Dear Young Writers: If You Don't Have a Thick Skin, Grow One... Rapidly

"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed." -- Ernest Hemingway

Dear Young Writers: If You Don't Have a Thick Skin, Grow One... Rapidly

Ironically, I choose an introductory quote from a revered author I simply can't stand; I finished his Pulitzer Prize- and Nobel Prize-winning novel, "A Moveable Feast" and sat back in utter consternation. He's a genius because everyone said he was but I just couldn't see it. Some of the worst sentences ever constructed. I had much the same reaction to Kerouac's "On the Road" though for different reasons (I've never believed drunkenness or any altered state is a legitimate muse).

Anyway, the point is that writing isn't easy. I know a lot of you, especially those who frequently contribute to GirlsAskGuys (much appreciated, by the way), have big dreams and aspirations. I have no interest in squashing those dreams. The last thing I want to do is destroy a young writer's enthusiasm because without drive and determination, it's a frustrating, disheartening and ultimately hopeless journey. Keep writing and keep hoping.

However, those of us born with a gift for - and love of - the written word must learn to accept suffering. Hemingway wasn't being literal, of course; he was merely referring to the hell even the best writers must traverse. The subtler, more obscure, yet much darker torments come later but for now, most of you share the same major hurdle: Criticism and rejection. You will - you must - experience both during the course of your writing career and in fact, if there is to be a career, you have to have a very thick skin.

It doesn't help that you're in an educational system where you're taught that nothing is ever "wrong" or "bad," especially in the realm of artistic subjects. Granted, subjectivity is indeed a huge element in all art but despite what your educators drill into your heads, quality is not subjective. Personal preference and opinion have no bearing on quality. Simply because someone says they like a Big Mac more than a fine filet mignon doesn't make the Big Mac a superior piece of meat. Just because "50 Shades of Gray" sells a gajillion copies doesn't magically make the writing good. It sucks. It's trash. Half of you could probably write something better right now.

The point is, you will make mistakes and the quality of your writing simply isn't up to par yet. You will learn this in the rejections you see from newspapers, magazines, literary agents, publishers, etc. Of course, if you're only interested in the selling aspect, you need to do a lot of market research and pen something that satisfies current demand. That's far more about timing and positioning than it is about quality; "50 Shades" didn't get big because of quality, obviously. It was the subject matter that turned heads.

In regards to your writing skill, you just have to understand that unless you're Tolstoy reborn - and trust me, none of you are, as such people come along once every hundred years, if that - you require work. Lots of work. What you submit, even if it isn't loaded with glaring errors, probably could be improved upon in multiple ways. Again, people today are graduating high school and college with literary abilities that might be the lowest they've ever been in this country's history. Read letters college students wrote home to their parents at the turn of the 20th century, if you want to see the depressing decline on shocking display.

All this means you'll have to work that much harder and accept that much more criticism. Take it to heart and make everything you write better. It's very, very hard to do this when your writing is so very close to you, but you need to create some distance between your work and yourself. During the learning process, you have to somehow find a way to throw every ounce of yourself into a piece and when it's done, you have to step back and appraise. More difficult still, you have to step back and let others appraise. If it's not good enough, it's not good enough. It doesn't mean you're not good enough; it just means that particular piece didn't cut the mustard.

You will fail. You will write dozens, maybe even hundreds of things - articles, stories, books, etc. - in your early years and most likely, nobody besides your friends and family will read them. J.K. Rowling's first "Harry Potter" book was rejected by virtually every agent and publisher in the UK. Some of the finest books in history were never even recognized until decades after they were written. This isn't for the faint of heart. A lot of it is a freakin' crap-shoot, especially when it comes to actually selling your work (because again, you have to combine quality with marketability). Luck does play a role.

But if you want to become the best writer you can possibly be, the best thing you can do is grow a skin that would make a rhinoceros jealous. Be proud of what you produce but be ready for the feedback. Be secure and confident enough in your abilities to take that feedback and implement it into the next thing you write. Then you will learn to discriminate; you will learn that not all feedback should be implemented, that not all of it is helpful. This is a process and the only way you can progress is if you accept the following: The starting point and the end point are probably a lot farther apart then you ever envisioned. So take it slow, do your damndest, and don't get down.

Who am I to issue such advice? A nobody, really. Just a lowly journalist who has published in both print and media, who won a short story contest, who wrote a few plays, who will be looking to sell a completed novel later this summer. Just lil' ol' me, who at 22 thought he might indeed be the next Tolstoy if anyone just had the brains to notice and who, at 37, is now a far humbler yet even more determined amateur writer.

My reply to "this just isn't very good" all those years ago was indignation and dismissal. My reply to the same feedback now? "No? Then I'll make it better."


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Most Helpful Girl

  • This is why I like to write as a hobby and not a career. I will stick to getting a regular non writing job thank you very much. I write for fun and stress relief. I am currently writing a novel but the only reason why I'm writing it is because I decided to be random as hell and combine all my past unpublished novels and ideas into one cornucopia.

    It's definitely not pretty but I'm currently writing my second draft, yep I rewrote an entire novel and I'm not finished yet but unfortunately I am too attached to my characters to give up like I use to.

    When I was in high school I wrote a novel and got my first rejection letter. I hung that letter up on the wall because I was surprised that some one actually took time to read my book.

    As for now I sometimes get frustrated with my current novel but some magnet keeps me coming back to it.

    I want to get it published but to be honest, I just want to tell a good story, if it happens to get published that would be great, that is actually if I manage to have the time to submit it to literary agents because I'm so busy looking for work and I'm going back to school.

    That is if I manage to edit the hell out of it.

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    • J K Rowling need not be American. Underdog Syndrome is a habit of Americans to point out super successes as evidence of a point. Also know as "This Could Be You!" or the lottery winner delusion.

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    • @bcromartie thanks
      I do not care about getting popular because it's just a hobby but if I get popular lol I already can list the groups who won't like it

    • Well, if you succeed, let me know. ;_; I can't write worth a shit. I will take tips as they come.

Most Helpful Guy

  • "Anyway, the point is that writing isn't easy."

    Yes it is.

    "However, those of us born with a gift for - and love of - the written word must learn to accept suffering. "

    Nah.

    "The subtler, more obscure, yet much darker torments come later but for now, most of you share the same major hurdle: Criticism and rejection. You will - you must - experience both during the course of your writing career and in fact, if there is to be a career, you have to have a very thick skin."

    Nah.

    "The point is, you will make mistakes and the quality of your writing simply isn't up to par yet." + "Of course, if you're only interested in the selling aspect, you need to do a lot of market research and pen something that satisfies current demand."

    They aren't inseparable. The quote from Hemmingway is about this; quality is meaningless if no one finds it interesting. Writing is easy. Being read is hard.

    "All this means you'll have to work that much harder and accept that much more criticism." Nope, as a block incorporating the previous paragraph when people write worse they read worse. Your trade demand never exceeds the trade expectations.

    "If it's not good enough, it's not good enough. It doesn't mean you're not good enough; it just means that particular piece didn't cut the mustard." + "In regards to your writing skill, you just have to understand that unless you're Tolstoy reborn - and trust me, none of you are, as such people come along once every hundred years, if that - you require work. Lots of work. What you submit, even if it isn't loaded with glaring errors, probably could be improved upon in multiple ways."

    They don't logically get along. This is a (n ironically) horrible piece. So you need work, and you're no "Tolstoy Reborn", which is basically saying that you are terrible but if you turn something in you aren't really terrible because it's just the piece, but not you, and somehow these two elements work out.

    No. It is you. You are not good enough. The problem is that you can't merge two aspects, Readership and Composition, as one. Composition is you. Readership is someone else. But when talking about writing well it is only composition that you need to be concerned about.

    This is why no one ever gets better at anything.

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    • "J. K. Rowling's first "Harry Potter" book was rejected by virtually every agent and publisher in the UK. Some of the finest books in history were never even recognized until decades after they were written."

      American Underdog Syndrome at it's finest. Actually the opposite happens; no one looks at the library and realizes how many of those books win no prizes, get no followship, and aren't in the "must read" section. The reality is the OPPOSITE is likely to happen to you:

      You get published but no one reads your book (s). That's when it is hard. I absolutely hate when people create the "winner in us all" and "beating the odds" element at the easiest step. You can even self-publish now but no matter who is backing you there's no guarantee anyone will read your shit. A royalty check of $8 is meaningless. If you want to talk about writing speak openly about the likelihoods not tell tales of False Gods and Underdogs.

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    • Talks about thick skin and facing ridicule and won't even tell the public what plays he's written after volunteering the info...

      You are less than.

    • But jk Rowling is not American

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What Girls Said 9

  • "all i know is that i know nothing." -socrates

    i've been writing almost since i could speak. i'm fascinated by words and language, hence why i'm a literature major; yet i've accepted that i don't know everything about the craft and the process.

    i've had book reviews appear in two separate publications, and one of my poems was published as part of an anthology in 2011. but one reason i decided to return to college was because writing is such a solitary pursuit. i want to collaborate with and learn from people whose experiences are different from my own; i love feedback, since i'm of the belief that everything has potential and that we should always strive to better ourselves.

    that said, a lot of people confuse constructive criticism with rudeness. i believe that one should always feel equal parts rewarded and punched in the face after a good critique, but be prepared to offer suggestions and back them up. like, if you tell me my writing sucks, i'll probably (make that definitely) get mad... but, if you tell me why you don't like it, i'll gladly hear you out and take your ideas into account for future reference.

    i could go on, but i think i'll stop here, lest i fill a novel with the many reasons i love this take. i agree with everything you've said, and i'm sure many aspiring writers could benefit from reading this.

    :)

    -von

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  • I've always loved to write. When gag created the mytakes section i became more intertwined with writing all over again.
    The very rude users can take the love out of something you like because there's so many of them.
    I learned to not let them get to me continue writing take after take.

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  • The topic of your take reminds me of a poem I wrote as a teen that I had submitted to a writing magazine. It was a very personal poem that I thought was... really emotive and well written. It got rejected of course. I was so crushed I didn't write anything for a very long time. It's so hard to not take criticism personally when what we write stems from who we are, what we've experienced, how we think, etc. I'm much older now and I've learned to not... think so rigidly. There is always room for improvement, and the best way to go about that is to not get mired in one's own self-consciousness or pride. I think it's also really important to just be humble. In every aspect of life, there will always be someone better lol. Having great expectations can sometimes stifle a person from actually doing great things.

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    • Nicely said.

      But don't go TOO far down the humble trail, because you'll eventually find yourself in "Doubtville" (i. e., doubting your own ability), which is even worse that having too-high expectations. ;)

    • Lol. I completely agree about doubtsville :)

  • I personally find Wattpad to be the best site to get things going and to get the help and support you need to get anywhere.

    Improvement is always there. I wrote a short book and about 5 months later, I was like "what is this crap?" so I edited it quite a bit and I felt it had greatly improved. Maybe my writing had improved but it's mad how a few months later can give you huge insight into your work. I always feel my next piece will be my best.

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  • Ugh, I struggle so hard with this. I'm an English teacher, so I have the mentality that I know everything about writing, but I'm really trying to humble myself, especially on here about the responses I get on the Takes I write.

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  • This makes me think about the manga I'm reading. Since in it there is a student that wants to become a writer and it does write about the struggles he's facing.

    As something my old band teacher would have us yelling, "Hard work, pays off."

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  • I definitely can't read people who wrote from early 1920's to 1970s

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  • I love MyTakes like that <3

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  • 👍👍👍

    Nice my take. I'm hoping to become a writer and graphic artist. Luckily I'm homeschooled so I have more time to write books online now XD

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What Guys Said 5

  • I wish I'd write like you and other users of this site. I've shared a few myTakes but they're just "meh". I'm glad that at least I tried. I'm poor in English and I barely manage to post without grammatical mistakes. I never participated in any writing competition and scored ~7/10 in exams in writing. But thanks to G@G, I started "trying". Trying to write. I don't mind criticism. At the end of the day, either he/she will leave getting insulted for his/her ignorant attempt to make me feel bad or I'll become a better person by realising my mistakes. Either way, the victory is mine. So yeah, you're right. Work hard, accept the criticism and learn from mistakes.

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    • Stick around and keep writing! I can always offer tips and advice, and it's great that this site got you trying. Nobody should ever insult you for that; I certainly wouldn't and no admin would, either. :)

    • Thanks :) best wishes. Hope you get some recognition or at least a satisfaction.

  • Thanks for this. Sometimes I perceive my writing to be absolutely dreadful, and can't imagine anyone enjoying it. Other times, I write a very good passage, and think I'm the next Tolkien. This take encourages us to keep believing in oneself, while also keeping you in check.
    My current novel is a very long and complex tale, and has taken me over two years to write (and I still have a ways to go). I expect a lot of rejection, whether it be for its length, or for any other reasons; but I expect it, and believe I can handle it till I find an agent and publisher that believes it will be a success. It only takes one.

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  • I would add that I am grateful for the platform this website has given me to share my work. As a struggling English major, I have probably received more coverage from this site alone than most of my peers have through other means.

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    • Which is precisely why we always encourage students to come here. :)

  • Writers can't write something controversial on here and expect that nobody will make insults. And the only popular myTakes are controversial.

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    • Of course. That's the definition of "controversial;" insults will exist. Writers need a thick skin, and understand that that's what WORKS online.

  • I think your attitude to quality in writing or any artistic endeavor could use some refinement. In my experience quality in the context of art is that which leads the audience just enough to be interesting but not so much as to be confusing. People have different degrees of tolerance for confusion of course but that's the gist of it. As Dr, Johnson observed, "Our tastes greatly alter. The lad does not care for the child's rattle, and the old man does not care for the young man's whore."

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    • Taste doesn't dictate quality. It never has and never will. Preference can dictate sales and even fame but it really doesn't matter if the world likes my drawing of some lady more than the Mona Lisa; doesn't make me more talented than da Vinci.

      50 Shades is of poor quality, regardless of taste or preference. Art doesn't have to occupy some vague space in the middle between clarity and obscurity; in my estimation, that's just a dodge, a way of saying "everything is art," which, I'm sorry, has always been crap.

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    • Marketing is a completely different thing. That has no bearing on art or quality.

      And the idea that there can be no objective measure of quality simply eradicates words like "talent" and "ability." It says this artist can only be better than artist according to one person's subjective tastes. That's not only wrong, it's dangerous. And again, insulting to those who were born with and worked hard to refine their abilities.

    • The truth hurts sometimes but I find it ultimately liberating. It's like climbing a difficult, rugged crag. It is painful on the way but the view from the top goes on for miles.

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