One of the most common pieces of advice given to new writers is: Develop thick skin.
As a literary agent, I’ve been told I need to develop thick skin too. However, I have a confession:
I don’t have thick skin.
Not at all. I have a fragile heart, I take things personally, and I don’t just bounce back right away when I receive criticism.
I truly appreciate helpful critiques of my work, or advice on how to improve any area of my life. I crave it. I value the input of others. Yet at the same time, if it’s not always positive, I have a hard time getting over the hurt feelings (or the knee-jerk angry reaction) and moving on to actually learning from the criticism. I imagine I’m not the only one.
The reason I’m telling you this is because I know people are telling you “develop thick skin” and I know some of you are thinking, “I don’t know how to do that.” And I’m here to tell you: Some of you will never develop a thick skin.
But the important thing is: You‘ll survive.
When you’re criticized or rejected or you receive negative reviews, it will hurt – it may pierce your heart, but you’ll survive. You survive by first, allowing yourself to experience the pain. You find ways to express it in a healthy way, perhaps by taking a day to cry, or talking it over with your best friend, or calling your mom because she’s the one person who always supports you no matter what.
Then, you turn it around. You ask yourself if the criticism came from someone to whom you should listen. If the answer is yes, then you begin looking for ways to learn from what they said. You ask yourself whether you disagree or agree with what they said. (You give yourself permission to disagree with at least part of it.) Then you take what you can learn from it, and discard the rest. Move on to the next thing.
Easier said than done, of course. And I admit, it sometimes takes me awhile to work through this process!
So what about you? Are you thick skinned? If not, how do you handle criticism? Are you able to learn from it?
Rachelle Gardner is an agent with Books & Such Literary, looking for authors with long-term publishing potential. She represents Christian fiction and non-fiction, with a particular fondness for strong spiritual memoirs and books that address contemporary issues in Christianity. www.rachellegardner.com