The Thin-Skinned Warrior

I don’t know about you, but I make a face whenever I hear or read someone telling me I’d better have a thick skin if I want to become a successful published author.

To be fair, different people interpret those words “thick skin” . . . differently.

To some, a thick-skinned person is someone who doesn’t let snarky comments, snubs, or scathing critiques of his work get to him.

Just another day as a writer. Already forgotten. No biggie.

To others, a thick-skinned person might just be someone who doesn’t let the sun go down on his anger. Other people’s jerkiness and insensitivity might get to him, but by the end of the day, he’s shrugged it off and is ready to jump right back into the fray – maybe even with a better sense of what he needs to work on.

He’s taken any valuable advice hidden behind the snark and venom and put it to work.

For some of us, that takes longer than a few hours. Or a day. Or . . . a year. But we get there, eventually. I hope.

It does raise a question, though: how thick-skinned does someone have to be to not only survive but to thrive as a writer?

It depends, I s’pose – at least partly – on a writer’s long-term goals. Someone who only wants to publish one novel or a memoir might not have as much need of thick skin as someone who intends to publish books and novels every year for as long as he’s able – and to make a decent living by his writing.

Anyone who’s read enough of this blog knows I tend to take things personally. I’m not proud of it. Eventually, I come around and admit my own weakness and tendency to take things too much to heart. I’m a work in progress, and I would not describe myself as thick-skinned – unless I were trying to get a laugh.

But, really, how thick-skinned do I have to be?

And to ask a related question, how confident do I have to be?

How confident are you, if you’ve read this far? Would you say your confidence in your own abilities is what helps you overcome the temptation to take other people’s jerkiness personally?

Or is it something else?

What is it that enables you to look beyond the pettiness of those who seem to enjoy tearing other people down to make themselves feel more powerful?

Is it self-confidence? Or is it trust in Someone who, every time you fall, patiently helps you up when you call Him?

I see no reason, really, to trust my own abilities, though I intend to make the most of them. They will fail, time and again, as they have before (many times). My mind and my heart will fail me again, as will the rest of my aging body. God never will.

Keeping this blog has helped me to expose my own tendency to take things too personally and to dwell on perceived slights (even when made by people who don’t even know me). It has opened my eyes to my own easily-injured pride, and that has been a blessing, at least to me.

Of course, exposing this fault to my readers has been a cause of pain. It’s never comfortable to realize that I’m still as self-centered as I ever was; it’s more painful when I consider that everyone who reads my blog is, no doubt, even more aware of that.

Is it possible, though, that by writing this blog and recovering from my own mistakes, I’ve been making my skin just a teensy bit thicker than it was before?

Maybe.

Is it measurable, though, this thickness of skin that we’re supposed to believe is essential to success as a writer?

Or is it just a matter of passing some sort of test – or series of tests – that life puts us through, one at a time (or maybe more than that)?

How do you know if you’re thick-skinned enough to “succeed”?

Maybe it comes down to the habit of dusting yourself off and getting back to it. Time and again. No matter how stained and tattered your clothes have become from repeated encounters with obstacles along the way. You just keep going. Because the goal is worth it all.

What do you think?

 

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6 thoughts on “The Thin-Skinned Warrior

  1. I do think you need to be my definition of “thick skinned” to get anywhere as a traditionally published writer because you *are* going to get rejected and you *are* going to have less-than-five-star reviews. If either of those things will make you so despondent that you give up, writing is not a profession for you.

    I made the ‘traditionally published’ distinction because if you’re self-publishing you don’t have to deal with the rejection from agents and/or publishers. If you’re not publishing at all you don’t have to deal with rejection OR feedback.

    I think I’ve got a pretty thick skin now. Agent rejections didn’t bother me–even the first one. Negative critique only bothers me if it’s personal (me as a writer, not my writing) or if it’s blatantly false (like someone telling me something is impossible when I know it isn’t). In fact I much prefer negative critique to positive these days, because I can’t learn much from the positive.

    Confidence? That’s another issue. I’ve had lots of praise for my writing. Two agents liked it enough to become my representatives. I still feel that everybody who likes it is misguided and editors are going to say “lol what?” and use the MS as toilet paper. I don’t know what level of validation will ever be enough for me to say “I write great books.”

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    1. Oh, I agree that anyone who wants to publish their writing has to first realize that — if they hope to be traditionally-published — they will receive rejection letters. They will have to accept that not every agent and not every publishing house (and possibly none of them) will like their book. That’s a risk every writer has to be willing to take. Doesn’t mean we have to look forward to it, but I like Stephen King’s approach of seeing it as an opportunity to collect rejection letters and see how many he can accumulate (as proof that he’s getting his work out there), since they’re inevitable, anyway.
      As for negative reviews, I know we also need to accept that they’ll come, because we can’t please every reader. And some people are just meaner than others, so they’ll make their reviews extra stinky. I’m dreading most the reviews that echo the doubts I have now about my own writing. But you’re also right that we learn more from some of the negative reviews (excluding the ones by petty trolls who seem to take delight in insulting others) than from the overwhelmingly positive ones (“I love your book so much!! I wouldn’t change a thing!”) though I’m hoping for some of those, too. Can’t help it. 😉
      So, I agree to those conditions, though I can’t promise I’ll always be brave in the face of them. Some days, I can take the heat; other days, not so much. Some days, I can handle and benefit from criticism and laugh off petty attacks; other days, a single comment is the last straw that drives me to tears, even if that comment is well-intentioned.
      Thank you so much, Anna, for your thoughtful and insightful comment. Have a great rest of the week! 🙂

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  2. I take things too personally sometimes, and that’s something I’m working on. I don’t know if I’m thick skinned enough to be, say, JK Rowling level famous, but if for some reason anything like that were to happen it would probably be a gradual process of gaining more exposure and thus more criticism/etc, not a sudden skyrocket into the public eye and omg how do I process the fact that so many more people might not like me or my work.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If I were suddenly famous, I’d probably be freaking out — at least inwardly. Anonymity is good. I’m grateful for it, mostly because I tend to like people in small doses (and that’s usually mutual). I don’t want to hide from criticism, but it would be overwhelming to suddenly have as many reader reviews as J. K. Rowling or Hugh Howey. I’d rather have a more gradual process, too, where I can (hopefully) grow into it. No skyrockets. I wholeheartedly agree! Thanks so much for commenting!! Take care, and have a great rest of your week. 🙂

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  3. In my humble opinion, being open to critique and pulling the good and letting the bad pass over is a way to develop thick skin. Of course when someone critizes me I lament in my journal. Keeping an open mind that I could have done it differently but working through it safely in my journal. I do recomend if you don’t journal, try it. You’ll be amazed how it gives you perspective. Cheers

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I journal every day, which is my favorite daily writing to do. And I agree that it helps put things in perspective. I do rant in it sometimes, but I mainly use it just to sort out my own thoughts and make sense of them. I also agree with you that it’s important to keep an open mind when it comes to criticism — to test everything and retain what is good. Thank you for commenting, and have a great rest of the week! 🙂

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