How thick is your writing skin?

I bought new tennies thanks to my DD wearing mine in the mud.  While I knew better, I made the mistake of breaking them in on a three+ mile, brisk walk with the hubster.  I am paying for that mistake now.

The Free Dictionary defines a blister as “A local swelling of the skin that contains watery fluid and is caused by burning or irritation.” 

I would add “rubbing on the back of a brand new shoe” to the list of causes, and would insert the word painful before local swelling.  Especially when the blisters are silver dollar sized and stick out 1/2 inch on the back of each heel.  Terribly inconvenient might also be good descriptors, as would “hideous when filled with blood.” 

Eventually my pansy skin will get used to the new tennies and become callussed, thus allowing me to walk unlimited miles without earning more blisters. 

Not that the dictionary defines a callus as such, but in my experience, callusses are formed due to the body’s defense mechanism against repeated exposure to aggressive forces–ie, new shoes. 

A callus, as defined by The Free Dictionary, pretty much describes the plight of the writer.  It is “a localized thickening and enlargement of the horny layer of the skin.”

That first rejection causes a painful blister.  The 714th one barely adds a layer to the callus. 

I would like to pit the writing blister against the writing callus. 

When I was a kid, my dad told me that I cried at the drop of a hat.  “Even if you have to drop it yourself.”  In a sense, I was a walking blister and have since learned to quit throwing my hat to the ground.  This kind of emotional dysfunction does not suit a writer. 

As a writer, those first rejections and honest critiques are akin to my new-tennies blisters.  They are painful and caused by our inability to adequately distance ourselves from the chafing.  When experts talk about thickening our skin, they are warning against these kinds of blisters.

“Buck up.  Stop taking every comment personally.  Quit being a baby.  Stop whining.”  These are the commands we give ourselves to move past the initial pain and discomfort.  These phrases help us add layers over our emotions.  They build a barrier between us and our rejections, allowing us to continue writing and submitting.

Yet, I believe we can become so callussed that we lose sight of what rejections and critiques are telling us.  Our skin can become so thick that we simply move forward with our dreams and don’t even notice great advice when it comes our way.

So, how thick is your writing skin?  Do you still get blisters or have you built up the perfect protective layer?  Is there such a thing as being too callussed for our own good?  If so, how do we know when we reach that point?

sending virtual bandaids to those in need~ cat

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18 responses to “How thick is your writing skin?

  1. That’s a toughie because I tend to be emotional too. I usually try to tell myself that a rejection is not a personal thing. After all, they don’t know me. I tell myself the agent that I’m meant to be with is out there somewhere (kinda’ like my prince charming). 😉 Critiques can be tougher to weed through, but I’m managing pretty well.

    • Lisa,

      I think there needs to be a balance. A protective layering that lets us still assess the important feedback. I’m glad you are managing okay. It’s never easy getting started…

  2. I’m pretty tough when it comes to writing. Or life in general. I had to grow up fast in my childhood, so I learned to suck it up, keep my feelings to myself, and not cry too often. Not that I’m always successful (and I think it’s actually good to be emotional once in awhile, so you don’t get too calloused and hardened) 😉

    And ouch about the blisters. I get blisters from every pair of shoes I buy (no matter the size, style, or brand), so I know how ya feel.

    • Mia,

      Eek. I hate blisters. I only ever get them in a new pair of sneakers. Thankfully. I bet you don’t buy new shoes too often with that problem.

      I agree that it’s okay to be emotional once in a while. We need this to get the fullest range of all life has to offer. My dad would have loved to trade you for me. He wouldn’t have had quite so many tears!

  3. jmartinlibrary

    At this point, I’m pretty thick skinned. Each time I get critique, it seems like I’m getting quicker about processing the constructive feedback. No tears.

    • Yay, no tears. However, being repped helps let you know that you’re on the right track. Though it doesn’t mean critiques don’t happen and still sting a bit. Although I love them. They hold so much value!

      Best luck on the rewrites.

  4. I like to think I’m thick-skinned.

    I developed my skin not from writing, but from public presentations. I’m a chemical engineer, and for the first thirteen years, I was a Powerpoint Engineer. I gave multiple presentations throughout the week, with audiences ranging from peers to a few levels up the management chain, including some fist-banging curse-slinging arseholes who’d be smart to not test me and my Tahoe at the crosswalk.

    I remember a presentation I gave when I first started. One of the managers challenged a point I was making, flustered me, and I felt humiliated. I worked out afterward, and almost didn’t come back to work after lunch. I was right, you know, and she was wrong.

    Fast forward a few years and I am giving a symposium presentation on statistics. Stat nerds all around. One of the fellows — which is a big deal to be a “fellow” — laughed at me.

    Yes, he laughed at me, him and his PhD. “Why don’t you run a t-test!” snicker snicker. “You can do that in EXCEL!” Looks around with furrowed brow, cue the laugh track, badung-ching.

    Now, I could’ve gotten flustered, but I just said, “Let’s talk outside of the meeting and I’ll explain to you my model. I don’t think you understand what I’m saying. You can’t run a t-test on this.”

    That thick skin helped deflect a potentially devastating blow to my credentials. I was right again, but you see the difference in my response?

    You have to be able to deflect the bad, and absorb the good. There will be both. Don’t get flustered.

    – Eric

    • Eric, thanks for your cool head of reason! Yes, writing, and life, gives us both the good and the bad. However, I try to find the good even in the bad. Even if it is just validating that I knew what I was talking about!

      It’s nice to hear personal success stories where we learn to stand up for ourselves. It’s empowering to know we aren’t alone.

      Thanks, cat

  5. You’re absolutely right, Cat. The blisters I grew from living in my father’s house had to be peeled away before I began to really hear others’ suggestions and question what they tried to say. I needed to learn how to hear larger implications, rather than focusing on the small issues my father had raised me to hear, fix and gloss over. When I first tried to write, if I didn’t hear any of the small little barbs I’d grown accustomed to, I assumed everything was ok. Not so. I had to relearn how to think, then how to feel and react in a different fashion from what I’d learned over eighteen years. Anyone who says writing is easy is either so gifted they should have their fingers broken, lying through their teeth OR deluded. LOL

    • Victoria,

      This line could quite possibly be the best writing statement I’ve ever heard: “Anyone who says writing is easy is either so gifted they should have their fingers broken, lying through their teeth OR deluded.”

      I’m so thankful that you’ve been able to peel away the blisters from your childhood and get to a good place with your writing. Writing is not easy. Accepting criticism, no matter how well intentioned, is never easy. Especially if we’ve lived through a period in our lives where nothing can be taken at face value.

      Thanks so much for sharing. I hope it will help someone else in their writing journey.

      hugs~ cat

  6. Great point, as always Cat. I find that critiquing the work of others helps when it’s my turn to get some honest feedback. I put myself in the shoes of the critiquer – normally when I’ve been given something that doesn’t yet work, I can see definite glimmers waiting to be mined. So that’s what I focus on.

    • Roz,

      That sounds like a great way to look at the editing, critiquing, feedback process. It’s also a good way to balance your emotions from the commentary that is presented.

      ~ cat

  7. I’m a sap. I really need to work on toughening my skin. Just the thought of querying gives me chills. But when the ms is ready, I’m going to do it!

    • Jemi,

      You will do fine when the time comes. First off, you are not making the rookie mistake of rushing into submitting the second your novel is done. You are learning the market, getting critiques and understanding the industry. In a sense, you are already building up your thick skin just by being realistic about the process.

      No more quivering allowed!

  8. I helped dig a new garden bed yesterday so I currently have several blisters on various parts of my palms and on my thumbs. It is making typing quite painful at the moment. I blame winter – wearing gloves all the time makes my hands soft.
    I think having a thick skin is a really important thing in most fields. You need to listen to criticism but not be hurt by it and you need to know when how to seperate your emotions from your objectivity.

  9. Cat, I this this is a *core quest* I live with. I feel writing is like any other passion: the very thing that feeds us can kill us in the end IF we give more than we can afford to loose. I try to hold out something for me…JUST FOR ME! 🙂

    • jeanna,

      I think you just identified what all writers struggle with at some point–and some forever. Our passions can indeed kill us if we give more than we need in return.

      I fight with this every time I sit down at my keyboard and know that what I write may never get published yet it will still take time away from my family.

      Thanks so much for sharing your idea.

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