Graduation Follow Up – Spring 2020

Amy Leigh Harden (top left), Lisa Daly (top right), Emma Gibson (bottom left), Jennifer Smith (bottom right)

Jessica Conoley: Your class blew me away because regardless of the pandemic and it feeling like the world was falling apart around us everyone was so committed throughout the entire four months we worked together. I am so impressed with the level of focus and determination you all showed, especially throughout March and April.

You all chose CLARITY for your class name, which I absolutely love because I believe we need terrifying clarity about what we want our writing careers to look like so we can make it happen. How did going through the class give you clarity?

Amy Leigh Harden: I started the class with only vague ideas of what I needed to do next in my authorial career. I had books written and edited but what next? Jessica’s class gave me the clarity to know what comes next and the encouragement to do the next steps: starting the search for an agent, developing a website, and getting a social media presence.

Emma Gibson: When I started the class, I was focused on the novel I am currently writing. One of the areas I found a lot of clarity was in thinking about where I would like my writing path to go next. Through the exercises Jessica sent us I realised what the ties are between all of my projects (they’re all about badass girls carving their own paths through life).Like Amy, the class has also made the non-writing aspects of writing so much clearer to me. Before this class, I had no idea how to go about establishing a presence on Twitter and now I have a roadmap for how to get started with my author social media pages.

Lisa Daly: This course helped me to be clear that I want to pursue writing strictly for the middle grade audience. I’m writing a story I really believe in and would like to continue writing more stories with these characters. Another clarity aspect is my need for better time management. Through this course, I’ve gained tools to have structure in place to make better use of my time to reach career goals. Jessica helped us explore our mindsets that block us from setting and pursuing career goals. My fear of success and fear of being seen as a fraud, blocked me from taking appropriate steps in my author journey. Now, I’m reading for fun knowing this is also part of my self-education thereby giving me more confidence.

Jennifer Smith: I had an idea of what I wanted to learn, and the gaps were more than filled in for me during the course. The exercises we did at the beginning of the class helped me realize where I really needed to focus my time and energy. I’ve gained clarity on my writing, editing, making my own schedule as well as the business aspect that I had previously avoided.

JC: Two months into class I threw out the challenge of beta reading a manuscript every two weeks and everyone said, “Yes! Let’s do it.” I thought you all were crazy–like straight up nuts, because that is a ton of work, there were still other assignments, and the pandemic had stolen a lot of my brains so I could not comprehend how you could possibly do it. But you did.  All of you completed four beta reads in record time, and that is beyond impressive to me.

How did you feel about the beta reading experience? (Includes: beta reading for others, having your manuscript beta read, & having the video calls to discuss your work.)

ALH: I adored the beta reading we did in class. I loved reading the novels that my now-friends had written and the discussion process was so insightful. Helping others figure out what worked and didn’t work in their novels, helped me identify and fix my own problems.

EG: I loved this beta reading experience! Having the feedback at the start of the week from everyone, then talking through and unpacking it together was so helpful. To sit on a call with a group of amazing women who all had thoughts on how to help me improve my novel and talk through my ideas was super helpful.

Beta-reading people’s novels was also great. They were all great fun and I learned something from everyone that I’ll be able to work on in my own writing.

LD: The beta reading experience was so helpful. Not many people are able to commit to the time it takes to read an entire manuscript. Getting to exchange beta reading with one another was such an important aspect of this class. I gained helpful feedback and encouragement when I really needed it. I respect these women and their opinions. I now have a support group that as a writer I really needed. Reading other’s manuscripts also helped me see what works and what doesn’t. The video calls were great to review the information that was sent beforehand and to have time to be prepared with questions about comments.

JS: This beta reading experience was tremendously helpful. Not only did I gain insight into revisions needed for my own novel, but I’ve improved my eye for revisions in general. The format was perfect. We received our feedback at the beginning of the week, then discussed the book later in the week via video call. It was very thorough and also allowed time for the author to process emotions, which is an important part to remember. As an added bonus, the books were all fantastic reads!

JC: What did your writing life look like at the beginning of this year, before CLARITY started? How is it different now that you’ve graduated from GAC?

ALH: I was always good at writing everyday but I ignored the important business side of being an author. Now I’ve got two mornings a week blocked out for business related matters and it allows me to focus on my writing without having guilt that I’m ignoring the other vitally important part of being a professional author.

EG: Before Clarity, I knew that there was something I needed to change in my novel, but I didn’t know what. Something was missing and I couldn’t put my finger on it. I knew that the next step after fixing that nebulous something would be to query, but I hadn’t thought any further than that.

After GAC, I am so much clearer on what my strengths as a writer are and I know what I need to work on. I also have a much more realistic idea of what the writing business entails and have set up a website and know how to get to know other writers online.

I now know exactly what I need to do to make my novel much stronger and that’s a great feeling.

LD: Before GAC, I was floundering and full of self-doubt about my current work in progress. It was easy to feel overwhelmed about all the changes I needed to make and not knowing where to start and whether it would make a difference. The road to publication seemed long and unclear. After GAC, I feel much more confident about my project especially after the wonderful feedback I got from these lovely ladies. I am clearer about the steps I need to take in my manuscript and on the marketing side of the writing business. My website has become more targeted to the audience I’m trying to reach. Understanding social media and how it can improve my platform has been amazing. I’m not alone in this challenging career and that is so wonderful.

JS: Before this course, I felt scattered with my writing career in general. I’d written books, gone through beta reads, and queried agents. With every new thing I learn, I realize how much more I don’t know. After completing this course, I am much more confident, organized, productive, and most of all, in charge of my writing career. I realize there’s so much more to being successful than just tackling the big stuff. Big or small, I feel like I now have the tools and habits to tackle each new step, and new writing friends to give and get support from.

JC: What’s the most surprising/unexpected/random thing you learned by going through class?

ALH: I learned of the importance of social media. I was overwhelmed by all the options and wondered if social media was even that important. Jessica led us through the options and gave us ways to streamline the process.

EG: There have been two things that have really stood out for me. In one of our early sessions we did two exercises focused on looking to the future. They taught me so much about where I want my writing life to lead me and also the steps I can take to get there. In the context of what’s going on in the world right now, some aspects of those essays (like sitting in a crowded library!) feel a little like a time capsule of what life was like before and what it soon will be again.

Another random thing I’ve learned through class came from our spontaneous decision to read a writing craft book together and the follow-up conversations we had. My novel is in dual POVs and through our discussions I realised that I needed to think more about both narrator’s motivations and experiences independent of the other. One of the great things with Clarity has been how Jessica and the group have led me towards realisations about my writing that it would have taken me far longer to make on my own.

LD: I didn’t realize how Goodreads would take care of two needs at once. It helped give me a way to track the books I have always wanted to read. I love to shop in bookstores and dream of one day reading these great books, but I let other things in life take up my time. Now, I’m actually reading and loving it. What a luxury. I never thought I had the right to enjoy it. Also, I’m fulfilling my need to be more educated in the techniques of good writing. I’ve heard advice for writers to read, read, read. I have read, but in the past I’ve read more nonfiction than fiction. Now, I’m reading books that inspire me to write fiction and to enjoy the talent of other authors and to apply those techniques of setting, characterizations, and plot. Yay!!! I get to track all this on Goodreads and discuss books with other readers. This also helps me make contacts with my targeted audience for my work in progress.

JS: I’ve learned a ton about myself and how much my own mindset has come into play with how I approach writing and the industry in general. With the right attention to mindset and intentions, I now have the tools to move forward confidently in ways I didn’t realize I was struggling with before.

JC: Final question.  What was your favorite part of GAC? Anything you want to say to authors who are considering signing up for the next session?

Amy Leigh Harden: I had high hopes for the class and they were surpassed. Not only did the class help me with my writing and the business side of being an author but it kept me focused and productive during a pandemic. I’m walking away from the class wishing it didn’t end. My takeaways though are invaluable … a new set of critique partners, a polished manuscript, a plan for social media, and a professional website. Take the class! Everything Jessica does is professional and top notch — this class is no exception!

Emma Gibson: GAC kept me writing during the challenging early weeks of the lockdown here in England and the experience of talking to a group of other writers every week, same time and same place, has been so valuable. Jessica teaches you the lessons you’ll need to make your writing shine and at the same time you’ll meet some fantastic people. I can’t wait to see what everyone in the new Clarity critique group writes next!

Lisa Daly: It’s great to know our group will continue our conversations by email/Zoom, and other social media to support one another. We have also read craft books together and shared insights. I highly recommend this class mainly because of the coach, Jessica Conoley. Thanks Jessica, for your professionalism, humor, and vulnerability. You bring compassion and hope to a writing world that can be harsh and impersonal. Having a writing career takes a skill set that goes beyond good writing and Jessica brings all that into play. I’m so thankful I could participate in this class with Jessica at the helm. Her weekly assignments covered all the aspects needed to create and maintain a successful writing career.

Jennifer Smith: Anyone considering this course would not regret taking it. Jessica incorporates the individual needs of each member in her lessons, then her lessons go far beyond that. I loved how encouraging and supportive Jessica was as she shared her wealth of knowledge. I have new tools and habits, confidence in all aspects of my writing career moving forward, and the invaluable friendships that have started through this course.

Amy Leigh Harden


Twitter:  @amyleighharden

Instagram: @AmyLeighHarden

Emma Gibson


Twitter: @emgibsonwrites

Instagram: @emmagibsonauthor

Lisa Daly


Twitter: @lisadaly46

Facebook: @lisalitledaly (Lisa K. Daly) author page

Jennifer Smith


Twitter: @Jen_D_Smith

Instagram: @JDSmithAuthor

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