Developing a Thick Skin

Someone out there thinks this sentence sucks. It’s as sure as death and taxes, which as someone else has just correctly observed, is a cliche. Or maybe it was the same person. I’m less certain whether these people have a point or if I should edit my post to reflect their ideas, but if I want to improve as a writer I must at least remain open to the possibility.

If you just want to write for yourself, and there’s nothing wrong with that, then you may feel free to keep your skin as thin as you like, but if you have any aspirations towards publication, then you need to get tough. Published authors who fall to pieces every time they get a bad review will not survive in the business, and believe me, there will be bad reviews. And you’ll want to argue with them. I mean, seriously, did they even READ the book?

A thick skin doesn’t mean you feel nothing when someone tells you that your work could be better, or that you shouldn’t quit your day job, it just means that you know how to put these comments in their proper place. Destructive comments go in the trash. Constructive comments get filed away, to be acted upon if they resonate with you.

How do you toughen up? Well, for starters, have some pity on your inner artist and know yourself. Are you new to the craft, a little uncertain of yourself and your abilities? Did you just write your first ever piece of fiction and are now curious how it worked? Great job, by the way. That’s an awesome first step. Now, does your mother criticize everything you do? Don’t show it to her!

Eventually, you’re going to have to deal with your mother, or at least people like her, but I don’t believe in asking for trouble. Give your poor¬† inner artist a break. Be careful about who gets to see your early work (or as careful as you can be) and even later on, be careful who gets to see early drafts.

Your potential writing career has two distinct types of enemies. The first, and the more obvious of the two, are the ones who would cut you down before you even begin. You have no talent. (As if anyone is truly qualified to judge this trait.) Don’t quit your day job. These comments can be even worse when they come from people you care about — your parents, spouse, siblings, children, etc. Even if you believe that you are prepared for negativity, harsh destructive comments like these given in the early stages of your development as a writer can cause emotional scars that require time to heal. You can’t always avoid this and as your career progresses, someone will almost certainly say something like this to you or about you, but hopefully by then you will have built up your defenses.

The other enemy or your potential writing career is the liar. Wow, this is just really good. I love this story. You’re a great writer. Not that there’s definitely something wrong with saying any of these things if they’re true, but you have to wonder about people who say these like this with no suggestions for improvement, especially when you’re submitting early work. Don’t let pride get in the way of common sense here. You didn’t learn to walk in a day. If you let these people convince you that there’s nothing wrong with your writing, then how will you ever improve?

So try to find a good source of feedback, someone who will be honest without tearing you down, and then know, really know from the bottom of your heart, that you can be a better writer. Say it to yourself, just like that: “I can be a better writer.” Why yes, you have it in you to be a better writer. The draft you just sent off for feedback isn’t your audition for the great game of life, it’s just for practice. It’s not good, or at least not as good as it can be, but you CAN become a better writer.

As time goes on, you will begin to notice that, in fact, you are becoming a better writer. When this happens, your confidence will grow, as will your ability to accept rejection.

There will never be a time in your life when you gain universal acceptance or popularity, nor will there ever be a time in your life when you should stop listening to suggestions for improvement.  You can always become a better writer. You just learn to take what you can use and discard the rest.

That’s how you develop thick skin.

Posted in Tips for Writers.