Sunday, March 11, 2007

Skin Deep

Lisa Reclining,
by John Asaro,
nudes series, oil on canvas.

One of the platitudes heaved like stones at new writers is grow a thick skin.

Good advice as far as it goes.

No one stripped you and tied you to that pillar after all.

Considering how frequent are the pricks that come with the territory, it's a wise warning, especially to those who link their egos too closely to their product. Deflation is inevitable.

More seasoned survivors, proud of their callouses and scar tissue, express little patience with those who have hysterical fits, threaten to burn their books and go be bag ladies or live under bridges, who are devastated and destroyed by criticism and claim their dreams are ruined, ruined, ruined.

Such may be even more shocked when their threat to never write again is met with encouragement of a different kind.

Nevertheless, thick and tough do not mean insensitive. You are not in the business of stamping out widgets after all.

Criticism, to my mind, should always hurt.

There's evidence that it does. Why else do Big Names get into pissing matches with each other or their fans.

The thing is not to bleed to death from it.


Ric said...

Curious as to what brought this post on?

Bernita said...

Nothing personal, Ric, if that is what you are asking.
I merely like to examine sage utterances.
Did it come across as a fit?

MissWrite said...

It's true, the 'grow a thick skin' is more a matter of survival as you pointed out this is a tough and sometimes painful business. As for the pissing matches that sometimes occur--well, thick skin or not, we're all human and sometimes it just happens. LOL

Bernita said...

There's a danger ( admittedly slight) in having too high a pain threshhold, Tami.
We need a few goads now and then.

Ric said...

Bleeding to death from criticism. Finally giving up after years of trying. Rampant masochism necessary to achieve publication or devolve into a never-going-to-be wannabe.

Then, once you make it to the big time, sniping from all directions from those jealous of your success.

Why do we do this?

Bernita said...

"Why do we do this?"

Maybe, Ric, because we can?

Amie Stuart said...

Ric you already said why--because we're massochists! :D

raine said...

Hi, everyone.
My name is Raine.
And I'm a bleeder. ;-)

The 'thick skin' advice is infamous. I've heard it from day one of trying to pursue this gig as a professional.
But in writing, as in life, some people are more sensitive to criticism than others.
And although my skin is a LOT thicker than it was a couple of years ago, it's not what it should be.
Yes, we are masochists. Rejected and beaten, we always come back for more. But immune?
Never. Part of the high incidence of alcoholism, drug use, and suicide attributed to authors, no doubt.

I hope to keep learning and growing in this gig. But the day it STOPS affecting me--or when I can't sympathize with the pain of others (and I have seen it)--that's when it's time to give it up.

Bernita said...

We wallow in it, Amie!

Oh, well put, Raine! Thank you.
When the skin gets thick, the head gets fat.

spyscribbler said...

It's hard. I know that after years of music lessons and "learning to deal with criticism" while growing up, leads to a high number of students growing up a little wounded.

And they're so used to it, they don't even realize it. In college, I remember students throwing up before their lessons, meditating before their lessons, crying after their lessons ... week after week after week.

It's the same with writers, I guess. (I would venture to say it's not near as bad, but ...)

I'm not sure that we need to grow a thick skin or let it hurt (didn't do the above any good) as much as we need to be more cerebral about criticism. Listen with our left brain rather than with our heart. Analyze it and sort. Be grateful for what you use, and throw the rest in the trash, never to be thought of again.

(Easier said than done.)

ORION said...

There is a difference between having thick skin and perseverance. There is a difference between sucking it up and taking any form of criticism and being selective with what you take and what you don't. There is a difference between needing others to validate what you are doing and knowing deep down you are on the right path.
pissing matches...ridiculing new writers...all of this makes me vow to never be like that when I am published.
This is such a great post .

Donnetta Lee said...

I like Orion's comments. Being a new writer, I am trying to "have a thick skin" and "suck it up." But it is, admittedly, difficult. At the same time, how else can I learn but to invite criticism--select what I think will really help me grow--and throw out the rest! I feel that what I write is what I have birthed and has my genes in it. It bruises but doesn't bleed profusely. Donnetta

Jennifer McK said...

Well, my take is that I have to have SOMEONE that I can rant and rave to when my widdle feewings are hurt. I have certain people that DON'T encourage me to "never write another word" when that insanity passes through my brain.
The way I deal with criticism is to cry and moan in private and shrug in public.
But I'm not going to pound someone who is genuinely hurting from something that knocked them back professionally.
There is the real temptation to blog about "that awful editor" or "that review site". The one thing that really hurts me is being completely ignored. However, I'm not going to try and get "group" sympathy for THAT particular quirk. LOL.
The best thing a writer can do is have another writer who will listen without judging. I've been lucky enough to find a couple.

Seeley deBorn said...

After months of hearing "It's nice, I like it" from potential critiquing parters I jumped at the one person who made me bleed. Now she does it weekly and I love every little slice.

December Quinn said...

Excellent point, Seeley.

I guess maybe it's all in the way criticism is phrased, and what you're looking for from it?

Bernita said...

The difference may be, Natasha, that writers can bleed more privately than performers.

Thank you, Pat. I'm sure you never will be.
"Thinning the herd" is another of those infamous attitudes.

We have to learn to discriminate between a scratch and an open wound, Donnetta.

Nice to have someone to kiss it and make it well,Jennifer, who understands it does hurt and probably always will.

The best kind of bruises and slashes, Seeley.

Right, December,there's judicious pruning and then there's being cut off at the knees.

writtenwyrdd said...

Professional and polite is good enough for me, being made fun of (I ranted about that recently) or not giving me any useful input bugs me.

Snobs who hate what I write because I am a genre writer annoy the crap out of me. I took a college course with a frustrated writer as the professor. He never said anything constructive about my work, not even "I don't read SF so I can't comment on it usefully." He just sneered at it, and not even politely. I felt so sorry for those kids in the class who were complete neophytes to writing. (BTW, this guy complained more about how he was once friends with Joyce Carol Oates and she was a biyatch because she dropped him than he spent time teaching.)

Bernita said...

People like that prof are tit-useless and a menace, Written!