Five Lessons Learned with R.J. Fox
Ann Arbor-based author R.J. Fox’s ('00 B.A.) website bio starts with three sentences consisting of a total of four words: “Writer. Filmmaker. And such.”
In many ways, it’s that last part — the in-betweens, the struggles, the detours — that have shaped him the most. We caught up with the 41-year-old on the heels of publishing his third book, Awaiting Identification, to talk about some of the wisdom he's picked up along the way.
1. Get the right day job.
People think because I have three books out I must be rolling in the dough. But the reality is even a lot of big-time authors still teach college because they make so little from their book sales. If you can, find a sweet spot that melds the “day job” and “dream” together. For me, it was teaching film in high school. And because film has probably always been my biggest passion, it never feels like something I’m doing just to support my dream.
2. Get good at rejection.
I tell my students all the time, those who succeed probably failed the most. Every time you send out a manuscript or a script, you can’t do it fearing failure. I’ve almost developed a gambler’s mindset about rejection. It’s like I think that if I just keep trying, eventually it’s going to work. So each rejection is like a door that closes, but it helps you hone in on the path that’s still open to you.
3. Good ideas are persistent.
I’m usually working on multiple things at a time, and at a certain point, I’ll latch onto just one of them. Or it will latch onto me. When it’s really clicking, there is no struggle; it’s just like I’m the vessel for the writing. That’s when you know you might have something special.
"I tell my students all the time, those who succeed probably failed the most."
4. Put in the work.
I’ve met a lot of people who say they want to write a screenplay or have an idea for a script. But an idea isn’t really anything until you execute it. A lot of success is simple will power.
5. When not to set your mind to it.
My grandma was very inspirational to me. She worked at Ford, and she really wanted me to be an engineer. She even sent me to these Saturday morning technology classes at Ford, but it was so beyond my interest. On the other hand, I had this 10th grade teacher who saw potential in me as a writer — so much so that she passed along one of my journals to a friend of hers. Later when I met her friend, she was, like, “Oh, you’re the writer.” And that just set this spark off in me that changed the way I thought about what I wanted to do. So putting in the work is important to achieve your dreams. But you have to set your mind to something you actually feel moved to do — not something somebody else said you should do.