Monday, March 19, 2012

Thin Skin

I was browsing my old entries this weekend, looking for topics I could go into further depth on, or subjects on which Josh and I could collaborate, and I noticed that I talk a lot in my early entries about how thin-skinned I am. I haven't submitted anything for critique lately, though, so I haven't talked about it much.

I used to be even more sensitive than I am. There was a time, as I refer to in this entry, when I couldn't even write if someone was behind me. As I've gotten more used to writing in coffee shops, that's less of a problem these days. I still can't submit for critique without feeling like a nervous wreck, though. I feel like, if they criticize my writing, they're criticizing me, because that's where the words came from.

I do know better, intellectually. I feel a lot of ways I know I shouldn't. Let's not get into why I can't walk through my empty, locked apartment after dark without turning on every single light along the way. We'll get into my excess imagination some other time.

I've learned many coping mechanisms for how hard I take criticism. I've learned to take it better. I've learned to integrate a lot of these ideas. I try to remember how much trepidation I had the last time, and how helpful the critique was. I think of how much I've grown as a writer in reaction to the criticism I've received.

As with many of the other negative traits I've been talking about this month, I don't think thin skin on a writer is necessarily a bad thing. I think one can be oversensitive to criticism, and that's a problem if someone uses that as an impetus to shut herself up in her room and never let anyone read anything she's written ever again. But, as a motivating tool, it's one of the best.

No one starts out perfect. Certainly some people start out talented, and some writers have an innate gift for some aspect of writing. But no one can churn out a perfect first draft the first time they sit down to commit the idea to writing. It's not how it works.

If one has thin skin, the first critique is going to hurt. It's going to be a slap in the face, and that person will question his or her entire existence after all the mean things everyone said.

But then something else will happen. That person will want to do better next time. We human beings don't generally like pain. We do what we can to avoid it. So, the next time that thin-skinned writer reaches out, he or she will submit something more polished, and try to avoid making the same mistakes as before. There will be a slew of whole new mistakes, and it's going to be discouraging, but that person will be highly motivated to change and grow and do better.

This is far from the universal experience with thin-skinned writers, but it's certainly been part of my evolution as a writer. Clearly, one can make it to the publication stage without learning how to turn thin skin into a strength, as several author meltdowns have illustrated. But, for the most part, I think writers' sensitivity is why they're motivated to learn and improve.

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