Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Writers Need A Thick Hide

“I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.”
—Harper Lee, WD

What wise words these are. Every writer should wrap him/herself in the thickest hide he/she can find. Reviews and critiques are sometimes akin to standing before a target while someone shoots arrows straight at it. 

Will you let the sharp arrows bounce off and lie on the ground where they cannot hurt you? Or will you stand still as the arrows pierce right through to your heart? 

Let's face it. Criticism of our writing hurts, even when it's meant to help us learn and grow. And when we feel hurt, we become defensive, even angry. If we allow these emotions to emerge and take hold of our good sense, irreparable damage can be done.

I was once in a small local writer's group. I became friends with one of the young women and was happy when she suggested we do a one on one critique of our writing. I was delighted because the group members all said nicey-nice things no matter how poorly written a submission might be and this might be a way to gain an honest opinion. My friend gave me several pages of a novel she was writing to critique for her. When I read it, I didn't know what to do as the writing was quite juvenile in content and filled with mechanical errors. Should I look for the positives and say nothing about what she could do to improve the story? Or should I give a critique meant to help her learn? I chose the latter and, as a result, I lost a friend. She was furious that I had found anything wrong. I'd given an honest opinion and tried to do it as gently as I could, but it didn't matter.

A man in my first online critique group was from a Central American country so English was his second language. He was crazy about American baseball and most of his writing centered on that topic. The writing was pretty poor and he received many crits from other members pointing out the problems. He was furious that anyone would criticize those words he'd written. He had joined the group seeking praise, not to learn and grow as a writer. He quit in a huff after a lengthy written rant. 

We all hope that a critiquer or a reviewer praises those words we've written. When I first started submitting my work to the original online group, I must admit that I felt eager for praise and, when all the problems with the submission were pointed out to me, it hurt. It's deflating to our ego. We're humans and we don't like to be told we did a poor job. Plus it means revising and editing a piece we'd thought was just fine.

It didn't take me too long to realize that those arrows being flung my way were meant to help me, not hurt me. I figured out that I would never grow as a writer unless I got over being hurt when all my mistakes were pointed out. In early days, there were plenty of errors in my writing world. 

Over the years, my hide has thickened considerably. Maybe that's where those ten pounds I'd like to lose came from! I don't feel hurt anymore when a critiquer tears apart the 1200 words I'd written with such enthusiasm. Disappointed, yes, but not hurt because I know that the critiquer is helping me see my own work more objectively. 

I imagine that the older Harper Lee had a thicker hide than the very young one did. We age, we learn, we grow.


  1. Good job Nancy. Sure sometimes critiques are unfair, but I always learn from them. I was asked to review a book for someone once. I gave it a lot of thought and time. I gave a good review. But, I only gave the author four stars instead of five. He thought he deserved five stars. He was upset with me. So I understand the emotions involved.

  2. Maybe we need to let the writer know that we'll be very honest with our opinion. Let them know upfront and they can withdraw if they so choose. There's no doubt that we are looking for praise for our work, first and foremost, but those 'other' crits are far more helpful to us.