Posted by: Kathy Temean | September 27, 2012

Develop a Thick Skin

This September illustration was sent in by Kate Mericks. She is a mixed media artist and digital illustrator. Her aim is to inspire with words of wisdom and happy images! She is a mom, and she says, “The joy and innocence I experience everyday through my kiddo shines through my art.” She has art for sale on Etsy: You can also find more about her at my blog: She is currently working on her portfolio for the children’s book publishing world.

Develop a Thick Skin.

FOLLOW IT: The key word here is ìskin,î as to be differentiated from “skull.” This is not meant as an invitation to disregard constructive criticism but, on the contrary, to recognize it as essential to your progress as a writer. If nine out of 10 readers think your opening page is confusing, or your plot never goes anywhere, they are almost certainly right. It is your job to put aside your narcissistic attachments to the text in question and listen, to recognize your weak spots.

The key to making it as a writer—as any sort of artist, actually—is developing the capacity to question your decisions without succumbing to the opera of self-doubt. You have to recognize criticism and rejection as a necessary step in the process. Being thin-skinned (i.e., defensive, resentful, arrogant) is not an option.

I’m not suggesting that you should be happy when you get a rejection or your story gets trashed in workshop. It hurts. You have every right to return to the privacy of your room and scream/weep/punch the wall. But after you’ve gotten the rage out of your system, you also have an obligation to recognize in these disappointments the seeds of your own improvement. Because if you can’t accept your failures at the keyboard—if you retreat into grievance—you simply won’t get any better. The idea is to toughen up your hide, without hiding from how tough our task is. —Steve Almond

Steve Almond is the author of the story collections My Life in Heavy Metal and The Evil B.B. Chow, the novel Which Brings Me to You (with Julianna Baggott), and the nonfiction books Candyfreak, (Not That You Asked) and Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life. He has also self-published two books, including This Won’t Take But a Minute, Honey, a title on the psychology and practice of writing.

BREAK IT: Thin skin leads to avoiding sharing
 what you’ve written on topics that are important to you. But thick skin leads to shutting out information about where your writing hasn’t yet made full contact with others. Rather than developing a thick skin to shield against criticism, I recommend facilitating others in providing feedback that will allow you to skirt the issue of being thick or thin-skinned. Here are three steps I teach writing group members for providing painless responses to one another’s works-in-progress:

1. Identify words that stick: Ask trusted readers to let you know what words and phrases linger. It’s easier to listen to what isn’t working when your readers have proved they were listening.

2. Focus on feelings: Ask readers to tell you what feelings they have from reading your work, both feelings they believe are in keeping with your intention, and feelings of being left out or confused. This can help you realize where you’ve led readers astray.

3. Trust curiosity: When readers tell you where they wish to know more, you can then recognize what is not yet on the page. Using this approach, you can also translate harsh comments. “Too wordy” becomes, “I feel overwhelmed here instead of clear about what is going on.” “Incoherent” becomes, “Something seems to have been skipped over; I miss knowing what it is.” “Awkward” is, “I miss the writer’s voice.” With these responses, you can head into revision hurt-free and eager. —Sheila Bender

Sheila Bender 
is the author, most recently, of the memoir A New Theology: Turning to Poetry in a Time of Grief. Bender pens articles for Writing It Real (, her online magazine for those who write from personal experience or teach others. She is an adjunct faculty member at Pima Community College in Tucson, Ariz.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. I love this post, particularly because it addresses two opposite truths about writing. You need to have a thick skin to deal with the harsh realities of publishing, and you need to be thin-skinned enough to be emotionally connected to your writing. What’s important is keeping your upset feelings out of public view, and trying to get to the core of criticism so you improve.


  2. This is great: “The key to making it as a writer… is developing the capacity to question your decisions without succumbing to the opera of self-doubt.”


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