Saturday, February 21, 2009

To Hell with "Growing a Thick Skin".

I never understood the "get a tough skin"
or "thick skin" thing. Or rather I've never
been able to or maybe simply never wanted to.
I been at this a while & have no tough or thick skin
yet against the slings and arrows
of either outrageous or fair criticism.

AT FIRST, my blood feels like it's boiling.
I flush and my heart pounds & I start thinking of
revenge fantasies. AT FIRST. So what? It won't
kill me. It passes. My writing is one of the most
important things in my life & I expect to go ouch
on several levels if it's criticized.

And I have plenty of confidence in my talent & my writing.
But I also know that any work can be made better & stronger
& that I have blind spots that others can see clearly.
It's always about the work.

After I burn a while, I see what in there might be useful,
true. Reading & responding honestly & concisely
with a clear eye & a fair tongue is an art that few have down.
If anybody is waiting for the perfect critiquer
to come along before they'll listen, wait
on. A lot of people are uncomfortable giving critques, some are
critiquing lummoxes and either dont know or dont care or like it
that way or cant help it. I can be hurt and enraged AT FIRST and
THEN helped by anybody--when the hurt and anger subside & I
remember it's about the work, the writing, not the worker,
not the writer, not me.

Again, so what if it hurts. Let it hurt. I dont need
to develop a thick skin to protect me from critiques.
I hurt or see red & my heart slams with outrage and even
idiotic shame and I'm ALIVE! and THEN I see if
there's anything there worth taking to heart, worth implementing.

Yes, as others have said, if the clumsy or even mean
critique is the only one saying such&such, maybe it's nonsense,
but even then--maybe it's right. Maybe everybody else is wrong.
Even an oafish moron can see something others don't & help the work.

What every writer who's in it for the long haul has to develop
(besides or instead of a thick skin) is an ability
to discern bullshit, whether it's wrapped in
a Molotov cocktail or in pretty bows.

If you dont have enough confidence in your work
to carry on in the face of criticism, then you need to
develop it, and you develop it by writing, writing, writing
& then rewriting, rewriting, rewriting. Yes, find a couple people
you trust who won't bullshit you and maybe even know
how to say well what they see wrong or missing or confusing or tepid
in your work, in your writing, or the story at hand.

IF you love writing, and IF you believe in your work
& your talent, then one critique or review or ten, oafish
or refined, wont stop you. It/they might hurt like holy hell,
and set the mind in a feverish venegeful spin, but
it'll pass, and then the simple question will remain: Can I use
this or any of this to help this work or future work?

When I got my ms back from my wonderful editor David Adams
with a thousand remarks, suggestions, questions, recommendations,
criticisms, and everything else you can imagine, big and small,
and all said with the greatest sensitivity, I went straight
to bed and fell into a profound & staggering depression--
for about ten minutes. Then I got up to start at the beginning
& see where I could make the writing & story better.
It turns out he was right 95% of the time, the book
is a lot stronger, and I lived.

So develop a thick skin if you want & if you can
and if that'll help, but know also that it's possible
to keep at this over the long haul with just a normal
human skin & live & dig it all.

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