Part 3 — 5 things I’ve learned about writing — Grow a thick skin

Today’s topic is the third of the “5 Things I’ve Learned About Writing.” When you want to be published, one of the things you need to do is grow a thick skin. Trust me, you’ll need it. Or as I’ve heard it said: “Trade your skin for rhino hide.”

The need for a thick skin doesn’t start when you’re trying to get an agent, or your agent is trying to get a publisher — it’s for your entire writing career beginning with the first word you put on paper or screen. As I’m sure most of you writers out there have experienced, very few people take your dream seriously. Even your friends and family. It’s just a hobby, a thing that you do, and if you haven’t been published, they see no reason to think that you’re a “real writer.” As I’ve said before, this is bullpucky. If you write and are serious about it, you are a real writer, and don’t you let anyone tell you otherwise.

That’s the biggest thing right there — you absolutely must believe in yourself and what you are doing. When people heard that I was writing a novel, they would always ask The Question. You all know what it is. “Have you ever been published?” It got to the point where I just didn’t mention my writing in casual company. I got sick and tired of the question. But if someone had heard that I was writing a novel, I’d tell them that it wasn’t a matter of if I got published, but when. For that statement, I’d get that polite little smile that said “Bless her heart, she’s delusional.” Needless to say, I ignored their opinions completely. ; )

But the big wakeup call for most writers (who are close to becoming published authors) is when they find out that publishing industry is just that, an industry. It is a business, people. Just like any other. Your book isn’t your baby; it’s a product. But I digress. I’ll take on that topic in my next “5 Things” blog. Many times I have been soooo close to getting an agent only to get the “no, thank you” letter. Now let me stop to shoot down an unfortunately common myth. Some writers think that agents love rejecting writers. They absolutely do not. They want to find treasure in that slush pile. They love books; they love authors; and they love finding books that give them chills. If you’re fortunate, an agent will have the time to give you a little word of encouragement and/or feedback in that rejection letter or email. But most of the time, you’ll get a “thank you, but your manuscript just isn’t a good fit for us” or something to that effect. That means they didn’t get chills from reading it. BUT, very important point here, what doesn’t give one agent chills, makes another agent jump up and down and go “squeee!” It is all in personal preference. Agents don’t rep projects unless they absolutely adore it. So when you get those rejection letters (and you will, I certainly did), don’t let them get to you. Just check that agent off of your list and keep going.

It all ties back to my previous “5 Things” post — you gotta want it bad. You have to want it badly enough to ignore what anyone says or thinks or implies. You gotta want it regardless of how long it takes (over 20 years for me). Because I am here to tell you that the wait, the struggle, everything is so worth it. I’m actually glad it took over 20 years from the time I started writing until I got published. I appreciate everything so much more because I had to work so hard and wait so long for it. And it is still hard work. Actually, I’m working harder now than before I was published. Because as I said, writing is a business. I do more than just write. But I’ll talk more about that next time.

I’ve got a sticker on my computer that says “If they can do it, you know you can.” It’s been there for years, and I have no plans to take it down. So grow that rhino hide and believe in yourself — if they can do it, you know you can. ; )


5 Responses to “Part 3 — 5 things I’ve learned about writing — Grow a thick skin”

  1. July 27, 2010 at 2:53 pm

    Excellent! I was just thinking about this all morning, that in so many things I’m proud of – in what I’ve accomplished and so on – that I was often simply too stupid to realize that I couldn’t accomplish it. Beyond simply having a thick skin, I think that a good dose of being too dumb to realize I just didn’t know what I was doing got me to the finish line. Very good piece Ms. Lisa!

  2. July 27, 2010 at 10:30 pm

    I can’t decide if I have a thick hide or if I’m a moron. Also, I bet people give me the “she’s delusional” smile all the time and I just don’t get it. Sometimes I’m slow when it comes to reading facial expressions. But I agree with you wholeheartedly. It’s very difficult to continue working hard without ignoring all the reasons to give up. And you’re right, it’s a business. My husband is an audio engineer and he constantly deals with people who don’t realize music is an industry. No one cares about your dreams unless you can deliver the goods and make them money. It’s interesting and tragic, but that’s the way the ball bounces (as my dad always said). 🙂 Fantastic posts.

  3. July 28, 2010 at 10:43 am

    Thank you so much, David and Nicole!


  4. July 29, 2010 at 6:52 am

    I’m still working on the thick hide thing. My friends and my daughters are very supportive but, my significant other thinks I’m crazy and spend way too much time on my computer. It’s really rather stressful. I have to sneak the writing in.


  5. July 29, 2010 at 9:52 am

    Hi Melissa,

    Have you had a talk with your husband and told him how important your writing is to you? Perhaps you could compare it to something he loves equally as much (like golf or hunting, etc.). If you put your desire/need to write in a context that he can understand and relate to, he might be more supportive.

    Good luck, sweetie!

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