Rhino Skin

by RS on June 1, 2014

I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide. —Harper Lee

I ventured from the woods to go with my friend and PR colleague to attend BEA in Manhattan. It was interesting to see folks in the industry schmooze, learn about new book releases, and acquire a few galleys.

At one point, my friend and I got on the subject of reviews, and we advise authors to not sweat the bad reviews. If the inclination is to respond to a reviewer on Amazon, Goodreads or whichever forum you happen to see it, our suggestion is to keep quiet. It’s not worth the effort to change someone’s mind or get angry if that individual didn’t like your story, and it certainly doesn’t do your public image any good if you get snarky with reviewers whether they’re from the New York Times or a book blogger.

At some point in your writing career, you’ll come across a reader or readers—whether it’s a friend, family member, or another  writer in a workshop —who will say something insensitive. Your feelings will be hurt, you’ll feel insecure and you’ll question your story, your talent, your grammar and every little nitpicky thing, you might even cry because the comment was mean, and at some point you’ll be angry, wanting to lash out. Two words: Move on. It’s not worth obsessing over it because it will happen every time you write a book or attend a workshop. Someone will always be on the sidelines with a snarky remark.

Case in point, the Ol’ Man’s mother asked me a while back what Julius was about and when I gave her the rundown she scrunched her face and said, “Why would anyone read that? Why does anyone care?” My gut reaction was to break her cane over her head, but I restrained myself with the rationalization that her reading tastes are not sophisticated. My second reaction was to defend my work, explaining why I’m interested in the various topics presented in the book. But would it matter? Would it sway her to change her opinion? Unlikely. I accept that some people won’t like the subject matter and not dwell on trying to please everyone.

When I first tried my hand at writing a novel, I wrote what I now recognize as a disaster. But before I realized the issues with the story, I received some pretty nasty comments in two expensive workshops. The first left me frustrated because I felt the feedback given didn’t offer any sort of guidance of how I should to fix the problems, and the second workshop was more of the same, but nastier—viciously nasty—to the point of humiliation.

I’m not alone in that humiliation or receiving snotty comments. On a thread in one of the forums I belong to a number of the members shared their experiences. Many of the putdowns were from instructors belittling their students’ work and even going as far as to suggest to reconsider writing as a profession because they were not “artistes”. And then there’s the competitiveness among workshop members. The sidelong glances of derision accompanied by haughty remarks about what they read and don’t read.

My worst experience made me stop writing for several months. But I realized I was learning and the only way to improve was to keep writing. It’s been a process developing this thick skin, but there’s something more important to worry about whether an old lady will like my story or not, and that’s to finish writing it.

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