Friday, November 15, 2013

The Thick Skin Conundrum

If you're a writer (or, really, a filmmaker, painter, sculptor...any sort of artist), you have probably heard this before: "You need to have a thick skin."

I hear it all the time but the first time I really had to live it was when I went to film school. That was the first time I had ever put my work on display for anyone to see and critique. And, guess what? I needed a thick skin for that.

But here's the thing: to be a writer--as in just someone who sits and writes--you don't need a thick skin. In fact, you often probably have a thin skin. By that I mean you're likely observing the world and the people in it very acutely and letting them seep in, like osmosis. In turn, when you write, you're probably putting a lot of that world back out on the page and, even more crucially, you're probably putting a lot of yourself out on the page. In my experience, my best writing comes from tapping into my most vulnerable parts and from using my innate sensitivity to its best advantages.

But to be an author--by this I mean anyone who is in the process of getting their work out there from the query step to anything beyond--oh, boy, do you need a thick skin. From agents, to editors, to readers there is a lot of criticism and rejection to be had. 90% of it is absolutely necessary to create your best work. But even when you know that logically, it can be hard to just build up your armor, especially when you feel like parts of yourself are floating around on that page that's getting torn apart.

So how do you switch from one to the other? Honestly, I suspect that some writers are just better at it than others. For me, it is one of my biggest struggles, though I am continuously working on it. One of the things I've recently been trying out is a visualization technique. When I'm writing (especially a first draft), I let myself believe that I'm allowed to feel anything, to sometimes allow my deepest fears to become my characters' fears, to metaphorically bleed out onto the screen as it were. But when it comes time to hit a "send" button and let someone else into that world, well, then I have to sew myself back up. I need to hear the critiques, to understand them and utilize them, but I also need to separate myself from the work at that point and realize it's not a criticism of me as a person (even if parts of me have become characters).

Of course, when it comes time for revision, the stitches have to come out once again.

It's hard. And frustrating. And often times I feel like I don't succeed at it. Sometimes I wish I could shout out "Impervio!" and have everything just bounce off me. But then again, if I did that, would I be a writer? I suspect not. So I am learning to accept that what makes me a writer is the same thing that makes it hard to be a writer sometimes. It is a conundrum. Though, on the upside, it lets me use the word "conundrum," which is clearly fab.

Anyone else have ways of dealing with the thick skin/thin skin issue?


  1. Time has been my only savior on this front. I wrote a trilogy so I was incredibly excited to see the first book published. I sought out and read every single review! Obviously I took great pleasure in the positive ones, but the bad ones had me feeling sick to my stomach. As in, literally wanting to hurl. When the second book came around, I only read the reviews that were sent to me. The good ones were nice. The bad ones just made me shrug and say, "well that sucks." The third book comes out In January, and I've moved on to new projects. I might not ever see a review of book 3. I hope people love it as much as I do because I really, really love it! But if some people don't, it doesn't affect me personally anymore. I understand that's what comes with the territory. Que sera, sera and all that.

  2. "A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people." - Thomas Mann

    Really resonating with me lately.