The Writing Life: Developing a Thicker Skin

The Writing Life Developing a Thicker Skin via @JanalynVoigt | Wordserve Water CoolerAfter I sold my first short story, every time I tried to write, I’d wind up staring at the blank screen until I gave up, often bursting into tears. This went on for a year, by which time I must have figured out no one was going to chain me to my desk and expect me to write on demand. I breathed easier and managed to write again, or at least I did until it occurred to me that my book project could fail. Sad but true, I had to get over both fear of success and fear of failure.

Both problems stemmed from the same stubborn root, caring too much what other people thought of my writing (and of me, by extension).

Being so shy didn’t help at all. I tried to hide the fact that I was a writer. Even close friends didn’t know until my husband started carrying magazines that contained my articles around so he could brag about his wife at a moment’s notice. He took my pleas that he stop for false modesty when they were in fact an attempt to protect myself from The Look. If you’ve been writing any length of time, you will know the one I mean. Eyebrows go up, eyes widen, and you begin to feel like a specimen in a laboratory.

I get The Look less often now that the e-book revolution has writers popping out of the proverbial woodwork, and when it happens my response has improved. My face doesn’t heat to blazing anymore, and I don’t yearn for escape.

What changed for me? I learned that having a thin skin isn’t something a writer can afford. Drawing your self esteem from the opinions of others at best makes you vulnerable and at worst misinforms you. Submit your writing to a critique group, and you’ll learn pretty quickly that while many opinions have value, not all are golden.

If you think taking a critique is hard, just wait until you go through edits. If you’re not familiar with the term, it’s when an editor or editors at your publisher house requests changes be made to your manuscript by you. It’s usually when you will question how you ever thought you could write. If you haven’t developed a thicker skin by this point in your writing career, trust me, you will. Having a sense of humor is an asset at such a time. I can’t say that edits for DawnSinger, my debut novel and book one in my Tales of Faeraven epic fantasy trilogy, were informed by mine. However, by the time edits arrived for Wayfarer, book two in the series, humor was in full force. You just can’t take yourself too seriously.

That’s a good thing, because the very next thing you face after publication is book reviews. Some writers refrain from reading reviews of their books. I admire such will power but I don’t possess it. I’ve read every review of my books that comes to my attention. I like to learn from them, even negative ones. Happily, I’ve learned to place my self-worth in the hands of the Author of my faith.

How do you handle critique/criticism of your writing?

7 Replies to “The Writing Life: Developing a Thicker Skin”

  1. Aloha Janalyn,
    I much enjoyed your post. I see thick skin as a natural consequence of putting your writing out for others to read. Not everyone will think your words worthy of awards – and if you write on a dead line, sometimes they are right.
    As to critiques and criticisms, I feel they are precious things – precious indeed. Not only did someone read my work, but they took time to suggest ways of making it better. Like my words, not all of the suggestions are award quality, but some are, and they are real treasures.
    Perhaps my attitude toward critiques and criticisms is a result of thick skin. I think it only natural. Write enough words and your skin will toughen.
    A Hui Hou (until next time),

    1. Mahalo, Wayne. I’m a former resident of your fair island state.

      Your attitude to critique is similar to my own. As a student of vocal music, I learned that singing softly to hide my mistakes only kept them from being brought to my attention, where I could correct them.

      A Hui Hou.

  2. I’ve read most reviews of my books, but after the last book I don’t think I will again. One reviewer actually said that the ending was predictable. ??? It’s a romance, of course its predictable. It has to have the happily ever after. The other ones were a bit cruel and said after reading my book to the end they asked for their money back. That’s like eating a meal and not paying for it.
    I’m done.

    1. Ouch! That sounds painful, Janice. As artists, we put our creative hearts on the line, don’t we? That’s a huge risk but preferable to the alternative, never taking a chance.

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