To be a writer, we must have a thick skin, thick as a pachyderm, gray and wrinkly and drooping off of our limbs like armor. Unless you plan to be a secret writer who never tells a single soul about how you stay up late when everyone is asleep to scribble out metaphors before locking your words away from the light of day happy in the delusion that you are brilliant and your book will be found and published posthumously, winning you a Pulitzer. Delusions are good. Writers certainly need their delusions of grandeur. How else would we continue obsessively against the odds that we will ever make a living? But you need to hide those delusions under, you guessed it, a thick skin.
Column by Johanna DeBiase, author of MAMA & THE HUNGRY
HOLE: #4 IN THE WORDCRAFT SERIES OF FABULIST NOVELLAS
(June 2015, Wordcraft of Oregon). She is a freelance journalist and
writes from Taos, New Mexico. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing
from Goddard College. Her short fiction has been published in Portland
Review, theEEEL, Monkeybicycle, Convergence, Prick of the Spindle
and San Antonio Current, among others. Follow her on Twitter or visit her website.
Why you need a thick skin:
1. Inner Critic (IC)
We all know about it, we’ve talked about it, we’ve read about it, the little voice inside our head that tells us that whatever we are writing is no good and we should just quit now. I don’t know where this voice thinks it gets the right to talk all that nonsense. Does IC have an advanced degree in literature or something? Was IC abused as a child and is trying to take it out on us? Cycle of abuse is what that is. Break the cycle. Twist your dirty, pock-marked, three-ply skin around that IC’s throat and strangle it to death, once and for all. Simply stop listening. When IC speaks, tell it politely (or rudely, however you like) to be quiet because you are working and would prefer not to be disturbed.
Having our work critiqued is a necessary and unavoidable aspect of being a writer. If you are over-sensitive or too firmly attached to your writing, you will never be able to receive the full benefit of a critique, whether it be from an editor, a trusted friend, a book reviewer or someone in your writing group. Ego will always convince you that they are wrong and have no idea what they are talking about. Ego will assure you that your work is perfect and you will never benefit from their critiques. Or, more likely, ego will convince you that because you need to develop this character more or set the scene better in this paragraph that the whole story is worthless and should be tossed in the trash. Ego may even convince you that you are a terrible writer. This is when you can utilize your thick skin to keep ego out of the business of editing.
As for myself, I love the editing process. If I have an opportunity to break out the scissors and start cutting away at an inked white page, I’ll do it eagerly. If I have to write more content to make a piece better, all the better. So much fun! I might even go as far as to say I like editing more than writing (!) But editing my own work can be boring. I’m just seeing what I want to see, what I saw all along. I need those Fresh Eyes (band name?) to get in on the action and liven things up. So, I welcome the critiques from critics. The more criticism, the better my writing will get. Let’s rub that criticism all over our rough and prickly epidermis like an herbal salve.
If we want to get published, we need to get rejected. If you know of someone who has published without ever receiving a rejection, please put me in contact with them and I will personally crown them the Saint of All Writers. Sending out your work for rejection is just part of the biz. If a rejection puts you into a downward spiraling depression that causes you to give up writing forever (or a few days) then you haven’t been rejected enough yet. Okay, I’ll admit, there are those occasions where I am SO sure that I’m going to get this one publication to love my work and then they don’t send me even as much as a personal rejection and I feel like this might be the last straw. But it isn’t. It never is. Or I wouldn’t be writing. Instead, I use a rejection to push me to write and send out more. Activate thick skin apparatus. Thick-skin apparatus activated. YOU are not being rejected and the rejection does not mean that YOU or YOUR WORK are poor. It simply means that it wasn’t ready or right for that publication. That’s all. No biggie.
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How to get a thick skin:
Did you know that pachyderms, such as adorably ugly rhinos, have sensitive skin? True. It’s thick because it’s wrapped in folded lumpy layers so it’s less easily penetrated, but the top layer is super sensitive. Rhinos can get skin irritations if they don’t indulge in their favorite spa treatments, mud baths. We can take a lesson from pachyderms when it comes to the power of a tough epidermis and the importance of nurturing our delicate exterior with a little of that soothing earth mana.
1. Push yourself beyond your comfort zone.
To toughen up our thick skin, we need to slam our body against pointy branches and jagged boulders. I mean that metaphorically, of course. More literally, we need to constantly put ourselves out there, sending our best, most polished writing that we spent months working on into the harsh world to be slammed and flung back to us with little more than a form rejection. We need to share our work with the harshest editors we know and listen to their responses open-heartedly without crying or taking it personally. Eventually, it won’t hurt so much.
2. Write for the sake of writing.
Write because you love to write. If you don’t write for the love of it, then you’re in the wrong business because writing relatively stinks as far as professions go; you’re inside all day, alone, waiting (im)patiently to hear back from editors/publishers/agents and the pay is often minimal. I would suggest Marine Biologist or Wine Maker as optimal professions to be in. Writing in and of itself is the reward and it doesn’t matter what other people think of the finished product because it was important to you to write it. If you love writing, nurture your sensitive spots by continuing to write, lavishing in the mud of creative profundity and intellectual stimulus.
3. Remind yourself often why you want to be writer.
Something got you started on this path in the first place. Maybe you wanted to share your story to help others or maybe you had a story that couldn’t be contained. Maybe you read a book that inspired you intensely or maybe you have been in love with words since childhood. Reminders are all around you. All you have to do is read. Read a good book or an inspiring article, go to a poetry reading or sit in on a writing group. Anything that reminds you why you love the written word will work. If all else fails, feel free to indulge in any of the following: chocolate, coffee, sex, liquor, or videos of kittens.
Check Out These Great Upcoming Writers’ Conferences:
- Oct. 28–30, 2016: Writer’s Digest Novel Writing Conference (Los Angeles, CA)
- Nov. 19, 2016: Las Vegas Writing Workshop (Las Vegas, NV)
- Feb. 11, 2017: Writers Conference of Minnesota (St. Paul, MN)
- Feb. 16–19, 2017: San Francisco Writers Conference (San Francisco, CA)
- Feb. 25, 2017: Atlanta Writing Workshop (Atlanta, GA)
- Feb. 26–March 3, 2017: Writers Winter Escape Cruise (conference/cruise departing Miami)
- March 25, 2017: Michigan Writers Conference (Detroit, MI)
- April 8, 2017: Philadelphia Writing Workshop (Philadelphia, PA)
- May 6, 2017: Seattle Writers Conference (Seattle, WA)
- July 22, 2017: Tennessee Writers Workshop (Nashville, TN)
- Aug. 18–20, 2017: Writer’s Digest Conference (New York, NY)
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Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:
- 10 Keys to Becoming a Successful Writer: An Agent Spills Secrets.
- Agent Spotlight: Clelia Gore (Martin Literary Management) seeks Young Adult and Middle Grade.
- How I Found My Literary Agent: Sara Polsky (young adult fiction).
- Polish Your Work Before Submitting: 6 Revision Tips.
- Follow Chuck Sambuchino on Twitter or find him on Facebook. Learn all about his writing guides on how to get published, how to find a literary agent, and writing a query letter.