Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Thick skin

Writing Wednesday
I have often read that a writer needs thick skin. The battle to get published is a long and arduous one (well, for most of us, who don't already have a famous name to sell the book). Many, many writers have their world-famous writing rejected by publishers 20, 30, 40 times before success comes. Even when a book is published, there are reviewers out there and (heaven knows why!) some of them won't like the book. More criticism, more seemingly personal attacks.

Thick skin is not something I am famous for. I take far too much as a personal insult and, if hit with a criticism at a low point, can be utterly miserable for days. Unfortunately this fear can also be prohibitive: it stops me doing things for fear of failure, of comments that I won't be able to bear.

It is part of why sending my book to publishers and agents is yet to be done in earnest. I know that I need to be in the right frame of mind, so that I can accept the rejection letters in good grace, to receive any comments not as criticism but as constructive advice. (Cowardice is another word for the lack of action, but I prefer to think of it in more positive light!)

In the shade of the mulberry tree is currently with an editor for her comments. I am braced for its return, covered in red ink like a school essay. Yesterday I thought, 'It would be nice to have that back before I go on holiday, then I can look through it whilst I'm away.' Then I thought again. 'I don't want to ruin my holiday. I hope it comes back in a few weeks' time.' The latter is more likely; September's looking bleak.

I have also learnt that writers should ignore what their friends and family say about their books. F&F have no real idea whether it is good or not and are always more positive than the archetypal publisher/agent. This advice has made me most wary of my writing group, who always praise my writing. They get a further chapter each time we meet, and some ladies say they come just to hear the next installment. Fantastic! But are they the best critics? Probably not. Then again, in a break from tradition, last time I read them a short story I had written. That got thoroughly slated (and rightly so: it didn't really have a story, which is a clear drawback!)

Give my husband a chapter of my book and it comes back covered in suggestions and re-writes. Is he too critical? Is he writing it for himself? (He has admitted that sometimes he has different memories and wants to write it from his view instead!) Most interestingly, he usually simplifies the language. He would probably cut archetypal from the sentence above, but sorry - I like it - so it's staying!

Thick skin: that is what is needed. I'm developing it slowly and perhaps, when I've evolved from mouse to crocodile, I'll be able to cope.

Then again, at that stage I might just eat all the critics up!


During the summer holidays Writing Wednesday and other blog posts will be even more randomly timed than usual. Please bear with me! Normal service will resume in September.


Mark said...

A thick skin yes, but also a preparedness to take feedback and change when it clearly isn't working (I find that bit the hardest actually). I agree - never friends of family.

And I'd definitely beware of writing groups because in my experience they invoke a certain type of writing that works in the company but seldom does outside.

What has worked for me is to find a mentor - someone whose writing credibility and judgement I genuinely trust, and not so close that they feel they need to position feedback too carefully.

Finally, a fried of mine recently wrote a book for teenagers, so (and it's obvious really) she gave drafts to bunch of teenagers for feedback. Who is your book written for (don't say everyone)? Maybe if you think about that you could target some draft copies at the readers who fit the description.

Hope that helps.

Meg Marsden said...

Love the whole look of your blog Catherine and please excuse me doing a little trial as a novice - just want to see how to leave a comment as my family and friends are frustrated at not being able to do so on mine! Thank you.

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