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RobertEvert
12-15-2012, 07:32 PM
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.

Undercover
12-15-2012, 07:42 PM
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.

Lycoplax
12-15-2012, 07:58 PM
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! :D

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.

Tirjasdyn
12-15-2012, 08:05 PM
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.

dangerousbill
12-15-2012, 08:14 PM
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.

Layla Nahar
12-15-2012, 08:14 PM
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.

KateSmash
12-15-2012, 08:15 PM
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.

LindaJeanne
12-15-2012, 08:32 PM
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 :)

V1c
12-15-2012, 08:57 PM
[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.

Linda Adams
12-15-2012, 09:02 PM
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.

Lexxie
12-15-2012, 09:07 PM
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'...

jeffo20
12-15-2012, 09:10 PM
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.

Jamesaritchie
12-15-2012, 09:20 PM
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.

Siri Kirpal
12-15-2012, 09:25 PM
Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

My mother always said, "Consider the source," by which she meant, who's the one giving you hell? Don't let the critiques from idiots get to you. Don't lose the opportunity to improve when someone you know is right calls you on the carpet.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

ArachnePhobia
12-15-2012, 09:26 PM
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.

ChristinaLayton
12-15-2012, 09:55 PM
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.

elindsen
12-15-2012, 09:59 PM
At first every little negative hurt. I've cried a lot. But you have to look at those as challeneges and not just to them but to yourself to do better and prove them wrong.

Ken
12-15-2012, 10:17 PM
... 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." :-)

RobertEvert
12-15-2012, 10:35 PM
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.

buz
12-15-2012, 11:02 PM
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.

Tirjasdyn
12-16-2012, 02:07 AM
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.

Mr Flibble
12-16-2012, 02:31 AM
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.

quicklime
12-16-2012, 03:04 AM
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.

Toothpaste
12-16-2012, 03:14 AM
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.

RobertEvert
12-16-2012, 03:17 AM
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.

Toothpaste
12-16-2012, 04:09 AM
:) you're welcome!

Samsonet
12-16-2012, 04:21 AM
I wrote a horrible "In Defense of ____" essay and submitted it to a criticism website. It...got accepted and put up... and the critics were really nice, even if they did rip it apart. It was worse criticism than I had gotten for any of my fiction, anyway, so I thought reading through all the comments would help me take any future negative response.

But then a troll came in and I had a nervous breakdown. I'm really hoping that once I can come up with the courage to put my work out again (I mean, it's got to happen sooner or later, right?) that I'll be able to handle it...

CrastersBabies
12-16-2012, 04:35 AM
I had a pretty thick skin when I started getting critique, but I definitely "thickened" it over time by realizing the following:

1. Not everyone knows WTF they are talking about.
2. Not everyone will "get" your story.
3. Not everyone has the same likes/tastes/aesthetic as you.
4. Sometimes, critique stings. Let it. Step away from it. Return a few days later and look for seeds of truth.
5. Check your ego at the door.
6. Nobody has all the answers.
7. YOU above all else have the power to take the criticism to heart. And you'll learn over time how to balance what is helpful and what is not.

KateSmash
12-16-2012, 06:02 AM
With every single one of them trying to copy Hemingway? Oy yes.

More like Proust. Because they had to be oblique too. And write in bars and snark other people's taste in beer.

So glad I met many other delightful writers when I took classes in kid lit and YA. Way less serious about "art" and all around more willing to learn craft.

bearilou
12-16-2012, 06:03 AM
I pretend they're not talking about my work. I pretend that I'm actually there as a proxy for the real writer who couldn't make it that time and I'll just take notes and then take it back to the real writer who will deal with it. And since the real writer is a Very Good Friend of mine, I'll find ways to phrase it so she can get the good out of it and remove the sting.

That kind of distancing works really good for me.

kkbe
12-16-2012, 06:36 AM
RobertEvert: 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?

You have to, I think. The key is to separate your emotions from the work, said the girl who cried when she--

It doesn't matter. You have to separate yourself from your work. If you're emotionally attached, every crit is gonna feel like salt rubbed in an open wound. Every negative comment is gonna hurt. How can you look at your stuff objectively when you're bawling your eyes out, feeling like a failure? (My experience, RobertEvert. :) )

You have to change your mindset. You've created this product. Okay. You want to know what your peers think? Put the damn thing out there. Take the valuable and leave the rest, use what you've learned to make your product the best it can be possibly be. That's why you're here.

Slip a pane of glass between your emotions and your product. You'll see clearer. Emotion only muddies up the works.

BlankWhitePage
12-16-2012, 06:38 AM
Being trashed day in and day out by guests at the world's largest vacation property, all whilst having to sit back and take it and try to pacify them definitely makes my skin so thick nothing bothers me anymore. When you're cursed at, yelled at, mocked, and made to feel like a terribly person all because some selfish individual isn't getting their way, the skin gets thick in a hurry and you learn to let it all roll off.

I used to take critiques to heart and refuse to let people see my work. Now I don't care. I let them say what they think and listen to them. Because they do have a point, whether I agree or not.

VanessaNorth
12-16-2012, 07:13 AM
I care more about improving my work than about ego. I'm not emotionally invested in sentences, words, or punctuation beyond wanting them to be effctive. And there is always room for improvement.

How did i get to that point? I worked as a photographer, submitting work for critique regularly, and developed a thick skin that way. By the time i started writing, receiving very blunt critique was familiar and welcome.

victoriastrauss
12-16-2012, 07:46 AM
College writing program. 18 students in a room trashing you every other day, while you're not allowed speak at all for three years.
I had that--though only for a year and I could talk if I wanted to (I didn't). It was the most horrible writing-related experience of my life. I didn't write a word for five years after that.

I don't have a thick skin. Like Toothpaste, what I've been able to develop over the years is perspective and resilience. I'm much better able now to tell valid criticism from criticism I don't need to take on board, and if I get upset, it doesn't last nearly as long. I still find the whole waiting-for-reviews thing excruciating, though.

- Victoria

ladyleeona
12-16-2012, 08:55 AM
I've got a decently thick skin in general, but with my writing it wasn't always that way, especially not when I first started with intent to publish. I made my writing too personal--not like it was a wish-fulfillment story or anything like that, but more like 'omg I've put half my life into this it can't be bad'. And when I got an ugly (and spot-on) crit, it hurt a lot. It made me mad, too. But I was making the mistake of thinking I = my work. After a day or two to chill out, I realized my critiquer wasn't shredding me personally, but the product I had turned out. The product I could change, repair. Fix.

Once I realized that, thick skin followed. That's not to say I don't still feel particularly biting critiques--I still get them and they still pain me--but I've learned to look at them objectively and not as a personal attack. That was the biggest problem for me--realizing I =/= my work. I really think it's all about perspective. It's just my personality that I'd rather have one really spot-on, vicious critique than 5 rounds of nicer ones. To me it's simply a matter of getting things done and moving on, so my thick skin came from perspective, determination and my goal-oriented personality.

Paperback Writer
12-16-2012, 09:16 AM
I've been reading a book somewhat related to this. It basically states that if you have a fixed mindset, you'll constantly need to seek out approval by others and protect your ego. This means that if someone makes a nasty remark about your work, you will feel labeled by the remark forever. You will not improve and give up on trying.

On the other hand if you have the growth mindset, the negative remark will not define you, and it will make you work towards improving on the issue. You will put more effort into it and grow as a result of it.

The book is called Mindset, the New Psychology of Success. I'm reading it because I want to go into writing with the right mindset. If I have to write 10 novels to get a good one that's fine because I will be working towards being published.

rwm4768
12-16-2012, 09:29 AM
I don't know. I'll tell you when I develop one.

Actually, what usually happens with me is I feel really bad for a day or two after the critique. Then I remember to tell myself that it's not a reflection on me or even on my writing in general, just on that particular piece. Then I work to try to fix what's wrong.

Also, not all advice is good advice. Sometimes people just don't get your story. If you don't agree with a critique, ignore it.

blacbird
12-16-2012, 10:04 AM
Some level of success in publication would probably help.

caw

dangerousbill
12-16-2012, 10:22 AM
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.


It doesn't have that meaning at all. Critique is evaluation and advice from people who are experienced in the writing process. Ideally, they're people at the same level of development as yourself, or better, and the critiques may be reciprocated. Critique is valuable because most of us can't see the most glaring problems in our own work.

A good critique will not only find problems, but suggest how they might be addressed. A good critique will also point out strong parts of a story, and suggest how to maximize their effect.

Reader response happens later, on the bookstore shelves, when an artistically and technically competent novel tanks, or an illiterate horror suddenly takes off and makes a million bucks. A 'reader' does not have to be a writer, nor does s/he have to say why they love or hate a novel.

Unimportant
12-16-2012, 10:23 AM
I think I was danged lucky. I wrote my first story, subbed it to my first magazine, and got a very kind rejection from the editor (Steve Algieri. Thank you, Steve!) who suggested I join a critique group. I joned Critters the next day. So right from the word go I've been participating in crit groups, giving and receiving feedback. That, and doing a PhD, where everything goes wrong and you spend four years banging your head against the wall while peer reviewers tell you how much you suck, have helped me to develop a rhino hide.

dangerousbill
12-16-2012, 10:25 AM
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"



Words to be cast in bronze.

CrastersBabies
12-17-2012, 06:39 AM
Something I'd like to nip in the bud, if I may. Whenever these threads come up, I always cringe when people start in with the, "Toughen up, or get lost," mentality, or, they assume that all writers are super fragile and must be handled with kid-gloves. Some? Sure! But, for the most part, no.

Sometimes, there are assholes who act like assholes when they critique. Let's not forget that.

Teaching writing is advocacy in a sense and I find that I have to help a student repair damage to the inner writer in 8 out of 10 cases. Not because they are quivering masses of emotion, ready to jump off a cliff, but because they've had people with no tact tell them to give up along the way. Glad that many of them did not because they ended up being pretty dang amazing writers.

Whenever I hear generalizations that because someone is asking how to thicken their skin, they must be mentally ill and unprepared to face the world outside, I think of people who either have no tact (and need to blame someone else for it), or, I think if someone who just doesn't understand that there's a lot more to it than that.

AllieKat
12-17-2012, 07:32 AM
I don't think I have thick skin. I don't think a writer has to have thick skin; or what people seem to mean when they say thick skin. It's important to let some time pass before doing something with a story, sometimes, so you're not devastated if it's turned down or criticized. I think the longer you're writing the more you learn you can't always tell if your story is wonderful or not very good, and that's okay. It's okay to not be perfect with everything you write, and you can get better. And if people are consistently unkind, stay away from them. You're learning, and growing, and you need whatever input helps YOU. For some, that's strong critiques, for others, that's the worst thing.

Basically I don't think anyone should try to be "thick skinned" if they're not. What a person needs to do is grow as a writer, learn, and keep picking yourself up and moving forward, in whatever way and time is right for YOU. Being thick skinned sometimes seems to be an excuse to pile unkind words and harsh "help" on new writers, to make them 'strong enough' to join the club. I don't work like that. It doesn't work for me.

Not everyone has to be the same.

Kitty27
12-17-2012, 08:42 AM
I am just that way. I am a proud member of the no damns left to give club.

I simply don't care. If I get a brutal critique,I welcome it. I prefer them as I love when someone gets to the point and says,Kitty,this doesn't work,fix that,etc.

Now there are horribly nasty people who tear someone down for the sheer pleasure of it,as they have no lives and get a vicarious delight in hurting other people. I am not here for their fuckery and will cut them just as quickly and brutally. Two can play that game.

Unfortunately,writers will most likely encounter one of these jackasses,either in crit groups or writing classes.They are easy to spot versus someone who is incapable of sugarcoating things but means no harm. You cannot allow them to impact your feelings about yourself or your work. I know that's easier said than done,but you must master this ability. If every time you get a bad review or have a moment of self doubt,you descend into a fit of feeling low and the like,then writing will be very hard for you. Frankly,you shouldn't give anyone that much power over you and your work.

If someone gives an in depth,respectful and valid critique and you still cannot cope,something isn't right. Either you truly aren't ready to write or suffer from special snowflake syndrome. The writing world will cure you of the second affliction right quick. But the first is something you will have to work on.

If I get a brutal review,again,I don't care. You bought the book and I am paid. Let go and let have on my book as you please.

Unimportant
12-17-2012, 10:33 AM
I think the really important thing is to separate yourself from your prose. If someone hates my story, it's just an idea or collection of words they hate. Not me personally. I can delete that story and I'm still the same person. I can write a new story and I"m still the same person. I can revise the story and I"m still the same person. Even if the critiquer tells me I can't write my way out of a paper bag -- well, maybe today I can't. Maybe next week I will. It's still just words on paper, not me as a person.

Sunflowerrei
12-17-2012, 01:20 PM
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.

Did you go to my college, Tirjasdyn? I was in a high school writing program for two summers, which was even more pretentious than the college ones I sat through. Also, once my desire to learn the craft bounced back after college, I became more honest and subjective about my own stuff--that I have a lot to learn and writing is an ongoing process and that weird boy in workshop who thinks he's Kafka is not the be-all and end-all.

Your writing is not going to be for everybody. That's all.

On a personal front, because I am one of those terribly oversensitive people, working retail has done wonders in developing a thicker skin.

Lexxie
12-17-2012, 02:05 PM
I have been thinking a lot of this thread, and I think that in some ways, writers shouldn't have too thick skin, the emotions that come through in a book are a very important part of reading experience, at least for me. And I think that sometimes, those emotions can get lost a little bit if the writer has very thick skin.

At the same time, it is needed, because there will always be people who won't like what they're reading, whether they are beta-readers, critique partners or 'just' readers.

I think a certain balance is important to find.

Phaeal
12-17-2012, 05:30 PM
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 agree. As long as you keep your tantrums private and reasonably short, they can be cathartic.

However, I have also found that putting your work out and keeping it out is a great skin-thickener. Get a rejection? Send the work to a new editor or agent the same day. This is the equivalent of getting knocked flat and jumping back up again, swinging. Do this long enough, you've got to get tougher.

As for critiques, take what you can use, disregard the rest, thank the critiquer, move on. When you discover a toxic critic, one whose reviews are all about them and not about the story, don't seek his feedback again. If you discover one who's out to destroy your confidence and talent, run. Even if he's your father or she's your wife. Seriously.

And learn to be your own most honest critic through constant study and reading. Biggest confidence booster out there is to know when you've produced good work; to know, also, that you understand how to make it better.

Ruth2
12-17-2012, 06:42 PM
If I trust the critic, I can take it no matter how much s/he shreds it. My work is a product I am trying to improve. I want it to be the absolute best product I can produce at that time. But... I have to believe the critic is on my side.

RichardGarfinkle
12-17-2012, 07:44 PM
What works for me is
1. Being the harshest critic for my own work.
2. Caring more about the work than my feelings about it.

The work isn't for me. It's from me. If it doesn't work for the people it's for then I'm not doing my job right.

My responsibility is to make it work for the audience. That doesn't mean doing whatever anyone else says, but it does mean listening to what's not working and trying to figure out how to make it work.

elindsen
12-17-2012, 08:06 PM
In the end if it's a bad review you still have their cash ;)

onesecondglance
12-17-2012, 08:15 PM
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.

Just to offer a slightly different complexion on this.

Guitarists (and other string players) get thick calluses on their fingertips from playing a lot. Going off and hacking at your fingers with cheesegraters is neither necessary, nor sensible - you just have to play a lot.

And you have to keep at it, because if you don't play for a while the skin will go soft again, and you'll end up with blisters and pain and ouch. And even if you play all the time, you might find yourself getting blisters in places you never expected (left hand side of my right ring finger and on the side of my palm at the base of my little finger, since you're asking).

To take something from this horribly extended metaphor, please replace "guitar" with "your writing" and "playing" with "letting other people read it". :D

stray
12-17-2012, 08:18 PM
One well constructed harsh critique is usually worth more than ten 'so called' kind appraisals. We only learn by where we have stumbled, where we went wrong. The realization of our mistakes are what make us better. I thank the critics that have pointed out my weaknesses. They were in fact kinder than the ones that took the easy route and patted me on the back when the work was weak. Over time its the harsh critics that sit in the back of my mind while editing a book. A good fair harsh critic is essential.

VanessaNorth
12-17-2012, 08:46 PM
I have been thinking a lot of this thread, and I think that in some ways, writers shouldn't have too thick skin, the emotions that come through in a book are a very important part of reading experience, at least for me. And I think that sometimes, those emotions can get lost a little bit if the writer has very thick skin.

At the same time, it is needed, because there will always be people who won't like what they're reading, whether they are beta-readers, critique partners or 'just' readers.

I think a certain balance is important to find.

Sorry I completely disagree with you.

I don't understand how you think that being able to take critique makes a writer's words less emotive?

If anything, a writer who is able to receive and use critique effectively is more likely to produce emotive fiction than someone who runs crying from the room at the suggestion that their prose is imperfect.

CrastersBabies
12-17-2012, 10:32 PM
One well constructed harsh critique is usually worth more than ten 'so called' kind appraisals. We only learn by where we have stumbled, where we went wrong. The realization of our mistakes are what make us better. I thank the critics that have pointed out my weaknesses. They were in fact kinder than the ones that took the easy route and patted me on the back when the work was weak. Over time its the harsh critics that sit in the back of my mind while editing a book. A good fair harsh critic is essential.

When you say "harsh critique" are you talking about someone giving you thoughtful, constructive suggestions, or, are you talking about someone saying, "Damn, you suck. Give up?"

There is a difference between the two.

Generally speaking . . .

Nobody wants sunshine blown up their bums. Who can improve if it's all kittens and rainbows? That's what frustrates me to all hell about these conversations . . . people assume that because a writer doesn't want to be told, "You suck, assface," they must want to be coddled. (insert 10000 eyerolls here, please.)

Good, honest, constructive critique can be tactful. Period. If you can't get your message across w/o resorting to being a douche-canoe, then try harder.

I think I give awesome critique. Very honest. Very insightful. Never have I done it in such a way that I resort to personal jabs and jerkish delivery. I've worked with inmates, some of who write like 4th-graders and think "Roses are red, violets are blue" type rhyme schemes are THE SHIT! And you learn how to get the point across without being a dick and without breaking their will to write.

Did I cover my responses in rainbows and sunshine? Nope. When you focus on the work and figuring out the best way to present your suggestions (in a way that will HELP the writer, not beat your critique into them), then you're winning.

On the other end, if you say "harsh critique" about every constructive thing someone says to you and you think that being in a workshop where people give their tactful opinions is "being ripped apart," then yeah . . . I'm inclined to think that you're taking things too personally.

Also, I think it's great if people love being whipped and tortured by shitty comments about their writing. Don't assume everyone else does.

Lexxie
12-17-2012, 10:32 PM
Sorry I completely disagree with you.

I don't understand how you think that being able to take critique makes a writer's words less emotive?

If anything, a writer who is able to receive and use critique effectively is more likely to produce emotive fiction than someone who runs crying from the room at the suggestion that their prose is imperfect.

I was thinking more about the 'thick skin' than actually being able to take critique. Thick skin can mean a lot of different things, and I don't mean that critique is bad at all, just that 'thick skin' can become a little too thick, maybe?

And I wasn't sure from the OP if he meant all kinds of comments on work or only critique from work groups etc. Which is why I tried to see it from a different point of view.

It seems to me that we actually agree; critique is good. Constructive critique is excellent, and sometimes harsh critique is necessary.

kkbe
12-17-2012, 11:01 PM
CrastersBabies: Nobody wants sunshine blown up their bums. Never assume. One man's meat is another man's poison. Put another way:
:Sun:+ :e2moon: = :hooray::yessmiley:e2tongue:

Seriously though, I had a beta reader who told me point blank he was only interested in my work. I could be a raving lunatic, didn't matter. And he didn't want to like me. He said (paraphrasing now): You don't want me to like you, because then my crit might be compromised. You want me to be honest, it's easier to do that if we keep emotion out of it.

He told me a little story about an agent who read his work then told him to cut a shitload. He was really upset. For three days he bitched and moaned in the privacy of his own home then he sat down and thought, Okay, if I do this, there's a good chance that agent's gonna pick it up. That's what I want, so I'll do it.

I think it's okay to give yourself time to process crits, especially the harshest ones, get it out of your system but eventually you have to step back and remind yourself of your goals. You always have a choice, it's up to you if you're gonna hang onto your sorry ass ms, weeping and lamenting, or if you're gonna fix the thing, give yourself the best shot at success that you can.

My sister used to handle disappointment by giving herself x amount of time to lament, like, Okay, I'm giving myself 15 minutes to cry. Then I'm gonna deal with this. (She's a shrimp but she's tougher than me. I'd need like a day week. :) )

Shadow_Ferret
12-17-2012, 11:18 PM
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.
We are all individuals. Many in this thread explained what worked for them. Nothing has worked for me. A rejection today is just as painful an experience as it was when I received my first on at 15.

But I can't become published if I don't submit and rejections, as painful as they are, come with the territory. So I cry. Curl up into a fetal position and feel sorry for myself. Have a few beers. Then turn around and send the story off to someone else.

VanessaNorth
12-18-2012, 04:19 AM
I was thinking more about the 'thick skin' than actually being able to take critique. Thick skin can mean a lot of different things, and I don't mean that critique is bad at all, just that 'thick skin' can become a little too thick, maybe?

And I wasn't sure from the OP if he meant all kinds of comments on work or only critique from work groups etc. Which is why I tried to see it from a different point of view.

It seems to me that we actually agree; critique is good. Constructive critique is excellent, and sometimes harsh critique is necessary.

I think maybe we do agree then. ;) I think "thick skin" means simply being able to take critique without taking insult, but I never really dig any deeper into that metaphor.

Putputt
12-18-2012, 07:40 PM
Right after receiving a brutal critique, I usually bitch and moan to my closest friends and eat a crapload of chocolate before standing under a hot shower and singing "Jar of Hearts" until my neighbor bangs on the wall.

Leave for a couple of days and then write a sweet, sincere "Thank you" note to the person who gave me the crit (assuming it's a good crit and not "This sucks so bad, you should die, stupid hippo. Die hippo die!").

Then sit down and list out in bullet points what the crit pointed out. Cross out the ones I don't agree with and work on the ones I do.

Generally, after editing according to other people's comments, I find that my MS is much better and I forget the sting of the critique and am grateful for their input. I think I've been pretty lucky so far. I honestly can't remember a cruel crit. Brutally honest, yes, but cruel, never.

(Of course, having said that, my betas are probably going to hand it to me once I send them my Nano book...:D)

bearilou
12-18-2012, 08:12 PM
Then sit down and list out in bullet points what the crit pointed out. Cross out the ones I don't agree with and work on the ones I do.

I like this suggestion. I will use this suggestion. This suggestion is my new best friend.

quicklime
12-18-2012, 09:36 PM
When you say "harsh critique" are you talking about someone giving you thoughtful, constructive suggestions, or, are you talking about someone saying, "Damn, you suck. Give up?"

... . . people assume that because a writer doesn't want to be told, "You suck, assface," they must want to be coddled. (insert 10000 eyerolls here, please.)

Good, honest, constructive critique can be tactful. Period. If you can't get your message across w/o resorting to being a douche-canoe, then try harder.

Did I cover my responses in rainbows and sunshine? Nope. ...


Also, I think it's great if people love being whipped and tortured by shitty comments about their writing. Don't assume everyone else does.

crasters, you seem to have an axe to grind; other than you trying to peg it into the strawman/false dichotomy argument, I haven't really seen anyone here suggesting they wanted a verbal beating, or that "damn you suck" was ever constructive.

again, the intent on making this a "you're nice or you eat babies" argument sort of suggests, to me, you're working an agenda of your own.

tprevost
12-18-2012, 10:01 PM
When I first started experiencing rejections, it was really difficult to not be sensitive about it. What helped me the most was time and being in writing communities like this one. In searching these boards and talking with others, I'm realizing that my experience is fairly normal and it's not me...that this process is truly subjective and I just have to keep on going until I get that "Yes"!

Atalanta
12-19-2012, 02:54 AM
I don't have any answers, but I've been wondering the same thing since I joined AW, and I've bookmarked this thread.

A friend and I have gone back and forth with a few short-stories, but we always err on the side of being supportive as opposed to giving in-depth critiques. That said, a brief description of the MC from my WIP prompted her to say flat out "I don't like that character" -- an idle comment that had me tearing my hair out for days.

I've decided that once the first-draft of my WIP is finished, I'm going to learn how to do critiques before I ask for any. I'm hoping it'll not only help me edit my own work, but help me recognize a good critique when I see one.

Jamesaritchie
12-19-2012, 09:14 PM
Something I'd like to nip in the bud, if I may. Whenever these threads come up, I always cringe when people start in with the, "Toughen up, or get lost," mentality, or, they assume that all writers are super fragile and must be handled with kid-gloves. Some? Sure! But, for the most part, no.

Sometimes, there are assholes who act like assholes when they critique. Let's not forget that.

Teaching writing is advocacy in a sense and I find that I have to help a student repair damage to the inner writer in 8 out of 10 cases. Not because they are quivering masses of emotion, ready to jump off a cliff, but because they've had people with no tact tell them to give up along the way. Glad that many of them did not because they ended up being pretty dang amazing writers.

Whenever I hear generalizations that because someone is asking how to thicken their skin, they must be mentally ill and unprepared to face the world outside, I think of people who either have no tact (and need to blame someone else for it), or, I think if someone who just doesn't understand that there's a lot more to it than that.

I think you've described exactly why a thick skin is necessary. Many do use no tact when giving a critique, and I don't think there's anything wrong with this.

Some people who really do know what they're talking about, people you can trust to tell you exactly what's wrong with your writing may well have no time for tact, and no patience for those who demand it.

These comments will come, and they will often come from people you need to believe. If they make the writer a quivering mess, the writer is probably doomed.

I remember Isaac Asimov talking about his early days of writing. He took a trip to John Campbell's office to check on a manuscript. Campbell retrieved the manuscript, held it over a trash can and said, "You don't really want this back, do you?"

That's harsh, but it worked. And if a writer can't deal with someone telling them to give up, they have a problem that has nothing to do with the teller's lack of tact. Sometimes telling a writer to give up and find something else to do is the only honest answer. Tact only goes so far before it becomes lying.

Shadow_Ferret
12-19-2012, 09:27 PM
Asimov also said, "Rejection slips, or form letters, however tactfully phrased, are lacerations of the soul, if not quite inventions of the devil -- but there is no way around them."

RobertEvert
12-19-2012, 09:55 PM
Asimov also said, "Rejection slips, or form letters, however tactfully phrased, are lacerations of the soul, if not quite inventions of the devil -- but there is no way around them."

Good quote!

Mike_Gasaway
12-20-2012, 12:13 AM
As most have said already, you mostly build it up.

I come from a television directing background where a producer "had" to give 7 pages of notes for an 11 minute animated show. I thought the shows were great until I got the notes back. Then I thought the show sucked.

It took some time but you realize that critiques are all part of the game. Nothing, I mean NOTHING you write, direct, produce, paint or scribble will make 100% of the people happy. I'm just ecstatic these days when SOMETHING works...

Believe me, there is nothing worse than crafting a joke that you think kills only to have it bomb with an audience...but you have to pick yourself up, learn from it, and do it again.

Marniy
12-22-2012, 03:52 AM
I don't have a thick skin. At all. But I do have a short grieving period.


This is a thing of beauty! :)

I think I'm in the "Fake it till you make it" school. I try never to show that I'm upset over a critique. I promise myself that I can rant and wallow and sulk when I'm alone. But, with the critiquer, It's really important to me to be professional and grateful for the time they spent. It's taught me to get over it faster. And I usually do have to "get over it". A cooling off period, before I can go back and re-read the comments and find the pieces of advice that are useful.

Even if I wildly disagree with most of a crit, I've always found at least one thing of value, once I review it with a calm outlook.

It helps to shift into a logical mind-set. They think it sucks? Ok. What would they have liked to see instead? Where was the point it went bad? Was it the character they hated or the plot? What story did they really like, that they hoped mine would have been more like?

When you become the investigator, it's harder to take it personally.

(Sorry if this is a jumble. I'm muddled in the head with flu.)

Ken
12-22-2012, 03:11 PM
... ultimately, it doesn't matter if you're sensitive. A number of writers I know are. What does matter is that you carry on no matter how you're feeling after receiving a critique or rejection from an ed or agent: sad, depressed, happy, passive, whatever. That's all that matters. And for those who are sensitive, don't feel bad about that at all. Sensitivity is a fine thing. Many who are happen to be very nice people as I've found in everyday life. Not to say that those who aren't swayed emotionally when receiving critiques of one sort or another aren't too. A mix of personalities is a fine thing. Keeps things interesting and lively :-)

skunkmelon
12-26-2012, 08:57 AM
I've been reading a book called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won't Shut up. (In it, the author says there are studies suggesting that introverts actually have thinner skin than extroverts.)

Doing critiques and reading for other people really helped me feel better about putting my work out for scrutiny. One, because I learn so much every time I critique someone else's writing, which means I improve my own. Two, because I figure that most people truly want to help.

Another thing that might help is to put away your work long enough for it to lose its newborn smell. It might feel better to have others look at it once the new has worn off and you're deep inside another story.

You can also ask for gentle critiques on the SYW board. Read the critiques others have done to see what they have to say and how the OP responds. That also might help ease some anxiety.

phantasy
12-26-2012, 10:31 AM
I think crits are fine. As a designer and artist, I got used to them. As a writer, I'm still tender. A lot of personality, time and beliefs go into my writing and it's hard when tough crits come along. Writing is my mirror.

But...crits without clear 'how to improve' advice are a waste of time. A lot of people don't know what they are talking about. Crits are like advice, only take them from people you trust and you feel understand you.

blacbird
12-26-2012, 10:36 AM
I've been reading a book called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won't Shut up. (In it, the author says there are studies suggesting that introverts actually have thinner skin than extroverts.)

Why is that surprising?

caw

Mharvey
12-27-2012, 12:44 AM
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.

Can't really add much to this.

You get a thick skin the same way as erosion works on a beach. Constant exposure to criticism over a long time. :)

Persei
12-27-2012, 01:42 AM
Well, when I crit things I don't do it to shatter other people's works: when I do it is because I liked but think needs improvement, so I just assume other people are like that i.e.: they aren't critting out of ill-intent.

Although some critters are harsh and go past to critique the autor and not the writing, like using personal insults and such, so the better thing to do is ignore 'em.