7 Things I've Learned So Far, by Jody M. Roy

This is a new recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers at any stage of their career can talk about seven things they’ve learned along their writing journey that they wish they knew at the beginning. This installment is from writer Jody M. Roy. Jody M. Roy, Ph.D., serves on the Board of Directors for the National Association of Students Against Violence Everywhere. One of her books include Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead: The Frank Meeink Story.
Author:
Publish date:

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,”where writers (this installment written by Jody M. Roy, author of AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A RECOVERING SKINHEAD) at any stage of their career can talk about writing advice and instruction as well as how they possibly got their book agent -- by sharing seven things they’ve learned along their writing journey that they wish they knew at the beginning.

Image placeholder title

Jody's most recent book is Autobiography
of a Recovering Skinhead
, the story of Frank
Meeink, a white supremacist who changed his
ways and now speaks on diversity.

1. It’s about your writing, not you! It’s very easy to take editors’ and reviewers’ comments personally; in fact, it’s natural. But if you allow yourself to bog down in emotional reactions to the comments, you won’t grow as a writer. I give myself a set time-frame: no more than 24 hours to fume. Then I set my emotions aside and get to work.

2. Editorial notes are both an immediate to-do list and a long-term lesson plan. I first transform editorial notes into a very specific checklist for my work in the coming hours or, as the case may be, weeks. Then I dive into the work, one tiny to-do at a time, until every single item has been completed. If I stop there, I make my editor happy. However, if I take the process one step farther, I grow as a writer. Once I’ve completed a round of revisions, I cull any editing notes that are not completely unique to the work at hand and rewrite them into guidelines that will inform my future projects. Over time, I internalize the lessons and develop new skills.

3. I am the expert on the content, which means I cannot be the expert on the clarity. Whether I’m writing scholarly arguments or developing characters in creative nonfiction, I know my content intimately. As a result, I know what I mean, and that means at a certain point I am incapable of assessing the clarity of the piece, of knowing what critical information I’m leaving out, of judging the work’s accessibility for my target audience. After years spent inside a topic area or storyline, an author loses the ability to do a “clean” read of their own work because they fill in the gaps automatically. I find that the more experience I gain as a writer, the farther into the revision process I can take myself, but there always comes a point past which I need other people’s feedback, in particular to gauge the clarity issue.

4. If a cut doesn’t hurt, it’s not deep enough. I wish this weren’t true, but it is. A piece is always stronger after a good pruning. If an argument, character, scene, or individual word isn’t necessary, if it doesn’t contribute in some way to the overall purpose of the piece, it needs to go. In revising Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead: The Frank Meeink Story, 180 pages were sliced (yes, you read that right: pages, not words!) from the original draft. It about killed me, but those cuts streamlined the narrative, focused the characters, and, ultimately, made the book accessible to a wider audience.

5. Save your creativity for the manuscript; the query letter and proposal must conform to industry norms. An agent once commented that a proposal of mine was “fantastic.” I shared with her my “secret”: I bought a copy of Writers’ Market and followed the directions for how to write a proposal. Writing a book is a creative enterprise; presenting a book to agents and publishers is not. Do your homework to learn the conventions for proposals and queries, then submit only what an agent or publisher requests, not one word more.

6. Schedule writing time. Some people work best in short, daily increments. Others need long blocks of time. Know what works for you and then schedule your life around that pattern. If publishing is your goal, writing must become both your priority and your routine. Of course, some days the words simply won’t flow, but that’s no excuse not to work.

7. Create rituals. Some writers are as superstitious as major-league pitchers. I am one of them. I don’t believe my rituals work magical mojo on publishers (I wish!), but I know they help me focus and persevere, so I keep doing them. I have a particular pattern of laying out pages-in-progress while brewing coffee before I get to work in the evenings; that routine signals my brain to switch gears into writing mode. It’s not so much mystical as habitual. Another ritual I swear by is this: When I begin the submission process, I tape a note card to my computer screen that says, “No doesn’t hurt.” Whether I’m trying to place an article or sell a book, that note card does not come down until I sign a contract.

Image placeholder title

Jody M. Roy, Ph.D., (pictured with Frank Meeink)
serves on the Board of Directors for the National
Association of Students Against Violence
Everywhere. Her publications include
Autobiography of a
Recovering Skinhead: The Frank Meeink Story
as
well as
Love to Hate: America’s Obsession with Hatred and Violence.

Image placeholder title

Are you a subscriber to Writer's Digest magazine
yet? If not, get a discounted one-year sub here.

Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:

Image placeholder title

Want to build your visibility and sell more books?
Create Your Writer Platform shows you how to
promote yourself and your books through social
media, public speaking, article writing, branding,
and more. 
Order the book from WD at a discount.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 570

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a summer poem.

How I Sold the Cover of My Latest Book as an NFT and What I Learned

How I Sold the Cover of My Latest Book as an NFT and What I Learned

When faced with the difficult task of promoting his novel Catch 42: A novel about our future, writer Felix Holzapfel had a wild idea: Why not use non-fungible tokens?

Bridget Morrissey: On Taking the Leap from YA to Adult Fiction

Bridget Morrissey: On Taking the Leap from YA to Adult Fiction

Author Bridget Morrissey explains the differences in her process for writing her first adult debut, Love Scenes, compared to her YA novels, what she wanted to explore in adult fiction, and more!

WD Poetic Form Challenge

WD Poetic Form Challenge: Awdl Gywydd Winner

Learn the winner and Top 10 list for the Writer’s Digest Poetic Form Challenge for the awdl gywydd.

Kara Holden: On Adapting a Person's Life for the Screen

Kara Holden: On Adapting a Person's Life for the Screen

Screenwriter Kara Holden shares her experience with writing the script for Clouds on Disney+, and how she decided what moments of her subject's life to include in the film.

4 Tips for Setting a Novel in a Place You Don’t Know Well

4 Tips for Setting a Novel in a Place You Don’t Know Well

You want to write your story in a place you're not familiar with, but how can you do it justice? Kim Hooper, author of No Hiding in Boise, has some tips.

Alka Joshi: On Allowing Characters to Inform Your Sequel

Alka Joshi: On Allowing Characters to Inform Your Sequel

In this article, historical fiction author Alka Joshi explains how the characters from her first book inspired the sequel, The Secret Keeper of Jaipur, and how their story managed to surprise her.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: Magazine Cover Reveal, Literary Agent Boot Camp Announced, and More!

This week, we’re excited to reveal the cover for our upcoming July/August issue of Writer’s Digest, a Literary Agent Boot Camp, and more!