Writers — Develop a thick skin!

Do you remember how you felt the first time you confessed to someone that you wanted to be or was a writer? Did you heart pound and your palms sweat? Mine did.

Develop a thick skin if you want to be a writer.

Becoming a published author almost seemed too lofty a goal for little old me to aspire to. What would people think? Would they laugh at me? Scorn me? Ask me why I thought I could ever be successful?

When you made your proclamation saying you were an aspiring writer did the words tumble out in a torrent of excitement or did you choke them out, fearful that one day you would be forced to eat them, a bitter morsel?

Chances are, after a while your friends and family get onboard with your plans and even inquired about your progress or encouraged your efforts. And that’s a good thing. Because after you’ve overcome that initial fear of telling others you want to be published, you actually have to put your work out there for critique and for submission, and then you really need to toughen up and not let the barbs of critiques or the arrows of rejection take you down—at least not if you want to be successful.

Take heart. Be brave. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Find a quote or a verse of scripture that will speak encouragement to you. I know some writers who have inspirational quotes tacked up in their writing area or committed to heart. Bible Gateway or Quote Garden are good places to find words of emotional sustenance. This verse kept me writing and writing.

When you first expose your writing for someone to look over, be brave and be humble. Just because you arranged words together on a line, doesn’t mean that you’re going to get the next big literary prize—not even if your mother/spouse/best friend/child says so.

Putting your work out there for critique requires you to be humble enough to take suggestions and comments. One thing I’ve discovered is that you can’t defend your work. When I hear someone who submitted work for critique begin to defend or explain their work, then I know they’re still pretty green. They don’t want anyone to change a word or tweak a sentence. But the truth is, when your work is finally published, you won’t be able to sit alongside your reader and explain every scene. If your first readers don’t understand what you’re trying to say, then rewrite it.

Sometimes it’s hard to receive a critique, but it doesn’t kill you. You’ll be okay, the sun will still shine, and you’ll still be loved and respected by those who care for you. Our agent Rachelle Gardner wrote down her thoughts about being thick skinned on her blog. Take a look, be encouraged.

It’s difficult to hear negative words about the story you labored over. If you’re frustrated, that’s okay. Take a walk, call a friend, and write more words. Just keep moving forward. But don’t be too discouraged, there are always (or there should be) good points raised during a critique.

Becoming published won’t happen if you don’t work at it. Remember, some people dream of success, while others actually do the work to accomplish success. So write on!

What advice do you have to overcome the pain of critique/rejection?

43 Replies to “Writers — Develop a thick skin!”

  1. I’ve always said you have to have the hide of an armadillo to be a writer, Megan. I see you’ve gone the rhino route.
    So, so many good points in your post. I enjoyed peeking at your inspiring verse. Here’s one that I have over my desk: “Anything I’ve ever done that ultimately was worthwhile … initially scared me to death.” (Betty Bender, motivational speaker)
    As far as overcoming the pain of critique or rejection: I let myself sulk. I just do it in private.
    And I put a time limit on it–and get back to writing.

  2. It’s taken some time, but I have gotten to the point where I can accept constructive criticism of my work, even to the point of being able openly solicit and welcome it. What I’m not ready for is scathing, mean-spirited, personal attacks, such as I see too often in book reviews — or that occurs from “Christians” who merely happen to disagree with the author’s point of view but do so with hate and invective.

  3. You make an excellent point about how we won’t be able to sit down and explain things to readers! Overcoming pain of rejection…learn from it. Let it humble you and remind you of how hard you want to work. Then…get to work.
    ~ Wendy

  4. So true about not being defensive, Megan! I’ve been part of many critique groups over the years, and the writers who take input the best are usually the ones who go the farthest. It’s like life, I guess – if we’re coachable we usually get along a whole lot better. 🙂 The revision process is one of my favorite parts of writing, and I’ve watched many of my words fall to the wayside . . . and lived to tell about it.

    Thanks for a great post!

  5. Right on Megan! I think the first chapter of every book I’ve written has been chopped off and I’ve been asked to add a different chapter, which has always ended up making the difference. Thank goodness for those who are giving critiques in order to help us craft an even better book. Early on someone who had won a lot of writing awards said to me – any writer who won’t accept and use editorial help was a foolish writer wasting their gifts. Thanks for the post!

    1. I agree, Martha! Critiques and editors are vital components to being a successful writer. Well said!

  6. “When I hear someone who submitted work for critique begin to defend or explain their work, then I know they’re still pretty green…”

    The only caveat to this, I think, is that sometimes when things strike a reader differently than they were intended, it’s not that the idea behind it is wrong, it’s that there’s something faulty in the execution. We have discussions in our crit group along those lines sometimes, and I think there is room for a little give and take; otherwise you can’t ever get below the “this didn’t work” to the “WHY didn’t this work?”–which is, after all, the really critical part.

    1. That’s exactly what I meant, Kathleen. When a writer had to explain what they were trying to say not only is the writing weak but the attitude of the writer is not mature. It’s tough to hear that our words aren’t as pretty as we thought.

  7. Megan, good thoughts and practical advice. I have a small laminated card taped above my computer, courtesy of author BJ Hoff. I read her words often:
    “It matters not if the world has heard, or approves, or understands.
    The only applause we’re meant to seek is that of nail-scarred hands.”
    For writers, rejection goes with the territory. We have to remember why–and for whom–we write.

  8. I can so relate to how it felt to first tell someone, “I’m a writer.” It sounded flaky, but felt like home. I realized if I didn’t embrace it no one else would. Great advice on staying teachable and focused. Thanks, Megan!

  9. Don’t take rejection and criticism personally. Use what you learn to your best advantage and throw away what’s not appropriate and move on. Don’t ever stop. As you said, don’t dream of success, MAKE your work a success.

    1. That’s good insight too, Patricia–learn from the appropriate feedback but don’t assume all feedback is appropriate. We have to be discerning. However, discerning is not the same thing as being oversensitive. 😉

  10. I really appreciate your post. I know not everyone is going to love my work. I am new at trying to get published so I try to take all comments to heart. If I am doing something wrong I want to know it. If I am doing something right I want to rejoice. Sometimes it is hard to get people to read your work though. Thank you for your post. It has encouraged me.

  11. Thank you! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to kick myself in the rear to remind me that anything is possible – anytime – if I believe in myself!

  12. Don’t defend your work–superb advice. I can NOT defend my writing to just about anyone but my husband–and he’s probably the least likely to let me get away with a lame defense! I’ll learn one of these days . . .

    1. When I realize that I need to defend my work to my critique partners — meaning they don’t get it — I realize that I’ve given them a poorly written piece. It’s a reality check, and a good one.

  13. I so appreciate this encouraging and realistic post, Megan.

    The verse I am gravitating to right now is: “Be strong and courageous and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you.” (1 Chronicles 28:20). I find the writerly life to be a bit overwhelming from time to time — this verse reminds me to keep the faith, do the work, and remember that God is with me on the path.

  14. I have a desire to write but then there is the critique that shows up the flaws and the lack of plot or character development. Taking these comments as constructive criticism gives me motivation to keep writing and re-writing until there is a body of work that is substantial and worthwhile to readers.

  15. My brother, an independent film maker, read the first draft of the first anything I’d ever written. His words to me were, “You just pointed a gun at a piece of paper and shot.” I cried. I laughed. That’s when I KNEW I had no intention of giving up. I’ll also never forget the first “that a girl” he gave me.

  16. The hardest thing to understand when being critiqued is that those looking over your work aren’t trying to be mean or discourage you, they are trying to help. They want you to succeed as much as you do. That’s an important thing to remember. Don’t take it personally, take it as another lesson learned on your journey to your dream of becoming a published writer. Great post, glad I read it!

  17. This is a great post, Megan. It almost seems like a paradox to have a thick skin but also to be humble, yet both qualities are essential for writers, aren’t they? The way we improve is by accepting the critiques of those we trust and learning from them without letting them discourage us. Thanks for all the practical things you shared today.

  18. Great points Megan. I’ve had to develop a tough skin over the years. I was recently accused of being a pedophile in an Amazon review–go figure. I have come to the conclusion that there are a group of people who intentionally write vile reviews of any Christian books without ever having read them in an attempt to lower sales. It’s part of the spiritual warfare going on around us. Nevertheless, I’ve also come to the conclusion that if I am not offending at least some people, I’m probably not being used by God very effectively.

  19. Great post, Megan! I pray, pray, pray. The minute it leaves my hands, I pray for wisdom for my editor or crit partners. And I pray for God to start preparing my heart to be teachable and discerning. I just finished my macro edit on my first novel. God was faithful…again! First the gorgeous cover art and now I’m teamed with an amazing editor (Jamie Chavez). I learned so much and am so grateful for her help in making this book even better. I’m sure there will be times that won’t be this fluid, but I’m trusting God to be there for those times too.

  20. Every time I have to scrap an entire first chapter (and I have to do that a lot, it’s like the first couple jump starts before the engine turns over or something), I look at a Persian proverb I keep taped near my laptop:

    Now that the barn has burned down, I can see the moon.

    I understand it to mean that I have to destroy it in order to rebuild it, and I can’t see how beautiful it will be once rebuilt unless I destroy it first. It makes hitting the delete key less painful.

  21. Careful who you reference: I would wish I was a boy, everytime, we pulled up to her gate in Edmonds/Woodinville. If I was, I wouldn’t have to clean their houses. I used to clean these woman’s houses every other weekend since I was 12-20yo. She would always give my alcoholic, abusive, parent the check. That’s not including other jobs we had to work and fork the money over for. But at least the others intended the money FOR the worker w/o turning a blind eye.  

    I paid my rent, college, and have grown up. I am still at Awwww that no one stood up for my sister and I!!! 

    They are motivational speakers now! How can you exploit a young girls like that. How can you ignore young girls and treat them worse than your illegal immigrant landscapers. There has to be denial or something wrong. They never looked me in the eye…I can say that in the over 6-8years. 

    Women need to stand up for women!


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