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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Thick Skin

You've heard the phrase I'm sure, "Gotta grow some thicker skin..." or something to that effect. In the writerly world, growing thicker skin is directly connected to being critiqued, whether it be by fellow writers, readers or fans. It's an easy enough phrase to spit out, "I've got to grow some thicker skin and stop being such a baby!" but it's damn hard, no, impossible, to just do on command.

In my experience, there are a few phases of "being" that a writer must go through or experience in order to work on developing that thick skin.

Phase one: I've been a part of an awesome writing group for a little over a year and a half now. Before that I'd get crits from well-meaning family members who, although they plead otherwise, really are just biased ego-strokers. Ego-strokers are good and they do serve a purpose. We need those people to point out our talent and stoke our passion for the craft. They are the teachers, the friends, the family members who may not be "experts" in the field but have the sense enough to recognize when someone "has it." The ego-strokers are a great bunch, we like them, they're safe, but if we want to grow as writers then we must leave the nest and venture out to see what the world thinks of our writing. Scary, I know, but absolutely necessary.

Phase two: Finding a CP (crit partner) and or writing group is the next, very necessary step in growing that thick skin. These people are the ledge-talkers...the ones who you trust to talk you off the ledge when you're ready to jump. We ALL want to jump/give up/burn our computers/etc at some point. These people not only offer support but they're good critiquers. They tell it like it is, don't sugar coat and offer constructive feedback that you can actually use. They are there to cheer you on not tear you down. That's not to say you won't disagree with their feedback at times but that's the great thing about putting yourself out there (in a trusted environment) you can take what you will use and toss the rest. The important thing is opening yourself up to being honest with yourself, your work, your strengths and weaknesses and ACCEPTING that one person's opinion is subjective and really, it's your story in the end.

Phase three: Finding a mentor. This is typically a person who is further along in their writing career than you are. Someone who you respect and aspire to be like with regards to writing ability, work ethic, ambition, success, whatever. What has really surprised me the most about this industry is how many mentors are out there, wonderful writers who are willing to offer their support, their time, their opinions just to help a novice writer out. I've had the very fortunate experience of being critiqued twice by an author whom I greatly respect. I've also been critiqued by writers who are further along in their careers and can offer me much needed insight and perspective on my writing. I can't begin to thank these writers for how much they've helped me grow and even if I felt the sting (and I mean STING) of their critiques, it was a necessary trial to undergo on my journey towards becoming a better writer. So if you're lucky enough to find someone who is willing to help you, just know that they wouldn't be doing it if they didn't truly want to help you succeed. Yes, there really are people like that out there.

Growing a thicker skin takes time, it takes honesty with oneself, it takes acceptance, and it usually comes with experience. It's a necessary journey that all writers must venture even if it does hurt like hell at times. Trust me when I say with time it does get easier and you do become less sensitive to the criticism.

I just want to add one thing. I am very leery of anonymous posting and critting...I feel very strongly that if you can't put your name to your opinion then you shouldn't be sharing that opinion and that goes for writing especially. There are, unfortunately, souls out there who are tremendously jealous of anyone who they perceive has more talent or is further along than you are and will use their anonymity to destroy a writer's ego (and we all know how fragile that ego can be). So if you are desperate for critique, enter the public posting forums with extreme caution, a bad experience there can very easily leave your confidence shattered beyond repair.

I've got another e-copy of Going the Distance to give away. All you have to do is leave a comment and a way to contact you and I'll draw a winner next week this time!


  1. Great post, Angie! I'm still looking for my 'phase 3' - where did you find yours??

  2. Hey Angie - thanks for posting a very honest account of the process. It's a long, long road, with no map and no goal in sight, but along the way I've found some guides - like you!

  3. Cracking post Angie and one that will help others further along. Currently my skin is dragon tempered so this could be the year to step out.

  4. I'll never tell, Anne ;-)

    Thanks for the comments, all!

  5. You are incredible, Ang! Having made the mistake to post on a public forum anonymously, I second your stance on that. I like the way you've laid out these phases. I've definitely experienced phase 1 and totally agree that they serve a purpose. In fact, even giving my work to friends was torturous, but in the end it left me with the I-can-do-this feeling that I needed. That is my starting point, but is by no means my ending point.

    I am in this. I will do this. These damn characters won't let me quit. They're in my head, screaming for their story to be written and I will do them justice.

    Thank you for sharing with us. I plan to return here when the I-cannot-do-this feeling creeps up on me.

  6. Many people think writing is a solitary exercise. You and the computer. Not true. None of us could improve our writing and our stories without the crits and mentoring you describe. The skin gets toughter once we see the benefits of all that critique. Thanks, Angie for a great post.

  7. I'm on the other side of the experience - as a reviewer, my comments can be hurtful to the writer, even when they're not meant that way. I am always impressed with the authors who have the guts to read the reviews of their work, and completely understand the ones who choose not to read them. I think a dragon skin is a must for authors. Excellent post Angie.

  8. I know your experiences have taught you a lot, and you value them for that, but in ego-stroking mode as I am now, I really hope that your writing life gets a lot easier! :)

    I'd love to be able to move onto Phase three, but I'm not sure there's anyone who is bonkers enough to take me on. ;)

    Great post, and some useful insights. I have decided I will surround myself with many ego-strokers. I like the warm squishy feeling...

  9. Excellent post, Angela. Finding trusted crti partners is so vital and I don't think I could ever post on a public site. There may be excellent critiques to be had, but some people are vicious just for the sake of being vicious and that doesn't help anyone. Crits should sting, not obliterate.

  10. I love the honesty Ang. Yes, it's hard to put yourself out there, and yes I agree with everything you said. You hit the nail on the head with all of it. Great crit partners, and/or ledge talkers are the best people we can have in our lives. The mentor, I haven't found yet, but I'm sure it all comes in time.
    Glad you posted this. It totally hit home and we can all relate to this.
    Great blog!:)

  11. Great post and oh so true. It's hard to find good critique partners... I cling to mine and try to let them breathe every now and again. LOL.


  12. Wonderfully said!!!! This is great advice all round. My biggest pet peeve is the saying 'don't take it personally it's just business'. gah that really busts my chops. It's always personal, it's US. Our pieces of soul and blood and sweat and tears. Yes we can take it, but thank god for friends we can rant too. :) *hugs*

  13. It turns out I'm still in need of Phase #2 ;) It's a great breakdown of ideas, Ang. I love it. Thanks!