Episode 30: Thick Skin is for Writers Not Rhinos
Thick skin is a must for any writer. Editors will show you your mistakes, agents and publishers will reject you. In episode 30 we learn why we need thick skin, how to handle rejection and criticism as well as when it is okay to remove the armor.
You can listen to the episode right here. The transcription is below the player. Feel free to add your comments using the comment section below.
Episode 30 Transcript
Note: Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and humans, as such, it may contain errors. Please, double-check the audio file before quoting anything from this page.
00:00 [JT Pledger] Welcome kids! This is the 30th episode of the show! To be honest, I never thought I would get this far, but here I am, and thanks to you. Today I want to talk about a writer’s armor, the thick skin needed to get through criticism and critiques. Stick around, if you dare.
00:44 [JT] Writer’s are creative people. We tend to wear our hearts on our sleeves when it comes to our projects. Being told anything other than “Wow! That rough draft is perfect, you don’t need any changes!” can be detrimental.
01:01 Deep down, we know that our work will never officially be finished. We know that the rough draft needs work and we also know that we have editors and beta readers for a reason. It doesn’t mean we like to hear that we made a mistake or that our words aren’t quite ready for the demanding public yet. Honestly, I don’t know anyone that does.
01:32 As a writer, though, it hits a little harder. We, like any other artist, put our heart and soul into our work. Unlike most other mediums, though, it has to be perfect. Not in our eyes, mind you, but in the eyes of the public, the readers and the publishers.
01:56 I doubt anyone ever told Picasso that he should redo a painting. He put up a canvas, got his brushes and paints ready and started using his creativity how he saw fit. When Picasso was done, it was a masterpiece, a single draft to perfection.
You Will Always Find Flaws
02:20 Now, knowing what I know about creative people, I am sure Picasso sat back and eyed his finished work and saw hundreds of flaws, errors, and mistakes. He might have tried to cover up a few of them, but for the most part, once the paint was dry, that was it.
02:45 Today, we look back at Picasso’s work in awe, admiration and even intimidation. As a writer of words, though, we can’t just slap our paint on a canvas and be done with it.
03:01 Someone will read it and say it isn’t ready. Our apostrophes aren’t in the right spot, we have a run-on sentence, or there isn’t the proper subject-verb agreement. A writer has the luxury of doing a rewrite, a do-over. We can take out the horrible words and bad grammar and replace them with proper structure and good words.
03:32 If we do not, I can almost promise that no one will look at our notebook a hundred years from now and say “Well, look at this masterpiece! A rough draft you say? Nay, it is perfect!” (And, of course, they will say things like “nay” a hundred years from now.)
Writing isn’t as Forgiving
03:56 While some art forms are more forgiving, writing isn’t one of the lucky ones. Words are scrutinized, studied and torn apart.
04:09 As a writer, we have to be prepared for this. We know it is going to happen. There are going to be people out there that tell us our work isn’t good enough. You can try to get an agent only to receive a rejection letter. When you do, you can let it define you or you can let it inspire you.
Thick Skin is Your Armor
04:32 The difference is your attitude, your armor. As a writer, you have to have thick skin. It is your only defense against the nay-sayers out there that will try to tear you down.
04:46 If you are weak-willed, you might see it as not being good enough, that you don’t have the chops, or as a reason to give up. I beg you not to.
04:59 Taking criticism is never easy. It will forever be a difficult task to hand over your work to a complete stranger, asking for acceptance and receiving rejection instead. The difference is that we know this is going to happen.
05:20 I don’t know of any writer that has ever put words on paper, sought an agent or publisher and has never been told no. I can’t think of a single author who sends a draft to an editor only to have it come back with no edits.
05:37 These things don’t happen. You have to accept this. You have to know it is going to happen and prepare yourself for the pain. Then, you move on.
What Does Thick Skin Mean?
05:50 Having thick skin means you don’t let the little things bother you. You are allowed to have emotions. When you get a rejection, or your editor returns a manuscript with more red ink than black, you can feel. You are allowed to be disappointed, upset, even angry.
06:12 The difference is that you have your feelings, then you let them go and get back to work. You accept the remarks for what they are: help. The editor is only making your book better. They are only helping you fix errors that slipped by you, or make the words more enjoyable, flow better or even tighten up your story.
Rejection is Expected
06:39 A rejection letter isn’t a reflection of your work, it is a reminder that not everyone out there is a good fit for your masterpiece. I highly doubt that Nicholas Sparks would be a good horror writer. It just isn’t his style. Dean Koontz probably wouldn’t have the greatest children’s books. If either of them attempted such a task, I would hope there was someone reading the manuscript and telling them no.
07:07 Just like a prospective agent may not enjoy your style of writing or your genre. You wouldn’t want to be represented by someone that didn’t believe in your work 100 percent, so don’t take it as a failure.
Don’t Be Afraid to Have Emotions
07:23 Go ahead and feel your rejection. Feel your disappointment. And then get back on the proverbial horse and send it to someone else. Eventually, you will hit on an agent that loves your work and believes in it as much as you do. Just like you will eventually get a manuscript back from your editor with a “Great Job! No edits needed!” remark at the top.
07:54 If you don’t have a thick skin, you won’t make it far in this industry. Rejection and criticism doesn’t stop with your beta readers and editors. It doesn’t end with an agent and publisher. It never stops. Your readers are going to voice their opinion. You are going to get emails and letters stating how they think you failed them.
Have the Right Attitude
08:27 Oh well. That has to be your attitude. “Oh well, I am sorry you didn’t enjoy my story, try again with the next one.” You have to have this bullet-proof mentality. When your face is in the public, it cannot show pain and disappointment. Only when you get home at the end of your day and no one is looking can you let go and peel back the armor to show the bruises they have caused.
09:00 Then, you put on some ointment and a few band-aids and get back to work.
Advice and a Tip
09:10 I want to leave you with this piece of advice. I know that thick skin is rare. Not all of us have it. However, all of us can pretend to have it. So here it is, my guru-style advice and one tip.
09:29 Have a confidant. This can be a spouse, a best friend, a fellow author. Have one person that you can trust with anything, no matter what. That’s the tip. Have that one you can call at 3 am and bitch and complain that allows you to get everything out. Use them. Lean on them and when the rejections and hate mail and curses come flying in, take them all head-on, keep your cool and then retreat to your confidant and let it all out.
10:10 And the advice? Fuck the readers. Screw the agents and publishers that reject you. Anyone not on your side, even the general public, fuck them all. Because I want to remind of you of something. A little tidbit factoid that may have escaped you for a while; you write for you.
10:38 You put your story on paper for you, because it is what you wanted. You did it and no one can ever take that away from you. Don’t forget why you started this writing journey. You did it to tell your story. Everything else that comes with or because of that is just a detail.
Go Tell Your Story
11:06 Go tell your story, tell it with gusto and present it to the world. Put on your thick skin, open the door and give your words to the masses. That’s why you wrote them.
11:22 Until next week, kids. Have fun; write words.