When I first started looking for advice on how to write, I quickly ran across the admonishment that I must grow a thick skin or I wouldn't last long.
I thought that meant that eventually I wouldn't care any more whether an editor said a piece wasn't right for their publication or a beta-reader didn't understand an integral plot point or thought my characters were flat. I thought that meant the eventually the criticism would just bounce right off and I'd continue on my merry writing way.
Maybe I've not been at this long enough, but that still hasn't happened. I still get a little hurt when a beta-reader tells me I still have issues with the middle or that chapter is just fluff and needs to go. (Yesterday!) And the rejections still make me a little blue for an hour or two.
But I'm beginning to think that maybe thick skin shouldn't imply letting it all roll off, like water on the proverbial duck's back. Or displaying Rocky-like masochism in the face of an editorial beatdown by way of a rejection letter for every day of the week.
I think that "thick skin" means you don't let the negative slow you down. Because once I get past my hurt feelings and blue moments, I keep going. I try harder. I work harder. I take risks. (If no one likes the story now, why shouldn't I try something unorthodox? They can't hate it any more than they already do.)
And about those "not for us" rejections. The form letters that don't really say anything except "we don't want this story at this particular moment". An acquaintance today said "It's not the rejections that matter." (Well, I paraphrase because I'm too tired to look it up and quote with precision.) But she's right.
It's not the rejections that matter.
Believe me, it's hard to remember that when there are bills stacking up and just one sale would really make a difference.
It's hard to remember that when every story I send out is coming back "no".
It's hard to remember that when I really want to be able to say "Look what I made. Someone else thinks it's worth something."
But in the end having a thick skin is not about not feeling the hunger (literal or figurative) or the disappointment. Thick skin is about being stubborn enough to stick it out, to say "My work is good and it is worth something and one of these days I'll find someone who agrees with me." Thick skin is not about not feeling, it's about not stopping even when you do feel it.
So here's to another day of living like John McClane. Well, maybe it's not been that bad. But for those days when it has been and you're standing there beaten up but not beaten down, let's all raise our glasses and salute the indomitable spirit that lives in action heroes and writers.