Should Our Skin Be Thick or Thin?

It is often said that writers need thick skins to survive, but will doing so hinder our emotions?

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Like every profession where you spend a whole lot of time pouring your own heart into your work, criticism or rejection in writing has the potential to really sting. Being a writer means putting pieces of ourselves on our pages, and then exposing those pieces to friends, agents, publishers, and readers, and asking them to comment, to judge and to criticise. We pour countless days and months, sometimes years into our work, and any negative feedback is going to be painful. It especially hurts when the work being criticised is something we were rather proud of.

“Have a thick skin – don’t just be a raw nerve squirming out there, or every hit is going to feel like the apocalypse.”

Chuck Wendig

The advice for writers to grow a thick skin in order to cope in the business has been given by countless successful authors who themselves have had to battle through rejections of their own work before finally being published.

But if, like me, you’re a new writer whose metaphorical skin is verging on translucent, should we somehow evolve to become desensitised to criticism and rejection, allowing our senses to be dulled to feelings of disappointment, frustration, failure, self-loathing and regret? And if we do grow a tougher exterior and manage to cut ourselves off from all the negative comments and feedback, will we still be able to feel the positive emotions – the elation and successes – as deeply as we did when our skin was thin? Furthermore, if, as writers, we successfully numb ourselves of any emotions, how will we hope to correctly portray these emotions in our characters?

“I am a sensitive person. I have thin skin. And while that makes me have to stop watching perfectly good television shows, and makes me worry about things I can’t control, and makes other people think I’m a little ridiculous, it also allows me to cry with other people when they tell me about the bad things that happen to them, and to understand, at least a little, what it feels like to be in situations I’ve never actually been in, and to have my emotions swayed by fiction, just like they were when I was a child. My thin skin is integral to who I am, and I think it makes me a better writer than I would be without it.”

Veronica Roth

As writers, can we afford to numb or dull any of our senses? Should we willingly shut ourselves off from the pain of feeling negative emotions by growing a metaphorically impenetrable thick layer of skin? I guess this is a question each and every writer needs to answer for themselves, because the answer will not be the same for everyone. I myself won’t be trying to thicken my skin and block out any emotions, although I guess it may be something that naturally occurs somewhat with time and experience. Instead, I will be fine-tuning my filter – I will listen to every comment and take every rejection, while often holding back tears, and from the information I’ve gathered I will listen to only what I can take forward and use in my work.

All of the negatives in this world of writing may, from time to time, make us cry or force us to have a break from writing for a day or two, but we cannot allow it to cause us to stop altogether. Instead, we could continue to feel every comment and piece of critique, and learn to extract only what we need, discarding the rest.

And, after all, every piece of critique, suggestion or comment, and each and every rejection, is one step closer to that submission that gets accepted.

Rebecca Delphine is an aspiring Young Adult author from Thanet.

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