Sticks and Stones and Words
That’s what they say you have to have if you’re going to be a writer. Because someday someone will skewer your novel. Not may skewer it. But will.
It’s a given. A law. A little like Murphy’s law. A lot like the law of gravity.
Someone is going to hate your book. Really, truly despise it.
This will inevitably make you want to do one of the following:
a. Dig a hole. Climb into it. Stay there.
b. Push the writer of that review out of a helicopter without a parachute because anyone who can’t see the subtle brilliance of your prose needs to learn a lesson about great writing and what better way to prove your point than to reenact a scene from Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons.*
c. Hack into Amazon.com so you can replace the offending review with one your mother wrote in the family Christmas letter 27 years ago about the ashtray you made for her in kindergarten. “It was wonderful! Amazing! Made me want to take up smoking!”
But, as the theory goes, if you have a “thick skin,” the review won’t bother you at all. As you read how your protagonist “wouldn’t even be believable playing a stiff on a soap opera” and that your plot “drags more than J. Edgar Hoover” you’ll simply smile while the scent of lavender fills your nostrils and images of puppies and kittens frolicking in a field of poppies fill your mind.
There’s only one problem with this “thick skin” theory. It’s bullshit.
If someone calls you ugly, it hurts. Even though we both know you’re totally not ugly at all. In fact you’re quite good looking. Especially today. Did you get a haircut? It really suits you.
It’s no secret that we all want to be liked. Apparently, this is some absolute truth of the human condition. And what is your novel? It’s you. Pieces of you at the very least, and all of you if it’s your first novel. (Yes, we all know Ex Plus One Equals Love is actually a thinly disguised memoir chronicling that fifth year you spent in high school when you fell in love with your algebra teacher.)
So when someone says your novel sucks, it elicits the same response as if someone called you ugly. (No, you’re still not ugly. We already went over this. You’re cute and/or handsome and seriously sexy.) Thick skin is a myth writers made up because they desperately want it to be true. “All I have to do is wear the Thick Skin of Protection +4, and I will feel no pain.”
It doesn’t work that way. But…that’s okay.
Pain is good. Even the pain that comes from being lambasted by a clueless critic who wouldn’t know Wouk from a wok. It tells you you’re alive. And it also tells you something else, something critically important for a writer – it tells you that you care about your work. Yes! You. Care. About. Your. Work.
Forget trying to grow thick skin. Besides, you’d have to buy a whole new wardrobe. In a larger size. And don’t swing to the other side of the pendulum and complain about how thin your skin is. That just sounds like whining.
Write your book. Invest yourself in it. Do the best you can. And when someone says “your book is ugly,” go ahead and wince. Or scream. Or cry.
Then write another book. Not to prove that naysayer wrong. But because you wear the skin of a writer.
And that’s what writers do.