's the year 2055, and Cate's parents are among the wealthy elite who can afford to give their children a sort of immortality—by cloning them at birth. So this new Violet has the same smile. The same laugh. That same perfect face. Thanks to advancements in mind-uploading technology, she even has all the same memories as the girl she replaced.   
She also might have murdered the most popular girl in school.
Or at least, that’s what the paparazzi and the crazy anti-cloning protestors want everyone to think: that clones are violent, unpredictable monsters. Cate is used to hearing all that, though. She’s used to standing up for her sister too, and she’s determined to do it now—even if proving Violet’s innocence means taking on those protestors and anyone else attacking her family. But when her own life is threatened—not by protestors, but by the very scientists who created her sister’s clone—Cate starts questioning everything she thought she knew about the cloning movement. About herself. About her sister.
And the answers she finds reveal a more sinister purpose for her sister’s copy—and her own replacement—than she ever could have imagined.
FALLS THE SHADOW is complete at 80,000 words, and is the first in a planned series. The manuscript is available, in part or full, upon request. Thanks for your time and consideration! 
Best,
Stefanie Gaither
Ta-da! My full holy-crap-I-have-an-agent post is also right here on my website, if you'd like to read more. Thanks for reading, and for checking out our new blog! We'll be back on Wednesday with another Secret Lifer's story and giveaway, so be sure to come back and see us!

Happy writing!

-Stef


And now the fun part: IT'S GIVEAWAY TIME! Because free stuff is fun. Okay, so here's the deal, I'm really getting the warm-writerly-community fuzzies with the launch of the blog and all, so that's got me feeling generous. My giveaway is a package deal, and this is what it includes:
  • A book and a cup of coffee on me-- which means a $10 Barnes and Noble gift card and a $5 Starbucks gift card heading your way.
  • A line-by-line critique of your query
  • A line-by-line critique of your manuscript's first ten pages. 
The critiques DO NOT have to be for finished manuscripts. They DO NOT have to be claimed right away, either. They're also transferable, so if you've got a friend who might benefit more from them, but still want to the giveaway for the sake of getting the giftcards for yourself, then by all means go for it! There are multiple ways to enter, and you'll have until midnight, EST, tomorrow to enter. The winner will be announced on Wednesday's post, when ANOTHER secret lifer's giveaway will begin! Wheeeee!  


The Giveaway has ended! Check back first thing tomorrow for the winner!

61 secret replies:

  1. Woohoo! Happy inaugural blog day, and what a fab first post to start it off! I too love seeing stats, though I'm not sure I'm brave enough to post mine ;) Always love stories of perseverance!

    I'm in the agented/on-submission phase, and it's a rough one, but fortunately, I'm writing a new WIP I think I may grow to love, and that certainly helps!

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    1. Thanks for reading! I'm glad you enjoyed the stats.

      And oh yes, new WIPs definitely help. I hope submissions get less rough for you soon :)

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  2. Thanks for sharing your story.

    I actually never wanted to be a writer either, but the more I write the more I want to have a career in it.

    I'm glad your persistance paid off. It gives us still on the hunt for agents hope :)

    Looking forward to more posts. Happy Launch day!

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    1. Also forgot to mention, I'm hopefully getting ready to query for the first time in the next few months. I'm a bit scared!

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    2. It can be scary, but you'll survive, I promise :) Just remember that it's a business, agents are people too, and publishing doesn't hate you nearly as much as it seems like at times (mostly it's just indifferent to you, haha). I wish you lots of luck and plenty of chocolate and caffeine to help you persevere!

      Thanks for stopping by!

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    3. Thanks! I definitely think it helps to know that agents are people too. Meeting some at my first writer's conference helped with that a lot.

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  3. I can already tell this is going to be one of my favorite blogs. I'm fascinated by the whole publishing process, and it'll be wonderful to get an inside look into so many different parts of it.

    As for my own writing journey, I'm wrapping up querying of one manuscript and about to wrap up writing the first draft of a new one. Can't wait to start sending queries for the WIP!

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    1. Wheee! Sending out those first queries for a new WIP was always my favorite part of the process (at least up until I got The Call of course, lol). So much potential! And good on you for writing that second manuscript. Too many people give up after the first one.

      I hope things go well with the new manuscript, both in revision and query land!

      And thanks for reading :)

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  4. Loved reading the story, Stefanie! Glad you kept at your dream.

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    1. Hi Shallee! Thanks for stopping by and reading :D Hope you're well.

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  5. Cool! As a numbers girl, I love that you kept track of your stats for each project as you queried and then switched. What I found really interesting about your post was how much persistence comes into writing-- I feel like a lot of writers are a little insane because there's something in them that drives them to keep going even when faced with overwhelming obstacles, lack of time, bad odds, etc. It's neat to see this supported both by your story and the math.

    I have a couple projects-- all in various stages of drafting. I haven't queried with any of them yet, though I'm hoping to some time in the next year. Grad school takes up most of my time, but I try to keep involved with the publishing world through my internship with a literary agent. :)

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    1. "A little insane" doesn't even begin to cover it, haha. We're all mad here ;)

      Good luck on your projects, and with grad school and interning and everything!

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  6. I envy your writing speed! Somedays it flows like that, other days, it's like trying to do math (which hates me too, btw).

    Love your story and yay new blog!

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    1. Just the thought of having to do math makes me want to curl up into a fetal position and cry until somebody brings me a calculator.

      And I'm glad you enjoyed the story :)

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  7. What a great first post!

    As for myself, I'm coming back to writing after some time away. I told myself that I was going to give it up but apparently I can't stay away. Oh, writing. So I'm giving it my all this time although I'm still months out from the query stage. I do envy your writing speed!

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    1. You'll make it to the query stage sooner than you think, and it will be glorious (in the moments when it doesn't suck and make you want to set your hair on fire). Good luck! :)

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  8. Thanks for being brave enough to post your stats. I love hearing about the success stories, especially when writers/authors have worked as hard for them as you did.

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  9. Holy cow! Your query is amAZing. Now I'm dying to read it. Can't wait to hear it's being published! Thanks for sharing your story. I love hearing how other writers found success. Such a long path (for most of us). It's really encouraging.

    And best of luck with this new blog!

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    1. I'm glad you found it encouraging. And I can't wait until I can tell you it's being published! :D Thanks for reading, and for the good luck wishes :)

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  10. Hey hey! I think this project is AWESOMESAUCE. I can't wait to see what you guys do with it.

    As for me, I recently published a novel through the Wattpad Writer Partner Program -- you can check it out here: http://www.wattpad.com/story/3045078-the-stories-we-tell but certainly don't feel obligated! I am currently drafted my next project, which I hope to begin querying in March 2013 (like Stephanie, I'm a fast drafter).

    Can't wait for more!

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    1. I think you're AWESOMESAUCE for reading and leaving a comment :D Good luck with your drafting and future querying!

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  11. Such an inspiring story, and your book sounds fantastic, Stefanie! Looking forward to reading more on the blog.

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  12. Loving the blog so far and looking forward to future posts! Life after "the call" definitely needs to be blogged about more often. It's nice to know we're all in this together :)

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    1. Thanks! And yup, definitely nice to know. I don't know what I'd do without other writerly people to angst with!

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  13. I am so in love with this blog already. Can't wait to read more posts. Thank you so much Stefanie for sharing your writing journey so far. I especially like the stats. :)

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    1. Yay! We can't wait to share more posts! And you're welcome; I'm glad you enjoyed the stats. :)

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  14. This looks like it's going to be an amazing blog! It was so inspiring hearing your story. Can't wait for more posts!

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    1. We're going to do our best to make it amazing :D Thanks for stopping by!

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  15. Okay, I just said this on Twitter BUT - ehrmergerd, I luhrve you guys. Awesome post. I am SO COMPETITIVE too - what's with that, right? I HATE TO LOSE. Which querying is all about the lose, hoping for the win. And the energy - this said on a vacation with my family where they're off snorkling and I'm sitting by the pool writing 'cause...that's what it takes. As you know. Can't wait to follow you, read all your books, and wave pom poms from the stand. YAY YOU! xoxo

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    1. aww... *blushes* Thanks for following and stuffs. YAY YOU TOO! hehe :)

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  16. I loved this post! I completely relate to the fear part. I announced to the world when I was in 2nd grade that I was going to be a famous author one day... and in 3rd grade I started a pencil collection that I said I wouldn't sharpen until I was ready to write my first published book. All the way through high school / college, my teachers/professors told me I was really good and I should make a career of my writing. Of course I was going to do that. Duh!! - Except, I was afraid to sharpen those special pencils. Because if I didn't start on my journey, I wasn't failing. Success was just waiting for me, right around the corner...

    I sharpened my first story pencil for NaNoWriMo in 2008, and I wrote my first novel. I sent out 10 queries and entered 2 contests. I received 9 form rejections (and one slightly personalized & encouraging form rejection), as well as 2 scathing critiques from the anonymous contest judges... So I gave up. I tried. I failed. I wasn't meant to be a writer after all.

    Luckily, I met another author (NYT bestseller multiple times over) who read my (awful) first novel and saw potential. He wrote a blog post to introduce me to his fans as an up-and-coming writer. Now, I have 3 more novel manuscripts under my belt, as well as a non-fiction book and a handful of picture books... And I'm finally working up the courage to really start sending out queries!!

    I've had to really work to convince myself to hit "send" on every single query I send out there, but I must be getting better. I've had a few requests, and most of my rejections are personalized and encouraging, so I think I'm on my way. :)

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    1. That's awesome! Just keep convincing yourself to hit send :) I can't wait to hear about your success story!

      That's really cool about the pencils, too; I'm impressed you managed to keep up with them for so long, haha...I go through a pack of pens like...every week. I have no idea where they go.

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your story; I love finding more people I can relate to along this crazy journey :)

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  17. Great post! I know what you mean about being afraid to fail. Putting yourself out there as a writer - sending queries, entering contests, having stuff critiqued - means you'll hit setbacks over and over again. I'm still in the query trenches, but I've learned that rejection isn't the end of the world, as long as I don't let it get me down.

    Oh, and I loved reading your stats!

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    1. Nope, rejection definitely isn't the end of the world :) You'll find your way out of the query trenches eventually!

      I'm glad you enjoyed the stats (and the post!) Thanks for stopping by.

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  18. Thanks so much for sharing this awesome post. I do love stats! I only queried my first novel about five or six times, and although I got about halfway through rewriting it I am now more interested in my next project (that I can hopefully query soon!) so I can relate to that. Not that I'm a fast writer, exactly, but what's the point of continuing to query the old if the new is better? So basically I'm revising my current WIP and hoping to find another beta or two maybe, but it's hard for verse novels (in my experience so far).

    Anyway really excited about this blog and thanks for sharing your journey! :)

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    1. That's exactly it--what's the point of continuing when you know you've got something better? When I started my fourth book, I still had like six fulls out on my last one...and at one point I seriously thought about emailing the agents who had it and being like "wait! I can do better!", haha, because I knew this last book was the best I'd written thus far.

      Also, oooooh, verse novels. Awesome! I've always thought I'd like to give writing one a shot some day. Poetry was my first love :) Good luck with it!

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  19. That is a great story. I wonder if it bodes well for my future, since Ms. Megibow is also the first agent who ever requested additional pages from me (even though it was an eventual rejection). I also love your query! Sounds like a great story! Congrats!

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    1. I hope so! We can be agent sisters :D And thanks for the congrats!

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  20. Thanks for your transparency Stefanie! I love how your dreams were chased until caught but never tamed. LESSON learned. I also LOVE how you recognized the power of fear and you AXED THAT JUNK and redirected the power toward DREAMSLAYING. :-). I am so excited about this blog. Also--your book? Yes, that? When can I haz? Please? Thanks. O:-).

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    1. Thanks so much for reading! And oh, how I would love to be able to say you could have my book now, haha. Trust me, when it happens, I will be shouting the news across the interwebs and you will know everythiiiing about it :)

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  21. Awesome post! Loving this blog. Well done on perservering. I'm just beginning to write querys and get ready to send my story out into the world for the first time, bit scary really! But your post is very inspiring :) x

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    1. Thank you! I'm glad you found it inspiring :) And don't be scared-- you've got this! *fist pumps*

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    2. It's okay, I really did :) Whoop, thank you - I hope so! *fist pumps back* x

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  22. What an awesome story! Thanks so much for sharing, and good luck to you! :-)

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    1. Thank YOU for reading! I was happy to share :)

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  23. Great new blog! I love following other author's publishing journeys.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by :) I do too! So many different paths people take; it's both interesting and inspiring to read about them!

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  24. So excited for your group blog! It's great to see writers tackling the murky waters of "what's next". I landed a most awesome agent earlier this year (*waving* at my super cool agent sis, Kelsey!) and now am battling the submission trenches. It's exciting, nerve-wracking and a little bit overwhelming at times. :)

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    1. Ah, the submission trenches... I know those nerves well! Haha. Good luck to you! And thanks for checking out the blog, I hope you'll stick around and brave the murky waters with us :)

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  25. I loved reading your story! It's always inspiring to read about other authors and their successes.

    Right now I'm writing my fourth novel. I'm about 30k in. My third MS garnered some interest from agents, but I decided not to go forward with it. My current MS is much more suitable as a debut.

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    1. It gets both harder (because "ah! why am I not agented yet??") and easier (because your writing is getting better!) with each manuscript. At least for me! I'm glad you've kept on with it, and I hope this fourth manuscript becomes your awesome multiple-offer-getting debut :)

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    2. I definitely agree with that! Each new MS I finish demonstrates marked improvements in my writing abilities and brings me closer to getting an agent. With the help of some hard work and good luck, I'm hoping this current one will be the one that seals the deal.

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  26. I've been wanting to write children's books for a while, and have just started. It's exciting, but the illustrations are probably going to take some time...

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    1. I'd imagine so. I can hardly draw stick figures myself, haha. Best of luck to you, though! And thanks for dropping by the blog. :)

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  27. Even though I am reading this post 1 year and 3 months later... I want to say Thank You. It is a very inspirational post and I need to just keep motivated towards my goal of being a published Author and will be signed by an agent one day :) I need to stop procrastinating finishing it and actually finish writing it (Because no one can critique how awesome/not awesome it is if it stays in your imagination right??)

    Thank you again Stephanie! This is on of the many reasons I follow your blog :)

    Chanzie @ Mean Who You Are.

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    1. Aw, you're welcome! I'm so glad you found it inspirational! Good luck on your writing journey :)

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