Gain inspiration from the journey of a first-time author who transformed her dream of writing into a reality by taking bold action. Merideth Hite Estevez’s success story involved launching a captivating podcast and partnering with a coach (yep, that’s me!) to develop a winning strategy.
Her talent and tenacity helped her build a robust platform, create a winning book proposal, secure an agent, and land a publishing deal in just a few years. Although she felt like it took an eternity, that’s fast.
Follow her story and be inspired to pursue your own writing dreams with confidence!
- Here’s the program Merideth mentions in the video (we worked together to complete her proposal and set her up for success): https://annkroeker.com/yourcompellingbookproposal/
- Merideth’s website: artistsforjoy.org
- Merideth on Instagram: @artistsforjoy
- Merideth’s free resource, 3 Ways to Love Your Inner Artist
- Merideth’s Creative Clusters using The Artist’s Way
(Transcripts are reviewed and lightly edited.)
I’m Ann Kroeker, Writing Coach. If you’re tuning in for the first time, welcome. If you’re a regular, welcome back. I’m sharing my best skills and strategies to help writers improve craft, pursue publishing, and achieve their writing goals. On today’s show, you’re going to get a glimpse of a first time author’s journey from idea to a signed contract with a publisher.
Even better, she’s a creative coach herself, so it’s like you’re getting two coaches for one.
You’re going to love meeting Dr. Merideth Hite Estevez.
Merideth Hite Estevez
Dr. Merideth Hite Estevez is a spiritual space-maker for artists as an oboist, writer, coach, and educator. Her podcast Artists for Joy was an Award of Excellence Winner in the 2022 Communicator Awards and is in the top 2% of podcasts worldwide.
She has served thousands of artists in communal creative recovery with her popular support groups around Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and serves artists of all disciplines through her writings, workshops, and one-to-one coaching services. She holds degrees in oboe from The Juilliard School and Yale University and is a Certified Start with Heart Facilitator through Graydin.
As a trained coach, she runs a thriving business helping creatives of all disciplines looking for a more joyful life. Merideth has performed with top orchestras in the US and abroad, including the MET Opera and PhillyPops and is currently the English hornist/Second Oboe of the Chamber Orchestra of NY. She has served on faculties of numerous universities and schools of music, most recently as Associate Professor of Oboe at University of Delaware.
When she’s not creating or teaching, you’ll find her attempting to speak foreign languages with a southern accent while traveling with her husband Rev. Edwin Estevez, daughter Eva, and son Eli. Her first book, an inspirational guide to the creative life, is forthcoming in 2024.
Merideth, welcome. We’re so glad you’re here.
[00:02:03] – Merideth Hite Estevez
Hi, Ann. Thanks for having me.
[00:02:04] – Ann Kroeker
Now, that’s an impressive bio. I’m amazed at all of the things you juggle, and in the middle of it all, you managed to land a contract to write a book.
And I would love it if you could give people a simple summary of this crazy journey you’ve been on. Can you just summarize it? And then we can go into detail of what that looked like.
[00:02:26.780] – Merideth Hite Estevez
Absolutely. Yeah. It feels like a really, really long journey.
Like many of the people listening to this, I have been writing all my life. My mother was my elementary school librarian. And so writing was something that always was around. I took a lot of creative writing classes in college. But as you heard from my bio, I always had a beeline on being a professional oboist. All my concentration and focus was on music. And so I didn’t really believe that I could be a writer.
I got through college and got married and started having kids and really, especially during the pandemic, felt this new found rumbling that I needed to write. And I really felt like artists needed support, especially in that moment during the pandemic when everything shut down.
I had written a small blog that nobody really read, but I had developed a little bit of a writing routine before 2020. But I remember sometime in April of 2020, I bought a microphone and I started podcasting, and it was really writing for the podcast that began my drive and started to become a reality that I wanted to write a book.
[00:03:36] – Merideth Hite Estevez
And so what I did was realized that I needed a coach and I needed support. I needed somebody to tell me because I felt so equipped in the world of music, but I knew that there was “insider information,” quote unquote,” that I needed to know to get it traditionally published.
And so I found you, thank God.
And I just looked back through my emails and it was February of 2021 that I signed up finally after hesitating at my keyboard for months and months to sign up for coaching and to purchase one of your courses on how to write a non-fiction book proposal.
After that I realized that I needed to focus on having a baby, because a few months later I had my son. And that’s when I was like, “Ann, I need to pause, because I need to have a baby.”
So I had a baby and all during my maternity leave, I was really thinking about the book and the thoughts about what it would be about were just sitting there while I was feeding him and up all night.
Fast forward, a couple more months after maternity leave, I jumped back on the coaching wagon.
[00:04:39] – Merideth Hite Estevez
I went through your course, your compelling book proposal, which walked me through step by step, exactly what to do.
We worked on the proposal. And that spring I started pitching to literary agents.
And an amazing thing happened. All during that time, I was continuing to produce my weekly podcast. And I had a listener reach out because I finally admitted to my podcast audience that I wanted to write a book, and a couple of weeks later, one of my listeners wrote to me and said, “Hey, my husband works at one of the big five publishers. Would you like some guidance on your book proposal?”
And I was like, “The more guidance, the better.”
So that just goes to show that yes, writing a book proposal and finding the right teammates is really important, but it’s also important to keep writing and to publish something weekly because that person helped me.
I had my book proposal ready, thanks to you. I sent a draft to that guy and he gave me some tips and he gave me some names of some people and it helped open a door or two.
And I found a literary agent that summer, in August of 2022.
[00:05:52] – Merideth Hite Estevez
And then we decided to grow my platform a little more over the summer. And I put a lot of effort toward social media, and then we decided to pitch. The proposal was ready and we decided to pitch in October of 2022.
And then, oh man. Everything slows way down at that point, at least in my opinion, because you send the emails and you’re sitting there waiting for them to tell you yes or no.
And some people said no—many people said no—and a few people said yes. And so my agent and I have been in the process of going through the offers. We had multiple offers, incredibly, and we’ve been going through them. And then by the time this interview goes live, I will have signed the contract and I’ll be crazily writing the first manuscript. So, yeah, that’s it.
[00:06:41] – Ann Kroeker
That’s an incredible timeline. I know you said things slow way down, but what you just described…let’s just go back, you said 2020 was that spark of, “I think I want to write.” And you had the idea for the book, but it sounded like, I just want to get my words out. And that’s when you got going with the blog and then the podcast, right? Am I remembering right? It was in 2020. I mean, that’s really not that long.
[00:07:03] – Merideth Hite Estevez
Well, the blog I started in 2017, but it was like a slow burn. And it literally was like some weeks I would write. In 2020 was when I really started weekly producing something online.
[00:07:16] – Ann Kroeker
Okay, so that’s interesting to me and I think to anybody tuning in: you committed with the dream—would you say it was a dream or a goal at that point in 2020 when you started showing up every week?
[00:07:30] – Merideth Hite Estevez
I think it was a dream, but I knew enough about the publishing industry to know that I needed a lot more of an “audience” to prove that I could sell my book. I knew enough to be dangerous because if you listen to any interviews, they’ll be like, “You need 100,000 followers.” And so it felt like a dream instead of a goal because I was like, “How am I ever going to get there?” And by the way, I’m not there yet.
[00:07:54] – Ann Kroeker
And I think it’s important for people to know that you did all this. You got this. And you got it with not these wild numbers. But you did work at it and grew the numbers.
[00:08:06] – Merideth Hite Estevez
Sure. Absolutely. Yeah. The growth.
Many people said this throughout the conversations I was having with publishing professionals and with you, that growth—engagement—is more important than the bottom line, adding up all the numbers and showing that you not only have people there, but that there are more people showing up every month, every three months. How much has it grown and how are the people engaging? Are they clicking? Are they purchasing? Are they commenting? Things like that.
That was always something I really enjoyed actually connecting with the people that were there instead of dreaming about the people who might be there.
[00:08:43] – Ann Kroeker
I had a great distinction between those two types of people. Was there anything that you feel like this event, this activity, really helped me turn the corner toward my goal?
[00:08:59.570] – Merideth Hite Estevez
I think that I started using Instagram ads.
I actually heard an interview recently where someone was like, everybody knows that social media is a “pay to play” thing now. And I was like, “Wow, really?”
I have found ads to be really helpful. And some people might consider that buying followers because you are paying. But for me, the way I see it is when I put $6 a day for five days behind a podcast episode that I believe will really serve people and help people, it allows Instagram to put my work in front of the people that will benefit from what I’m writing.
And so it’s not just that I’m paying for people to follow me. I’m paying Instagram to find the people that could benefit from my work and get it in front of them. So they’ll click and then they can engage if it’s right for them. And so that’s how I see it.
And the Instagram ads have been… I’ve gotten better, too, at making… I’ve noticed which ones are making my follower count go up.
The Artist’s Way, which is the book by Julia Cameron, that’s really a huge core of my online community and the community that we’re building online.
[00:10:14] – Merideth Hite Estevez
It is a hugely popular book. And so a lot of people follow the hashtag #theartistsway or Google “Artist’s Way” groups. And so between ads and really using ads to promote The Artist’s Way courses and workshops that I do, that has caused the biggest growth in my platform.
[00:10:33] – Ann Kroeker
And it does connect to your book idea as well?
[00:10:38.070] – Merideth Hite Estevez
Absolutely, yes. They tell you not to put a best seller in your comps on your book proposal. But I think that my work has been so… That book is such a phenomenon. I mean, it really, truly is. And it allows me to… We talk about psychographics. The readers of my book are the people who read The Artist’s Way. I think that doesn’t work with every book, but it’s been useful for me, and we just attract just the right people to participate in the stuff I offer.
[00:11:12] – Ann Kroeker
Can you tell us about your book?
[00:11:15] – Merideth Hite Estevez
My book is about how to find joy in the creative life, how to debunk the tortured artist stereotype, and to live joyfully and creatively.
I offer a little bit of my story, a little bit of the stories of people that have been in my workshops who have experienced creative recovery.
I got to the end of 12 years of college, like you read in my bio, and I was so burnt out and creatively lost. I had no idea how I was going to go and play music for the rest of my life when I didn’t even enjoy it. And I was “at the top of my game.” I had done everything right as a perfectionist, and that was just it.
I had no skills for how to do the really, truly the spiritual work to recover my creative impulse and to continue creating with joy.
And so the book is the book I needed when I was standing there on the street with my Juilliard diploma in hand. And it’s really a coaching resource for creatives.
[00:12:21] – Ann Kroeker
I can’t wait to read it myself. And I’m sure everybody tuning in today cannot wait to read it as well. And it’s very much in line with your author brand, if you will, using that phrase, because you have a podcast called Artists for Joy.
I mean, it seems like that’s the fire in you. That’s what you want to infuse in others or pass along to others is: we can do this creative work with joy. And I love that, reviving that in people.
[00:12:52] – Merideth Hite Estevez
One thing that I think you said to me that has really resonated deeply was asking the question: How can you pour into people? How can you serve them in your work?
Not how can you sell to them or how can you market to them, but seeing work as outpouring from your deepest passion and deepest desire to make a difference in the world.
And that’s really helped because it has been a lot of, of course, with publishing and music and any art form, there’s going to be ups and downs, right? You’re going to experience failures and rejections, big and small.
When you see it not as the thing that’s going to confirm that you are worthy and valuable and loved, but instead you see it as I have something I know that could help people and I believe would make a difference. And here: I’m going to pour it out.
That’s been a huge shift for me. And I love that line of discussion when you were sharing that with others.
[00:13:49] – Ann Kroeker
So it sounds like you’ve had to really live out the message of your book as you created the book itself. Kinda meta, I guess.
[00:13:55] – Merideth Hite Estevez
Unfortunately, or fortunately, yes. I think you told me once, you’ve seen it happen many times that whenever you’re given a book idea, then you’re called to live that out in your real life. You’re going to be testing your theories.
[00:14:13] – Ann Kroeker
And? How did your theories test out or prove themselves?
[00:14:16] – Merideth Hite Estevez
Of course, they’re working. And this is where when I hear the word “prescriptive nonfiction,” which is the genre that I’m working in, I want to cringe because… And as a coach, I know what’s right for me may not be right for you.
The purpose of coaching would be, “Let’s discover what you need and only you know that.”
And I think that we can sell or share or serve those readers of non-fiction who are truly looking for solidarity, advice, support. And by sharing what’s worked for me, you could find something and translate it to what works for you. And so that’s how I make that right in my mind because otherwise I’m like, it sounds gimmicky. It sounds like an infomercial.
[00:15:04] – Ann Kroeker
I heard another coach say, yes, we call it prescriptive nonfiction in the publishing industry. So if somebody’s hearing that for the first time, that’s what we refer to as any book that is helping people, even if it’s not “prescriptive,” even if it’s not “do this and you’ll have this outcome,” even if it’s not a “four-step plan” or whatever. We still just call it that in the industry.
She renamed it—just for purposes of helping people envision a different way—”transformative nonfiction.” And I feel like that fits more what you’re doing.
And even though the publishing industry might not use that term, I love it internally for a person to just, “Ah, that’s what it is. Yeah, I’m taking it from here to here because that’s the transformation I experienced. I went from here to here.” Or, “That’s what I help others experience like you do as a coach. Take them from here to there.”
[00:15:54] – Merideth Hite Estevez
I really struggled with that in writing my book proposal. Remember? I don’t know if you remember helping me edit it, but that desire to stay away from gimmicky language and yet the need to sell the book to the publisher in a paragraph.
And I realized, and it was probably you who realized this and you showed it to me, but I’m writing the book for that person, for that person who’s having that exact same conversation in their own mind.
How can I find the balance between marketability and creativity?
Does one have to be “king” in every situation?
I think in the book proposal, it says this book is for the artist or the writer who is wondering where their voice is in all the marketspeak and the voice who feels squelched by marketspeak.
I was like, “Yes, Ann, thank you.”
That’s why you have a coach, my friends, because they will help you translate yourself for the market.
[00:16:55] – Ann Kroeker
Well, we need language to talk about our ideas so that other people can talk about our ideas.
And it starts with that, well, for you, for every writer who’s moving toward traditional publishing—but actually I would argue toward self-publishing as well—you need a way to talk about it.
We need a way to articulate it in a way that sticks. And people go, “Yeah…”
And then for the traditional path, you need to be able to give that language to an agent so the agent can use that language to “sell it,” so to speak, well, literally, yes, to the acquisition editor.
Then the acquisition or acquisitions—the AE—can then take that language and sell it to their team and then onward to the pub board.
And if you can get that language right in a way that feels right, and that’s where you are struggling, can I get language and the language is basically what resonates with the reader.
In the end, it all plays out for the reader, if you can put language around it so they can say, “That’s it. That’s what I want. That’s what I need. That’s what I’ve been looking for for so long.”
[00:17:57] – Ann Kroeker
And now they can talk about it in groups of writers or with their writing buddy or with their group of musicians they practice with or whatever—I know you don’t work exclusively with writers.
And so, yes, I think that it is worth it to do that hard work to land on the language that feels right and good because in the end, you’re giving exactly what the reader needs and wants, whether they realize it or not, which is a way to talk about their situation so they can experience transformation.
[00:18:25] – Merideth Hite Estevez
That was a lot harder than writing the whole book. I mean, it really was. The marketing and promotional materials in the book proposal were the hardest part for me. And the back cover copy and the little things that need to be short and quippy and still feel like they’re me.
[00:18:42] – Ann Kroeker
Yeah. And I think what you said about—actually, it comes back to that Instagram ad that you were talking about. You said earlier that it sounds like you’re paying for followers, but you’re not.
You’re merely presenting an opportunity to them. You’re paying to have it presented to them. They still get to make that decision.
And all that language you just described, it’s the same thing:
“I’m presenting you with an opportunity to walk through this book to experience transformation. And here’s what it would look like if you were to buy this book and read it. Here’s what it would feel like to move from chapter one to chapter whatever your last chapter is and get at the end and feel like, ‘Now I know that this…”
It sounded like they might come at it feeling like, “I’m living that tortured artist life, but I don’t want to live that way. I’ve lost my joy and I want something different.”
And so that language is not sales tricks or gimmicks at all. You’re merely saying, “Look, if this is where you’re at, I’ve been there. And if this is where you want to be, here’s where you could be in a path to that, that’s contained in this book. And I offer it to you as a gift.”
[00:19:48] – Ann Kroeker
You didn’t use that language, but that’s the goal of it.
I think the best marketing is honest marketing.
But then doing the hard work as writers of finding the right words, and you did that.
You did that hard work. And then when you do that upfront, it becomes easier to write the whole book, too, even though I think you did it in the other order, maybe writing the book and then finding the language. But either way, it’s bringing clarity.
[00:20:12] – Merideth Hite Estevez
Absolutely. And I would think that the whole process of doing, I just want to reiterate that from beginning to end, it was the weekly podcasting where I found what I wanted to actually talk about.
So if you’re waiting to start a podcast or to start a blog or to start a Substack or whatever it is, if you’re waiting because you don’t know what you want to talk about yet, don’t discount the learning that will occur while you’re doing it.
And all the great, important information that you will gain about who’s reading and who it resonates with and what it resonates and what specifically, what’s thread of what goes to where and helps people in this way or that.
If I could go back, I would say that to myself: “You’re going to learn so much. And some of it is going to be scary and some of it is going to be embarrassing. But all in all, it’s going to account for exactly you’re going to find your people by doing the work.”
And that has been so fun. It truly has been fun and joyful.
[00:21:14] – Ann Kroeker
I love that. You find your people, you also articulate your ideas, which is what you said, and you find your ideas.
In the process of doing those two things, showing up, finding your people, testing your ideas, you’re basically validating the whole thing as you go.
In some cases, maybe in a way, you’re building it as you go. “I think in the book, I might want to talk about this. Maybe I’ll bring that up in tiny form and talk about it for 10 minutes on the podcast and see how people respond.”
There’s a validation that happens at the same time. But you didn’t maybe consciously go into it that you’re like, “I want to talk to writers or artists,” right?
[00:21:51] – Merideth Hite Estevez
Right. Yeah. And with the book proposal, too, I was like, okay, I don’t know what I’m doing. But by the end of finishing the proposal and having you walk me through and edit it together, I realized that I had basically written the book already. I mean, it truly I had.
And the book proposal provided so much clarity around all of it. And none of the work in that is wasted, even though that’s not going to be published anywhere. That work in that book proposal was so integral in the whole project.
[00:22:24] – Ann Kroeker
Exactly. It’s the plan that you’re going to follow and what you’re promising to the publishing house that you’re partnering with.
“This is the plan I am going to follow from beginning to end. Here’s what’s going to be in it. Here’s how I’m going to promote it. Here’s what I’m going to do before and here’s what I’ll do during and after the book’s release.”
And so it’s your plan. But then within that is the content, which is that framework, whether you call it a four-part framework or not, it doesn’t matter. It’s just like that. This is what’s going in the book.
And yeah, if you do all that hard work, then yes, it’s much easier to write the book because you have something to follow that framework to follow for your book. And it’s a lot of work up front.
How long would you compare the time that it took to build out those pieces? You said you didn’t really love marketing plan and all that, versus the book’s framework: the table of contents, chapter summaries, the pieces that really reflected what was going in the book.
Would you say it was 50/50 the amount of time that it took to build those, or do you remember?
[00:23:19] – Merideth Hite Estevez
Yeah, that’s a really interesting question. Well, if you remember, we had the realization that my chapters were way too long, and so my book was going to be like 100,000 words, and that’s way too long. So I think we had to redo the structure a couple of different times together as we were looking at the word count and what we wanted to say.
But yeah, I think that the book structure—by the time I got the marketing really clear…and I keep going back to the back cover copy because, we wordsmithed that however many words it is, how many words is the back cover copy?
[00:23:53] – Ann Kroeker
It’s usually about 250 words. [Note: It’s really only about 200 words]
[00:23:55] – Merideth Hite Estevez
Yeah, I mean, that’s nothing. I probably spent three days on that thing.
But once I did that, I was like, I got it. I got it. And then I took that clarity back to the shape of the book. And then the chapter summaries were just like, boom, boom, boom.
So yeah, I would say, yeah, 50/50. And much of my book had already existed in a lot of different places on my computer.
And so it was truly like a puzzle of like, “Does this go here?” And, “Oh, I think we need actually new one here.” And so it wasn’t like I was starting like, “I’m going to write a book about X and starting from scratch.” It was like I had the idea in my head already.
[00:24:33] – Ann Kroeker
Like you were assembling from previous copy. What were those things? Were they messages you had given as a speaker? Were they just journal entries? What were the little pieces and snapshots?
[00:24:46] – Merideth Hite Estevez
They were mostly podcasts, but my podcast format is a little different than the book, obviously. There’s a listener question part of my podcast, which isn’t going to be in the book, but the category or framework umbrella of a particular podcast idea was already written.
And then I’m editing now, I’m going back and I’m writing the book now. And I’m seeing firsthand how much I’ve learned not just about my topic, but also about writing and how I’m shaping the book much differently than I shaped the writing in its original format, which was for spoken for audio.
I’m learning that my writing chops have gotten stronger, and of course they have. But I wanted so badly to be perfect when I arrived, Ann. I don’t know if that’s coming through.
But that’s why I’m writing this book because I just want everyone to know that, like Julia Cameron says, “The desire to make great art keeps us from making art.”
And so it’s so important just to get started and get going. And it’s okay if somebody has to come behind you and tell you you’re using the wrong word or the wrong comma or whatever. So yeah, I’m seeing now as I go back and edit those previous existing blog posts and podcasts into a book that is something totally different, even if the idea was there originally.
[00:26:05] – Ann Kroeker
Would it have been easier if you had started from scratch? You built your idea out, you built the framework in the chapters and the chapter summaries, you envisioned it and then just wrote from scratch? Would that have been easier than trying to assemble it?
[00:26:16] – Merideth Hite Estevez
I find myself deleting quite a lot and doing that paragraph by paragraph, but I don’t know yet.
I have a second book that is in the mix right now that we’re working on pitching and talking with people about. And so the second book will truly be… The idea is there, but it’ll truly be more from scratch. And so part two of this podcast will be me coming back and talking about whether or not that’s easier.
[00:26:43] – Ann Kroeker
That’s a great idea. I love that because I think that is a curious thing. I think most people don’t have source material from their life other than maybe journals.
And I feel like I’m thinking of another person I work with, and it is so tempting to get into those journals. And next thing you know, you’re spending three hours looking at something from 1997, and you’re not doing the writing. Is there really gold there?
But maybe there is. And so I think that would be another interesting topic to see what’s there. Yours are not journals. Yours were already written with an audience in mind, which already tightened it up. It wasn’t just free form. It wasn’t Morning Pages to borrow from Julia Cameron. That’s not where you’re pulling from, right?
[00:27:25] – Merideth Hite Estevez
No, we’re not supposed to let anybody ever read those anyway, by the way. That’s the rule.
[00:27:31] – Ann Kroeker
But there could a nugget in there. There could be a nugget.
[00:27:33] – Merideth Hite Estevez
Well, for sure. And this is where the chapter summaries really come in handy because I pull all this word vomit, sorry for the phrase, but I pull all this highly unedited raw idea that had been published. I just talked out loud in my podcast without much editing.
And then I go back and really look for what the chapter summary said we were going to do in this chapter, and then make that happen in a way that feels like a through line through the book, if that makes sense.
[00:28:03] – Ann Kroeker
Yes, it’s corralling the idea. And that idea has to support the big idea of the book, the big premise, the big thesis of the book.
And so each chapter has its own thing. And then those all feed into the main idea.
So if you sprawled in your podcast beyond the scope of that chapter—that’s what I’m hearing you say—then you would just trim that out. It gets to live still and help people in its other form, its original form. I have a quick question, though. Do you not use a script of any kind then for your podcast?
[00:28:31] – Merideth Hite Estevez
No, I read from… I write an essay and then I read it on the podcast.
[00:28:36] – Ann Kroeker
Okay. It sounded like you were just talking.
[00:28:37] – Merideth Hite Estevez
Okay. Well, but I don’t overly edit and sometimes I go off script.
And you encouraged me once in our coaching session like, “Are Your Podcasts transcripts online?”
And I’m like, “I can’t publish what I have written that I’m saying. It’s so messy. The words are misspelled and the little red squiggly lines are everywhere. I can’t publish that.”
But eventually you convinced me to do that for SEO purposes. But yeah, it’s a script, but it’s loose. And the more I do it, actually, the looser it becomes and the longer the episodes become.
[00:29:11] – Ann Kroeker
Which is fun. We get to know you better and you’re feeling more comfortable in your own voice. I love that. Do you have anything that’s really surprised you about this journey from… And let’s focus maybe just on the publishing journey, but you can include the writing journey because that’s all part of it. That’s part of the journey is your writing and moving toward publishing. What’s been the most surprising thing along the way?
[00:29:30] – Merideth Hite Estevez
I know that not everyone experiences this. So let me first name my privilege that this process has actually been pretty okay. So if you’re listening to this and you’re like, “Wow, that was not my experience.”
I just want to encourage us all when we experience rejection to look for the goodness in the rejection.
That’s what surprised me that even the rejections are good because they have information for me. And sometimes there’s a compliment in there like, “Well, I thought Merideth was a wonderful writer, or a beautiful person, or a bright whatever, but the book is not organized well.”
Or “I felt that I don’t really agree with her scope, or I think she’s trying to do too many things.” One person said that and that’s really useful. That is really useful information.
And to know that they read my words, I am so grateful for that. I am surprised by how much joy it brought me to know that this great editor who I respect deeply, their team read my words. Even though they said no to my words, I am surprised at how much joy there is even in the rejections.
[00:30:46] – Merideth Hite Estevez
And I hope that it will always stay that way. I think as the stakes get higher and higher, it will probably be harder to say that. So remind me of this later, Ann.
[00:30:57] – Merideth Hite Estevez
What surprised me is that when people read my words…even if they give me a pass, even when they say “pass” on my book idea, it really, truly, it gives me information, it gives me clarity, and it brings me joy.
[00:31:10] – Ann Kroeker
When you’re just getting started, that is really hard to do.
And the fact that as a first-time author, you were able to go ahead and lean into that, feel the sting of “They don’t want me,” but know you’re in the game and you were doing the work of taking the risk…
You put yourself out there.
Because you never get a rejection if you don’t share anything.
But you are sharing it and you’re getting that incredible input.
Thank you for sharing that. I think it will be very, very important for people to hear to say that: Take what you can. That would be the gift that could help you change it, improve it, or grow as a person.
You may never know the answer to this, but why do you think they chose your project—and consequently you—as opposed to any other people writing about creativity?
[00:31:59] – Merideth Hite Estevez
I’m instantly thinking about all the people who didn’t choose me and all the reasons they gave me why!
I think that my writing is really vulnerable.
And I think when you read my bio or you meet me, people often say, “Oh, you’re so confident and you’re so successful with a capital S.”
And I feel like it’s a really important part of my story to know that things are not always as they seem. That there’s more to a person than what they do or how they perform.
I try to be really honest and real about that because I have achieved a lot of things and gotten a lot of degrees, and I know that none of that gives me a feeling of worthiness. That’s not where my worthiness comes from.
That’s really the core of the book. It’s that when we base everything on our performance, we will come up short because we can’t always perform well and there’s always going to be somebody who’s better.
I think they chose me because that is a compelling message because I think people think, “Oh, if I could only go to Juilliard or if I could only get a full bride or go to Yale, then I would be it…
[00:33:09] – Merideth Hite Estevez
Then I would make it and then I’d be happy.”
I think that is a message that people need in any field, not just in music.
I also think that people like music.
In the book, the whole metaphor of the book is a musical metaphor. I think a lot of people enjoy music and like music but don’t have a way in to talking about music in a way that… Because they automatically feel insecure or they don’t have knowledge.
And so I think that the topic to write a book about music is I think that’s an intriguing thing. Somebody said that. “I do love music but I don’t like to read books about it because a lot of them are so cerebral or boring or heavy, or I can’t break into them because I don’t have any music training.”
So I think it’s probably those two things: the vulnerability of my story and the lens through which I see the world, which is musical.
[00:34:01] – Ann Kroeker
And even though, well, your book uses this musical analogy, but you apply it then more broadly: any creative person can borrow these metaphors to use it to apply to their work as a dancer, a painter, a writer.
[00:34:14] – Merideth Hite Estevez
There’s a quote that’s like, writing about music is like dancing about architecture.
And the quote has a couple of different… We don’t know who said it. It could be many people. But anyway, it’s an interesting idea.
I think that’s one reason why I love writing about music, but about visual arts. And if you listen to my podcast, you know I like to write. I like to dip into all these different art forms because I think so many of us are all trying to find words for that spiritual thing we experience when we’re creating.
So yes, it is a musical metaphor, but it’s not a book for just musicians. And there’s lots of visual arts metaphors and writing metaphors in there as well. I’m a big metaphor person.
[00:34:57] – Ann Kroeker
That’s incredible. That’s part of that finding the language is also finding the imagery that we can then bring to our minds when we’re in different moments of the creative process or the creative journey or the creative frustrations we may encounter on our path.
Much earlier in this conversation, you said that along the way, when you started your podcast, you said that doing that had all sorts of consequences. Some of them were embarrassing. Do you have a story of how you’ve embarrassed yourself, perhaps publicly through some part of this process?
[00:35:30] – Merideth Hite Estevez
Oh, I have many. I have many. And you all are going to go and quickly listen—I didn’t take the episodes down either.
So I am from South Carolina, and I have always grown up with this fear of looking stupid or sounding stupid. And I made the joke in my bio about trying to speak foreign languages with a Southern accent. And I was taught that my accent was not good and was wrong.
And when I lived in Germany and I was trying to learn German, I had to work with the phonetics teachers extra long because none of my vowels were pure. They would say, say, “eh,” and I’d say, “Ayyyy.” Every every a vowel was a diphthong.
So anyway, how this relates to my being embarrassed. I struggle with pronunciation of words. I think because of my insecurity about my accent and just the way I read, I don’t know, I’m just really insecure about that. And when you’re a podcaster, you need to say the words right.
So one of my first episodes, a listener wrote in and was giving me feedback or something, and I answer listener questions. And I read the person’s listener question, and I think the word was “soldered.”
[00:36:39] – Ann Kroeker
Like where you’re taking the heat and making things stick together?
[00:36:42] – Merideth Hite Estevez
Yeah, like making jewelry. And soldered, how do you spell soldered?
[00:36:48] – Ann Kroeker
I think it’s like S O L DER. Is that right? Soldering, it looks like.
[00:36:54] – Merideth Hite Estevez
Yeah. And so I said soldered, and my dad, who was pretty much the only listener to my podcast at that point, was like, You mispronounced the word soldered. And I was like, Oh, my God. I want to die. I want to crawl under the table and die.
And then another time I said, just by accident, that… So there’s a famous piece by Johann Sebastian Bach called the Goldberg Variations. It’s the name of a piece. You may have heard it. It’s a beautiful piece of music. And I called it the Goldenberg Variations, and I didn’t catch it in editing. So yeah, those are the pronounciation—the pronunciation—it’s just, yeah, that was embarrassing.
[00:37:33] – Ann Kroeker
And why did you leave them up? If they were that embarrassing, or what is there to learn from that, for us to learn from that?
[00:37:42] – Merideth Hite Estevez
In the next episode, after the whole soldered situation…first of all, in England, they don’t pronounce it soldered, right? So I made a joke out of it. In the next episode, I said, “And I’d thank you to a listener, my dad, who corrected my pronunciation of the word soldered, and I did a little reading…”
So I leaned into it. And I think I go back to vulnerability. I think it’s so important to be real and to show yourself making light of things. I think that feels real. That felt really important. So yeah, those are just two. The other more embarrassing things I did take down.
[00:38:19] – Ann Kroeker
That’s good, too. I think we should feel that freedom with our digital efforts. Until it’s put literally on a page and printed and put in print, we can still change it and take it down if we need to. So we don’t need to get into whatever was that embarrassing to you.
But I do also feel like this vulnerability seems like a straying from your personality that worked so hard to be the best top and everything at Juilliard. Does that sound like I’m seeing you change? Is that an indication of your change?
[00:38:50] – Merideth Hite Estevez
A huge part of the book is seeing that shadow sister of perfectionism is shame.
I have worked really hard in my own personal work to resist shame and to be an unshamable person, meaning that I don’t equate how I perform or how I act or what people think of me with my own worthiness.
And you can still work hard and achieve great things and publish books and get followers. You can do all that without equating it with your value and without it affecting how you wake up and feel about yourself every day.
That has been the crux of the work I’ve been doing since I started writing and since I started working with other artists. It’s very freeing. It frees me from the weight of my whole life.
So yeah, that’s why I want to write the book because I want to help people.
[00:39:45] – Ann Kroeker
It sounds like a life practice, but is there any advice for how somebody might do that, to separate the achievement from the worth so that whether they achieve or not…
Because looking at you, I mean, honestly, Merideth, you’re achieving everything. You’re getting everything. You did get some rejections along the way, but in my timeline of watching others land contracts, yours has been an incredibly accelerated path, even though you may not feel that way.
You got it. You got everything. You got the agent, you got the contract, you’re writing the book.
Next thing you know, you’re going to be on bestseller lists. That’s what we do hope for that, too.
But how did you manage to do that? Then how can somebody who’s not achieving end up in the same safe place or healthy place that you’re describing?
Any ideas or advice on how to at least get started on that process?
[00:40:36] – Merideth Hite Estevez
Well, in a quick sound bite, let me solve all your problems.
No, but I joke about that. But it is really truly it’s a lifelong pursuit. I’m still working on that.
To you it looks like, “Oh, my gosh, you’re so successful.”
But see, that in and of itself is not… It almost doesn’t matter the way I seem to other people because in my old self, my mind was a toxic work environment. And so no matter what I achieved, it was never enough and it was never perfect. And I could always find things that were wrong about it.
So I think the first step to not equating your value with your performance is to first realize that the instrument is you.
Meaning you can put your thumb on yourself all the time to make yourself work harder. But if you’re not taking care, really good care of yourself in terms of your health, your psychiatric health, your mental health, your physical health, like, are you sleeping? Are you eating? Are you fueling your body with food and really treating yourself, like Julia Cameron says, treat yourself like a precious object and it’ll make you strong.
[00:41:45] – Merideth Hite Estevez
And so the first step is to look at your creative impulse and your desire to make things that you care about as separate from you.
And the instrument of the act of making something is it all relies on your own health.
The first thing in every coaching call I ask, what did you have for lunch?
How good are you at taking care of you and reparenting yourself and your inner artist and your inner artist child?
That’s really the first step is to look how’s the self care and how are you really, truly doing, even the hard things to make your life better?
[00:42:25] – Ann Kroeker
And maybe the second step is to sign up for coaching with Merideth.
[00:42:30] – Merideth Hite Estevez
Well, I love coaching because as I’ve seen from working with you, it isn’t that you need your coach to know everything and to fix you. A great coach—and Anne Kroeker is one—a great coach is somebody who helps you figure out what’s best for you and realize you’re capable of all the things that you want to do.
It’s just a matter of naming it. And finding the steps to make it happen. And moving the obstacles out of the way one by one and having somebody give you the skills and the gift of peace of mind and clarity that a coach can give you.
It’s Ann. Just hire Ann.
[00:43:12] – Ann Kroeker
Oh, man. Well, I think there is a principle here. We’re mutual admiration society here. Me bragging on you, you bragging on me. But in the end, I think it goes all the way back to the beginning when you realize you needed help to do this, to move toward this goal. “I want to try to get a book published. I don’t know what I’m and so I need to get somebody in there.”
I think what you’re saying here is, yeah, and also the inner work that you’re struggling with, if the thing that’s holding you back, it may be present in 90 percent of artists who struggle with different degrees of questioning themselves, doubting themselves, etc. The toxic work environment of our inner self.
When we’re there, go get the help you need.
I think there’s a principle there I’m sensing is like, don’t wait to get the help you need when you’re knee deep in the mess of trying to do your own book proposal with a little template you found online.
Go get the help you need. So you have the thing you need to move forward faster because you really accelerated your timeline.
[00:44:11] – Ann Kroeker
Or if you’re trying to create art, go get the instruction, the teacher you need so that you stop making all the errors over and over again, but you learn the technique you need and you can move forward faster. But alongside that, you do it in a way that’s not self destructive. “But I have to do it perfectly.”
Am I summarizing it?
[00:44:31] – Merideth Hite Estevez
Yeah. And that brings up a really good point. Sometimes finding the right help means breaking up with your help.
There are so many people I coach who have had toxic teachers, toxic mentors, toxic parents.
And sometimes you carry the weight of all that baggage of the negative inner voices that they have programmed in your brain. And sometimes finding the right help means taking care of yourself so much that you know this is not the right help for me.
And so I need to leave this school or I need to leave this relationship. Yeah, that has been a huge part of it. Finding help and finding the right help.
[00:45:09] – Ann Kroeker
Is there anything about your publishing journey that has changed the way you coach people?
[00:45:15] – Merideth Hite Estevez
Yeah. I mean, you told me that it was going to take a long time. Not just from hearing back from people via email, but from when you sign the contract to when the book comes out. And there’s this long period, I remember you explaining it to me that there’s a year that will go by where you don’t hear much at all, more or less.
And so I think it’s helped me with coaching in that it’s given me a new perspective on time and having to encourage people—and get better at this practice myself—to sustain interest and motivation and hope over really long periods of time and to do that in a way that feels healthy and again, doesn’t begin to start being like, “Well, I still haven’t heard back and so I can’t eat today or I’m really stressed.”
How do you sustain engagement and hope in the creative process without it eating you alive?
That process, going through that where I had to wait three weeks before somebody responded to an email, it’s made me a better coach because it’s encouraged me to help people see time differently and maintain their creative hope.
[00:46:34] – Ann Kroeker
And creative practices and healthy practices, I’m hearing infused or mingled in there where like, “Eat your lunch!” And “Go get a counselor or somebody who can help you on your emotional struggles, to work through your emotional struggles,” and so on. So it seems like there’s all these layers that every creative person needs to be attentive to.
[00:46:53] – Merideth Hite Estevez
Yeah, you’re a person and we’re complex. You’re not just the writer. And writing can feel like therapy. It can be therapeutic, I guess is the right word.
And it can also be a place to ruminate and spin around in a spiral down.
And so the idea of using writing and creative practice as a way to process, but not a way to stay stuck in your tortured artist mindset.
[00:47:21] – Ann Kroeker
Well, that’s a good word. I suppose we need to wind things down at this point. So what would be some of your last little bits of advice or encouragement to anybody who is hearing all of this, maybe wondering where to start or how to keep going? You’ve said so much, I don’t want you to have to repeat yourself, but how would you like to leave your interview here?
[00:47:46] – Merideth Hite Estevez
Well, two things.
Let me start with the first one is set a deadline. And I don’t mean necessarily like, I need to have a book published by the time I’m 40, which was my goal, by the way.
But there’s so many things you can’t control about that. And so setting a goal in that way, that’s not a super helpful goal, but a deadline. So set a deadline for yourself every week to share or write or do something creatively.
You need a deadline. You need a structure.
I know I’ve done a lot of talk against discipline because I tend to be a very disciplined person and discipline has factored into my perfectionism and my shame. But the disciplined act—and maybe a better word is devotion—devotional act towards exercising your creative impulse every week.
And whether or not you publish that online or make a podcast or share it with somebody, it doesn’t even really matter.
Having that deadline that occurs will create a container for you to grow. And that weekly process of doing that over and over and over and over, that is how things are achieved is by charging the battery bit by bit by bit.
[00:49:01] – Merideth Hite Estevez
So that’s the first thing.
The second thing would be—and this is in the book, so you can read more there, but—the idea of naming what matters to you in the form of an oath or a creed.
If you have beliefs about the creator of the universe or the creative power within you, if you have beliefs about that, if you know where your worthiness comes from, if you have a quote or two of some great artists that really resonate deeply, write it all down, make it into an oath and a creed that you can return to when you feel lost.
That’s something that I’ve been doing in workshops in preparation for the book with artists, and it’s going to be featured on my podcast because so many of us, like, we believe in coaching, we have all the answers that we seek within ourselves.
And the act of writing out what you believe creatively—what you believe about your creative act—is a really powerful way to set yourself straight when you’re feeling lost.
So the artist’s oath and set a deadline.
Those are my two things.
[00:50:04] – Ann Kroeker
So practical and powerful and deep and rich. Thank you for that advice.
When is your book coming out? Do you know yet? Maybe you don’t know.
[00:50:13] – Merideth Hite Estevez
I don’t know, but it’ll be in 2024. Sometime in 2024.
So, yeah, we can put the link for the book in the notes for this whenever it is coming out. I would really love it if you guys would join me in that journey and read the book and let me know what you think of it. I also really love feedback.
[00:50:34] – Ann Kroeker
Yes. And actually, they don’t need to wait for the book to start following you and getting to know you and learn from you and be coached by you because you have free resources and of course, other ways that they can connect with you. Can you share some of the top places they should say “hi!” and start following you?
[00:50:49] – Merideth Hite Estevez
Absolutely. So I hang out most on Instagram. My handle is @artistsforjoy. That’s plural, @artistsforjoy. And the FOR, not the number 4.
I share in stories a lot on Instagram. I love to encourage people there. And the podcast comes out every Friday. Yeah, I also have a free download, three ways to love your inner artist. And you can find that on my website, artistsforjoy.org.
[00:51:31] – Ann Kroeker
Go find Merideth, everyone. Be changed, be encouraged, and eat your lunch.
We are so glad that you were able to be here and to just pour yourself out to people who are tuning in and seeking to be transformed by creative work and while they’re doing creative work. And you’re the person for the job. Thanks so much for being here.
[00:51:55] – Merideth Hite Estevez
Thanks for having me.
[00:51:56] – Ann Kroeker
I’m so glad you got to meet Merideth. We’re hoping this interview helps you find vision for your publishing journey and joy for your creative journey. I’m Ann Kroeker, cheering you on as a writing coach in your ear.
Everywhere we may meet—at my website, on this show, or even in person—I’m always looking for ideas to share with you that will help you achieve your writing goals and have fun by being more curious, creative, and productive. Thanks for being here.