For the Daydreamers:
On Growing Thicker Skin (& Why You Shouldn't)
I had this whole post planned for today on "Doing Your Not-Doings," but then last night I stumbled into a writer's worst nightmare:
I saw a negative review of my own book.
😱 Duh-duh-DUHHHHHH 😱
Okay, so maybe that's not a writer's worst
nightmare, but it's definitely one of the crappier angles of the trade.
Here's the thing: I do not actively seek reviews
. I accept feedback from the people in the arena with me, as per Teddy Roosevelt's speech
and as per Brené Brown's TED Talk
All other reviews out there are for readers, and so to the readers I leave them.
But sometimes, there's no escaping negative comments about my writing. I'll just be scrolling through my feed like any
human on social media, and then BAM!
1/5 stars to Truthwitch by @stdennard. Boring.
-a random reader on Twitter
Such a pretty cover, but ugh, I could not finish. What did you all think of it?
-a photo on Instagram in which I've been tagged
Even the more seemingly innocuous comments can hurt:
Loved Truthwitch by @stdennard! If you hated her first series like I did, be sure to still give this one a try!
-random reader on Facebook
Okay, there's some good in that comment...but it's layered beneath some bad.
Now, I am CERTAIN that some of you are thinking, "Well, Sooz, you knew that by becoming a published author, you would be opening yourself up to criticism. That's part of the job, so deal with it."
To which I say: "No. That's not entirely true."
On the one hand, yes: any artist opens herself up to criticism the instant she puts her baby out into the world. We all know that some people are not going to like what we produce, and of course, there are trade reviews out there written by people trained to critically evaluate art.
Yet nowhere in my "artist's contract" does it say, "You have to take the world's criticism and listen to it."
Nor does it say anywhere in my artist's contract that I have to take that criticism without feeling any pain.
And quite frankly, I'm really sick of being told what I should and should not feel in the face of negativity.
It's IMPOSSIBLE for a person to control their feelings -- didn't you know that? No animal alive can prevent the neurotransmitters and hormones that regulate emotion from kicking in. All we can do is control how we outwardly ACT in the face of some womp-womp moments.
So, when someone says they hate my book, I will never tweet back, No, *you're* boring! 1/5 stars to you! I do have emotional intelligence (and so should you).
Yet there's no way I can POSSIBLY stop my chest from hollowing out with sadness. There's no way I can stop this regret that I let that a reader down -- or this frustration that maybe if I'd only tried a little harder, I could have entertained that person as much as I succeeded in entertaining others.
Which is why I think it's time to change the narrative on "growing thicker skin."
Basically: don't grow thicker skin.
No more of this, "I should be tougher." No more of this, "I shouldn't be hurt." No more of this, "I shouldn't care what other people think." No more of this bullshit machismo "Suck it up and deal with it" narrative.
And no more of this, "Well, I asked for it. "
you ask for it? I can tell you that last night when I was on Instagram admiring cat pictures, I had NOT asked for a negative review to land on my feed. There are definitely times when I do WANT negative feedback to help me grow as a writer, but I can tell you that last night after gorging on Thai curry was not
one of those times.
The fact of the matter is that it DOES hurt to get negativity, and the fact of the matter is that I DO care.
And THAT IS TOTALLY OKAY.
What's even worse, though, is how we all beat ourselves up AFTER feeling emotions we have no control over. I mean, if you're like me, then those internal reprimands only bring you even more pain.
Which is why it's time to remove SHOULD from the emotional equation.
Enough of this "I should feel X way." From now on, when you find yourself facing criticism that you did not ask for, ALLOW yourself to take it personally. ALLOW yourself to feel the pain. After all, we're artists! Feeling
is what we do best!
Then I want you to cup your cheeks as if you were speaking to an upset child (there's science
behind why this works), and tell yourself:
"Aw, [say your own name here], it's totally okay to feel bad right now. Not only is it normal, but it means you have well-functioning emotions. Good for you. Without those emotions, you couldn't write create epic art. And yeah, it super sucks that that one person didn't like what you made, but this pain will pass. In the meantime, be proud of the fact that you even made art in the first place. That's already farther than most people ever get in a lifetime."
Repeat this step as many times as you need it until the pain lessens -- and it will lessen. In fact, the longer you're in this business, the less time it takes to recover after getting knocked down.
Yes, believe it or not: your skin WILL thicken naturally over time as more and more criticism bombards you. But trying to rush that process -- trying to just suddenly GROW thicker skin...and then beating yourself up when you can't -- well, that helps no one, and it can actually cause a lot more self-harm than good.
And hey, dear reader, remember: it's totally okay to feel bad. It means you have well-functioning emotions.
Good for you. 👏