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Old 12-15-2012, 07:02 PM   #1
RobertEvert
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How do you develop a "thick skin"?

I'm sure many of you who have thick skins were probably born with them. People say something about you and it doesn't sting, let alone cut to your very soul. Why should it? It's just their opinion, right? No need to worry about that kind of thing.

But I'm curious as to how some of you developed thick skins. How does somebody who is highly emotional, hyper-sensitive deal with being in the public eye? Or can you? Can you develop the thick skin you need to be successful in today's writer's market?

Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.
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Old 12-15-2012, 07:12 PM   #2
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I think I developed "thick skin" as far as critiques go from getting them over the years. I think the more I've gotten, the better I could wager which ones to listen to and which ones to blow off.

Anne Rice said it best, you listen and revise to the editors and agents that are interested, not the ones that are declining you. You can take that same advice with critters in general. You can almost tell the ones that were interested in reading it and the ones that didn't connect.
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Old 12-15-2012, 07:28 PM   #3
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Practitioners of Muay Thai have very strong, very tough legs. How do they achieve this? By rigorous training, and kicking trees. You can bet that hurts the first time. And the second. And the third. But over time, the skin toughens up.

So, too, do we writers toughen up by receiving (constructive) criticism and rejection. Yeah, it hurts. But the idea is to gain from it, and the next time, it hurts a little less. And the only way to grow is by getting something out there to be criticized and possibly rejected. Kick those trees!

EDIT: Addressing hyper-sensitivity, I was there once. AW is a very helpful place to stick your toes in and warm up to throwing your baby to the wolves. 'Cause that's totally what it feels like to me, all the time.
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Old 12-15-2012, 07:35 PM   #4
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College writing program. 18 students in a room trashing you every other day, while you're not allowed speak at all for three years.

Totally works. YMMV.
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Old 12-15-2012, 07:44 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RobertEvert View Post
But I'm curious as to how some of you developed thick skins. How does somebody who is highly emotional, hyper-sensitive deal with being in the public eye? Or can you? Can you develop the thick skin you need to be successful in today's writer's market?
Like public speaking. You do it, and soon it comes easy.

But some people can't. I've belonged to a critique group for over eight years. New members trickle in, some members die or leave for any number of reasons.

But about half of the new folks who come in are desperately looking for validation. They don't want to hear that they have a problem with shifting pov, or their main character is inconsistent. When they can't get a round of cheers and attaboys from everyone at the table, they either leave in a huff or just go quiet and never come back.

I suspect those people will never make it as writers, because they're not trying to improve. Improving is something we all have to do on a continuing basis, and that usually means asking the help of others.
EDIT: That doesn't mean I don't pull the car over on the way home, and get out and kick the tires and the bumper and shout at the moon. But in the conference room, I just keep smiling and taking notes.

Now we make prospective members come to four weekly meetings before bringing their own work to read.
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Old 12-15-2012, 07:44 PM   #6
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I suggest using the 1) term 'reader response' rather than 'critique'. 'Critique' implies that another is a kind of authority who can tell you how your work is inferior. 'Reader response' is a naming convention that lets the writer look at feedback as an insight into how the writer's words affect the reader and what kind of experience those words create for the reader. The writer is then free to make a choice as to what feedback he or she considers useful and valid. If you don't like the feedback, you say 'Thank you for reading and giving your response' and that is enough. 2) Consider the reader response a tool to help you grow as a writer and improve your writing. Thus you can consider feedback as an opportunity for you to improve as a writer, rather than allowing it to reinforce any ideas of failure you might be entertaining. 3) Keep a separation between your sense of self and what you write. 4) Write more. Keep writing. The more you write, the less important each individual response becomes.
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Old 12-15-2012, 07:45 PM   #7
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College writing program. 18 students in a room trashing you every other day, while you're not allowed speak at all for three years.

Totally works. YMMV.
Yup. Especially when you're in a room full of pretentious hipsters that honest to goodness think they're better than you because you write in genre fiction.

Emotional thick skin happens the same way literal thick skin does. You get beat to hell, repeatedly and over a prolonged period of time, until it doesn't really hurt any more. You learn to see the parts that are worthwhile and disregard the things that used to give you blisters.
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Old 12-15-2012, 08:02 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RobertEvert View Post
But I'm curious as to how some of you developed thick skins. How does somebody who is highly emotional, hyper-sensitive deal with being in the public eye? Or can you? Can you develop the thick skin you need to be successful in today's writer's market?

Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.
I have a thick skin, but I was definitely not born with it. I was hyper-sensitive as a child -- and the victim of verbal bullying which sent me into a spiral of clinical depression that left me suicidal at age 10.

Developing a think skin is a slow "upward spiral" process. There are a lot of things you need to work on all at once: all easier said than done, none come quickly, but each of them builds on and supports each of the others:
  • Realizing that one person's opinion is not the be-all and end-all
  • Realizing that no-one else is perfect either
  • Realizing that you can improve anything about yourself that you want to improve
  • Realizing that even if what's said were 100% true, that still wouldn't make you some sort of horrible, unworthy, pathetic person.
  • Don't beat up on yourself about how you shouldn't beat up on yourself. It's counter-productive.
  • At each stage of the spiral, you need to "fake it 'till you make it"

The process took me many, many years. If there's a short-cut, I never learned it.

Now-a-days, even if someone is actively trying to hurt my feelings, I find it amusing (and pitifully amateur. The worst troll on the internet is nothing compared to a classroom full of fellow nine-year-olds.)

So yes, it IS possible to develop a thick skin without being born with it
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Old 12-15-2012, 08:27 PM   #9
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[QUOTE=KateSmash;7810999]Yup. Especially when you're in a room full of pretentious hipsters that honest to goodness think they're better than you because you write in genre fiction.

[QUOTE]

I would suggest getting a thick skin before you do the above. I'm glad I waited to get my MFA becasue there aren't enough swear words to explain those pretentious hipsters.

You can read the worst crit thread for more stuff we've suffered through. But that's it, time and suffering and you learn from that. It's not even developing a thick skin as much as learning what to let in and what to leave out/ignore.
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Old 12-15-2012, 08:32 PM   #10
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Some of is simply experience. But it's also discipline. It's getting a critique that is upsetting, just taking notes, saying nothing, and then walking away. The first reaction is always the most emotional, then after that, maybe a day or a week later, then it's, "Yeah, there's a problem. How do I fix it?"

With the experience one, you learn that some people are just who they are. They're never going to be nice and don't see any problems with being nasty. You get others who talk like they know what they're doing and know very little. And you get ones that are well thought out, the critiquer cares, and you know absolutely positively that they are right -- and now you have a major fix. Those are actually the ones hard to take, because a lot of times when we go into critiques, we're thinking that it's done and the fixes will be cosmetic.

With the discipline one, it's learning to bite your tongue to the reaction and to walk away. I had a critique where I was jumped on by 6-7 writers for my use of omniscient viewpoint. I wanted to say, "Guys, you going to critique the actual writing?" because not one person did. Instead, I thanked them for their time and walked away -- and that was the single hardest thing I did. I did have to take six weeks off from my book after that critique so I could make sure I was looking at it objectively. Taking a little time off for distance may be a useful tool.
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Old 12-15-2012, 08:37 PM   #11
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I'm not a writer, but I still have thick skin. I think my parents helped me develop that when I was very young, I remember always hearing 'we don't really care what other people think about us, as long as we're respectful and know that we are not trying to harm someone'...
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Old 12-15-2012, 08:40 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RobertEvert View Post
Can you develop the thick skin you need to be successful in today's writer's market?

Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.
It can be done. The question is, can YOU do it?

There has already been some good advice from others here. What I'd add is this. If you can, perhaps start with receiving critiques in writing, as opposed to face-to-face. That way you can cry, storm, rage around the room, tear at your hair, and no one will think the less of you. It also gives you the opportunity to look a little bit at a time at what's being said (as opposed to 18 people verbally tearing you a new one for an hour), to get it in digestible bits.

Once you've done that, really think about what's being said and look at it as an opportunity to learn. Someone had a response to your writing - it may not be what you wanted, but it's a response. Consider it carefully and look for the why behind the response. Weigh it carefully against other criticisms you receive. Finally, if you get anything that's hurtful - I mean personal or deliberately nasty - ignore the urge to respond and toss it away.
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Old 12-15-2012, 08:50 PM   #13
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I suspect we all have very thin skin in some areas, and very thick skin in others. What our loved ones say probably bothers more of us than not, etc. There are certainly a few select people who can hurt my feelings with a negative comment. But not about my writing.

But I was very luck when it came to writing and a thick skin. I showed the first short story I wrote to not one but two critique groups. Good groups with several professional writers as members. Without exception, they savaged the story, found a dozen things wrong, and said it stood no chance of selling without MAJOR changes.

I took the poor little story home, read it a gain, and decided I liked it as it was. I sent to to a national magazine, and it sold for $450. At the time, that was a lot of money. Just a bit more than my day job paid in a month.

Not having learned my lesson, I showed those groups a second story, and had the same results. They savaged it, I submitted it, and again it sold, this time for $1,000. Then I wrote a short essay. I didn't go back to the groups, but I showed it to a beta I knew, someone who had written and sold a fair number of essays. He hated everything about my essay. He hated the writing, hated the format, hated, I think, the paper it was on. He may even have hated the ink. It sold first time out for for $800.

None of the editors asked for a rewrite, and published the pieces without changing a word. My day job paid just under $450 per month, and those three stories, written in a total of about sixteen hours, brought in $2,250, or just over $140 per hour.

Clearly, either the critique groups and the beta reader were wrong, or I'd found three very foolish working editors.

I've also seen the opposite happen on many occasions. Critique groups and beta readers parsing stories to death, telling the writer he's definitely got what it takes, and then nothing sells. Nothing. For months and years. That has to be disheartening.

It's tough to have a thin skin when something like this happens. But had none of those stories sold, who knows, I may have been discouraged to the point of quitting? I suspect thin skin/thick skin is as much a result of circumstances as of personality.

I do think any sale can help with thin skinitis. I have a friend who went unpublished for several years, with the exception of one small sale to a fairly decent literary magazine. But that one sale kept him going until he was able to start selling to larger magazines, and on a regular basis.

Anyway, I have no idea how thin my skin would be had I made no sales. I do suspect it couldn't have been paper thin anyway, or I wouldn't have submitted that first story without changes after all the savage comments.
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Old 12-15-2012, 08:55 PM   #14
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Old 12-15-2012, 08:56 PM   #15
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Quote:
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You can read the worst crit thread for more stuff we've suffered through. But that's it, time and suffering and you learn from that. It's not even developing a thick skin as much as learning what to let in and what to leave out/ignore.
Agree. I think of a good critique as a doctor who gives you a shot of medicine. It hurts at first, but when it's gone through your system, you actually feel better. Meanwhile, a bad critique is like a spooky man who lurks in alleyways and pokes random bypassers with needles because he enjoys watching them squirm. Internalize that stuff and you might get an infection. Once you can tell the difference, you don't really need "thicker skin" because you're recognizing good advice as something that will make you happier and discarding bad before it can hurt.
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Old 12-15-2012, 09:25 PM   #16
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Originally Posted by LindaJeanne View Post
I have a thick skin, but I was definitely not born with it. I was hyper-sensitive as a child -- and the victim of verbal bullying which sent me into a spiral of clinical depression that left me suicidal at age 10.

Developing a think skin is a slow "upward spiral" process. There are a lot of things you need to work on all at once: all easier said than done, none come quickly, but each of them builds on and supports each of the others:
  • Realizing that one person's opinion is not the be-all and end-all
  • Realizing that no-one else is perfect either
  • Realizing that you can improve anything about yourself that you want to improve
  • Realizing that even if what's said were 100% true, that still wouldn't make you some sort of horrible, unworthy, pathetic person.
  • Don't beat up on yourself about how you shouldn't beat up on yourself. It's counter-productive.
  • At each stage of the spiral, you need to "fake it 'till you make it"

The process took me many, many years. If there's a short-cut, I never learned it.

Now-a-days, even if someone is actively trying to hurt my feelings, I find it amusing (and pitifully amateur. The worst troll on the internet is nothing compared to a classroom full of fellow nine-year-olds.)

So yes, it IS possible to develop a thick skin without being born with it
100000000 times this. Excellent post.
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Old 12-15-2012, 09:29 PM   #17
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Old 12-15-2012, 09:47 PM   #18
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... having other interests helps. Can be anything: a job you're into to some degree; a hobby like collecting stamps; a sport like fishing; etc. Then, if you become unsure about your writing for whatever reason you have something else to rely on. "I may be an awful writer like so and so says. But hey. I just caught a 10lb stripped bass. So all in all things aren't going so bad. And that harsh critique I got was only one person's opinion, after all. So maybe I'm still doing okay with the writing." :-)
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Old 12-15-2012, 10:05 PM   #19
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Thanks everybody. This is all very helpful. I suppose the best thing is to surround yourself with people you love and admire and trust their vision of who they think you are.
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Old 12-15-2012, 10:32 PM   #20
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I am really very thin-skinned. In real life, out there with the people, I don't handle criticism or compliments very well (apparently ANY judgment is bad, somehow). Not that I say anything. I just internalize it and silently flip out.

But with writing, I saw that I could improve, and the way to improve was to get involved in this critiquing thing, so I did it. It still sends me through the roof and I turn into a mess, but I get over it. I don't think it's thick skin so much as a desire to rebound and dive back in.
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Old 12-16-2012, 01:37 AM   #21
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Quote:
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Yup. Especially when you're in a room full of pretentious hipsters that honest to goodness think they're better than you because you write in genre fiction.
With every single one of them trying to copy Hemingway? Oy yes.
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Old 12-16-2012, 02:01 AM   #22
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Some of it is working it, like a guitarist working up a callous on their finger. It definitely gets easier as you go. I am/can be sensitive to what people say about me. (depends on where I am in my Bipolar cycle!)

But I don't let it stop me. Because some of it is attitude. A certain amount of stubbornness helps. Okay so this draft was shit. What crits can I usefully use? How can I?

I read a quote the other day that creative people live on the intersection of joy and terror - and they need to, to an extent. The confidence to put it out there. The terror that it isn't good enough driving you to make it better. (I am currently in terror, just so's you know)

All crits, whether helpful or not at the time, will make you better. Keep it in your head as a mantra.
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Old 12-16-2012, 02:34 AM   #23
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Originally Posted by RobertEvert View Post
I'm sure many of you who have thick skins were probably born with them. People say something about you and it doesn't sting, let alone cut to your very soul. Why should it? It's just their opinion, right? No need to worry about that kind of thing.

But I'm curious as to how some of you developed thick skins. How does somebody who is highly emotional, hyper-sensitive deal with being in the public eye? Or can you? Can you develop the thick skin you need to be successful in today's writer's market? I'm very pragmatic, and I see it as a "price of admission". I happen to believe, 100%, that you will get a new asshole torn as part of the learning process, probably several times, and the world is divided into those who learn from it, and those who take their ball and go home. Part of that is grad school--thick skin wasn't a luxury there either, and I went through grad school first, so I came prepared. Know what? My first crits still stung, though, because some of the folks (wheelwriter, cbenoi, jclarkedawe come to mind) were unsparing. Not cruel, but unsparing. And had they not been, had they couched it in lots of platitudes, I'd be half as far along as I am. I still believe it is part of the process, and that helps a lot--it isn't personal, wasn't about "me," it was the work....and the work was wanting. Knowing that, I had 2 choices--fix it, or go home. So I wanted to fix it.

Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.
I don't know that you "develop" a thick skin. You either decide you value your work or your feelings more than the other. There's no right answer there, but dealing with crits is largely accepting that YOU wanted the help, and not all the answers will please you.
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Old 12-16-2012, 02:44 AM   #24
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I don't have a thick skin. At all. But I do have a short grieving period. That's what I focused on. I think for some people it can seem impossible not being sensitive that they then think they should just quit. but it is not about not feeling hurt. it is about getting over the pain relatively quickly.

I knew I was never not going to care, I knew even irrational critiques would hurt. So I focused on how I "grieved". I allow myself to feel the feeling. Depending on the situation it's 10 minutes or maybe a full day. But then I make myself carry on. I remind myself that I have talent, that some criticisms can actually be helpful, and that those that aren't don't matter. And once you teach yourself that you can get past it, that even if it hurts you won't be held back, you can handle it.
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Old 12-16-2012, 02:47 AM   #25
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I don't have a thick skin. At all. But I do have a short grieving period.
Maybe this is the goal.

Maybe I won't ever stop wincing when I see the horrible posts disgruntled students write on "rate your professor.com"...but I can begin to let it go faster.

Thanks, Toothpaste.
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