Toughening Up

Writers are a sensitive group. Why do we get our feelings hurt so easily? Is it because through our writing we’re baring it all and being so vulnerable? (See last post.)

When we let others see our inner workings, dreams, and fantasies, we want so badly for them to fall in love with our stories the same way we have. We hold our breath, waiting, hoping, for their smile of delight and words of praise.

Often we get something like, “Thanks for submitting, but this just doesn’t work for me” or “You show potential, but you still need to work on developing your [characters, plot, writing skill, etc.].” Perhaps even more hurtful is when we don’t hear back at all.

Those tough responses knock the breath out of us and bring us to tears. And we find ourselves in despair, questioning whether we’re really cut out for writing and publication. After those kinds of letdowns, I’ve heard plenty of writers say, “This is just too hard and I’m not sure it’s worth all the pain.”

As you know from my posts this week, I’ve been getting feedback on the manuscript I recently finished writing. I’m doing whatever it takes to push myself harder. I’ve opened myself and my story up to scrutiny . . . and sometimes the feedback is hard to take.

This is the third book my freelance editor has critiqued for me, and she said this in an email in regards to her critique: A few times I thought I was being TOO harsh, but since you’re now a seasoned author, I knew you could take it.

Her statement made me realize toughening up is part of the growing process.

Many of us may start down the road to publication slightly naïve, not grasping the difficult climb that awaits. And when things start to get tough, we question our calling, we doubt our ability, we may even lose our fervor.

Instead of falling under the weight of hard feedback or rejections, we have to learn to shrug it off and not take it so personally. That’s easier said than done. When our writing is so intensely personal, it’s hard not to take the feedback personally.

But we all need to develop our writer calluses. The best way to let those extra layers of thick skin form is through continual exposure to hardship. If we walk away when it stings, we won’t give the calluses time to develop.

If we allow the hardships to hit us, we’ll eventually toughen our skin. It also helps to have a shift in the way we view the journey to publication:

Keep a humble opinion of ourselves and our abilities. Realize we’re usually not as good as we think we are. No one is God’s gift to the publishing industry. Okay, maybe there are a select few Rowlings, but most of us are NOT them.

Don’t blame agents and publishers for our difficulties. If we think they’re too picky, prejudiced, harsh, or controlling, we may miss out on the possibility that we need to change, not them. Maybe we still need to improve our writing abilities or find our break-in story. Remember, a well-written, saleable story will get noticed—eventually.

Understand the realities of the publishing industry. Know that it’s especially tough to get into traditional houses. Take courage from those who’ve gone ahead. I’m not a Rowling. If I can make it in, then with hard work and determination, you can too.

Realize we’re not the only ones going through hardships. It’s ego-centrical to think only bad stuff happens to us, that we’re the only ones facing rejections and harsh feedback. If we remember that MOST writers seeking publication are going through the same process, then we can take courage in persevering.

Any author serious about publication has to learn to take the harsh realities of the business. So, let’s get to work developing our calluses.

How thick is your skin? Do you still need to toughen up or have you already started developing calluses? What are some ways you've learned not to take the hard feedback so personally?

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