Writers are always asking me how to stay in the book business—an admittedly tough business—without losing faith. How to hang tough in the face of silence, criticism, and rejection, all equally hard to bear. And keep on writing when you feel like yours is a lone voice in the wilderness.
“I have pretty thick skin, and I think if you’re going to be in this business, if you’re going to be an actor or a writer, you better have a thick skin.”
The easy answer is: Grow a thick skin. You know, like The Hulk.
But that’s a tall order for most people, much less most artists. At a recent writer’s conference, I was asked how I counseled my clients when they grow discouraged during the submission process, or suffer a crisis of confidence, or struggle with writer’s block, or even consider abandoning writing altogether.
“I always face the question: should I grow myself a thick skin and ignore it, or should I let myself be wounded? I’ve decided to be wounded, since, if I grew a thick skin, there are other things I wouldn’t feel any more.”
I found myself giving that easy answer: You need to grow a thick skin. And then I amended it.
What you really need—what all of us writers really need—is Magic Skin. Superhero skin, that repels the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that wound us writers, from rejection letters and bad reviews to egregious contracts and orphaned projects and publishers going under. Enchanted armor that protects from these insults and injuries and indignities, and yet still allows us to be the open and vulnerable and sensitive observers of human nature that make us the storytellers we are. The way Wonder Woman’s Bracelets of Submission repel bullets.
“I don’t think I have thick skin, but I heal fast. It’s easy to break through, but I heal fast.”
We can’t let the inevitable disappointments and discouragements derail us, whether it’s the eighty-second form rejection letter from an agent or the BFF who resents all the time you “waste” writing. We have to learn to heal fast, too. And get back to work. Think Wolverine.
Because in the end, the writer who keeps on writing no matter what happens is the writer who wins. We’re all Superman, and we all have our Kryptonite, the one thing that upsets us and our work the most. (For me, it’s bad reviews. So I don’t read them, and I tell my clients not to read them, either.)
And that Kryptonite may change over time: Unanswered queries one day, low-ball offer the next day, series ending the day after.
But just like Superman, we must keep on coming back to fight the good fight. We must keep on writing. We must keep on fulfilling our destiny as storytellers.
Because telling stories is what we do.
“I am Superman. And the only thing that can kill Superman is Kryptonite. And Kryptonite doesn’t exist.”
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