Thick Skin

I never really liked the term “thick skin.” The Urban Dictionary defines thick skin as the ability to withstand criticism and show no signs of any criticism you may receive getting to you. In the writing business, a writer is expected to have thick skin. After all, it is one of the few professions where you put your heart and soul out for the world to critique you in a very public way.

RhinoThe reason I never liked the term is because many times it seems thick skin goes deeper, into a hardening of the heart. But if my heart is hard and calloused, how can I write from my heart? And how does one develop this “thick skin” that supposedly saves you from the hurt and doubt that comes from criticism?

Those were the thoughts I had this morning. I’ve been writing for years, I have two published books with another one soon to be released, and finaled in a couple awards.

I don’t have thick skin. What I do have is experience. It is not success that builds thick skin, it is disappointment. No matter how much you prepare for that first hard hitting review or intense criticism, it still hits hard. It is in that moment that you start to figure out who you really are as a writer.

Who do you write for? Why do you write? It is the answer to these questions that keep you going. This is your “thick skin.” No matter what other people say, you know deep down this is why you do what you do.

Who do I write for? Honestly? I write for myself. Yep. I don’t write for an audience, I don’t even write for God, although my writing becomes an outpouring of my questions, awe, and understanding of God.

Here’s why: audiences are fickle. Their tastes can change from year to year. If I were to tailor my writing after my audience, I would be chasing the wind and find disappointment when what I wrote doesn’t match up with what the current audience desires. If I am going to spend a couple hours a day for a year or more on a novel, I am going to write the story that burns inside of me. Granted, that may mean I don’t find an audience for my story, but I will have spent the better part of my time enjoying what I did.

Why do I write? I am a storyteller. I have these stories with complex characters thrown into awful situations and I have to figure out how they survive! As I start to write the story, I connect with the character. I feel what they feel. I understand their past and why they ended up in this situation. I ask the same questions they are asking.

This is my thick skin. When I receive a review that hurts, I remind myself why I write. No matter what the person says, he or she cannot take that away from me. When someone dislikes a character or scene, I take it in stride. I wrote for myself. I won’t please everyone. As long as I am pleased with the character or scene, then that is enough for me.

How about you? What is your “thick skin”? Why do you write and who do you write for?


6 thoughts on “Thick Skin”

  1. I really appreciate this post. I recently discovered that writing means this to me as well: exploring and enjoying the story I write, for myself. Even if it never gets published or popular, the enjoyment I get out of crafting the story running in my head is worth the investment of time and effort.

    1. Yep. I realized post publishing that perhaps saying I write for myself is a bit selfish. But it’s true. I find enjoyment in writing. If I don’t, then why do it? Here is a quote by Brandon Sanderson that I love:

      “I can only speak from my own experience, which may be abnormal, but I really feel that the times where I worried too much about the market were the times I wrote my worst fiction. And the times where I wrote: “this is what I want to read — this is what I’m passionate about,” I wrote my best fiction. And so that’s what I would advise.”

      I think when we are truly engaged in our story, our passion and creativity comes out, and that is what our readers engage in. It is also when we write our best.

  2. t becomes more and more clear to me that I do write for myself – I was trying to describe my ideal reader the other day and I realized it was essentially teenaged me! I write the stories I would want to read. And I do write for God, because He gave me this “itch” to write and the ideas to do it.

    We don’t need to be thick-skinned as much as malleable. We need to learn and grow to be good writers, and you can’t do that if you’re a stubborn rock who won’t budge at constructive criticism, like I used to be. And the more humble and open to learn you are, the more you know, and the more know, the more able you are to let ignorant criticism roll off your back instead of getting riled over it – at least, that’s how it’s been for me!

    1. Great insight! Yes, we need to be malleable. But we also must be true to who we are (and who God has made us). I wonder if sometimes we edit and criticize our unique writing voice to death.

  3. Morgan, thanks for delving more deeply into what thick skin means. I definitely don’t want to have my heart hardened but I do need to prepare myself to receive criticism and feedback as tools to help me improve as a writer.
    I know God has called me to write and inspires me to write. I like your honesty about this and your insights into chasing after constantly changing audiences. You helped me realize I do write for myself, to tell the stories God has inspired me to write.
    Why do I write? To tell these stories. To get out on paper what stirs in my heart and mind.
    Thanks for this post.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Henry 🙂 It’s that line between allowing the right criticism in that will help you as a writer, and filtering out the bad. To be honest, I’m not really good at that. I take everyone’s advice at face value and then get depressed when I can’t meet everyone’s expectations of my writing.

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