Thicken your skin

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In the past, we talked a little about prepping for rejection.  This post is along the same lines. I recently became a member of a community (Book Country) where you can post chapters of your work for people to read and review. I was totally excited to get real feedback from people who don’t know me and weren’t afraid of hurting my feelings.

I posted several chapters of three different projects I’m working on. In the beginning, it was good! People liked things but gave good constructive criticism on how I can improve the story, make the characters stronger and less cliched, etc. I felt really good about the responses and energized to make changes and edits.

Then I got a review on my favorite story.  The commenter didn’t say anything particularly harsh. They didn’t say I shouldn’t quit my day job nor that my writing was a joke.  They didn’t say the story was dumb, in fact they thought it was an interesting concept. Not too bad, right? Until they started saying my dialog needed serious work and suggested how I could make some major changes to the main character.  For some reason, the dialog comment really hurt.  I consider the dialog one of the strong parts of the story and others have backed me up on that (without my prompting, I promise).  I think it’s realistic and does a good job at showing the characters’ personalities. For this person to say, in not so many words, that it sucked, HURT.  It put me in a serious funk and I did not feel like writing. I was second guessing myself, questioning if I really had any story telling talent at all.

Yes, it was a bit exaggerated and all drama queen on my part, but I was surprised at how hard it hit me when other comments didn’t cause the same kind of reaction. Logically, I know that not everyone is going to like what I write. I  may not be up to award winning writing skills, but I know I’ve got something special not everyone has. I know that others have been very vocal in how much they enjoy that particular story.

So what do I do to keep such a funk from setting in? I have to thicken my skin. I have to remember that you can’t please everyone all of the time. I have to look for the good points and take the bad with a grain of salt. I have to remind myself that these people are trying to help and they may have a point but that most definitely doesn’t mean I suck or should stop writing.  I think I’m going to leave little notes of inspiration around for myself. Feel free to use some of these in your own skin thickening, motivation pushing quests.

“Constructive criticism =s growth”
“All books on the shelves went through re-writes.”
“You’re special dammit!”
“At least your characters love you, even when you kill them off.”
“Piotr Nikolaievitch Rasputin has skin of steel, do you?” (bonus points to you if you get this reference)
“If you don’t finish writing, your characters will haunt you in your dreams.”
“If you don’t write, the voices in your head will take over & you’ll have to change your name to Sybil.”
“You really only need one person to like your work and that’s you.”
“Writers do it literally.”
Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.  Cyril Connolly”
Neither man nor God is going to tell me what to write. James T. Farrell”
“Forget all the rules. Forget about being published. Write for yourself and celebrate writing. Melinda Haynes” 
“My purpose is to entertain myself first and other people secondly. John D. MacDonald”
“Writing is the best way to talk without being interrupted. Jules Renard”

“The work never matches the dream of perfection the artist has to start with. William Faulkner”

“I am irritated by my own writing. I am like a violinist whose ear is true, but whose fingers refuse to reproduce precisely the sound he hears within. Gustave Flaubert”
“Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards. Robert A. Heinlein”
 
 
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6 responses »

  1. Oh I feel your pain on criticism. It can hurt but taking a moment to lament the bad is a good thing I think. Get it out! Slump back and do nothing as you think of what the person said. Let yourself feel then get over it and consider what the person said.

  2. I know my writing is far from perfect, so criticism shouldn't be such a big deal to me. I'm not sure why this particular comment struck me with such a force. I got over it 😛

  3. And remember Lincoln: you can't please all the people all the time. I love reading Amazon reviews to see the varied reaction published work receives. Of course it hurts. But it's not going to stop you, I can tell. That's what counts. Good luck.

  4. I think maybe some issues we know deep down we have to work on, and when someone flags them up we think, “Fair point, I can do better. I'll give it another go.”

    To receive criticism on something we thought we had done well, on the other hand, really stings and I think we are justified in curling up and whimpering for a bit before deciding whether it is something we need to take on board.

    You got over it, and that's the main thing. You deserve mega brownie points for putting yourself out there in the first place. I hesitate because I know I'm still too thin skinned to deal with it in a suitably grownup fashion.

  5. Thanks Rosie 🙂 Let me know let you know, the perk to posting online and having complete strangers comment on your work is that if you want to throw a fit when you read their comments, they will never know! You can curse up a blue street, call them all sorts of names, throw things, tear paper, whatever. Then you calm down and take a 2nd look and see what you can work with and what you can blow off. It's something that has to be done to grow as a writer and really it's just helping to prepare me for those rejection letters that are bound to come in.

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