On Being Thin Skinned

My next book, Invisible Sun, is due out in a couple of months, which means that reviews are starting to filter in.  Reviews come from two primary sources these days, print journals and review blogs.  Print journals have been around forever. Blog reviews are a very recent phenomenon. When Soul Enchilada came out in 2009, there were very few blogs that reviewed YA ARCs. Now, there are dozens, maybe hundreds. There is Goodreads (which I avoid like a cloak re-gifted by Medea)adding to the deluge. While the source of the reviews have changed, one thing hasn’t, and that’s the varied quality of the reviews. In both print and blogger reviews, the quality of the writing and insight varies greatly.  To me, though, it doesn’t matter because I don’t read them unless either someone sends me a link or mails me a paper copy of the review.  I don’t seek the reviews out anymore, and I use an app to block review sites from search results.  I don’t like reading even terrific reviews. Why?  Because I’m thin-skinned. And that, that is a good thing.

Writers are commonly told to grow a thick skin.  That, my friends, is nonsense, because thick-skinned people are not very good writers.  They are bullet proof to criticism, yes, but they also lack the insight and empathy required to feel the emotions that should resonant throughout their work.  Two recent novels, See You at Harry’s and The Fault in Our Stars, are full of such raw, terrible emotions that they move the readers to tears.  Neither of the authors are thick-skinned. They are empathetic, creative, and sensitive. They have great insight into the human condition. They see what we can’t and hold up a mirror so that we can see ourselves. Remove those qualities from the writers, wrap them in protective callouses, and no reader will shed a tear at their work. No one will care enough to write a review.

So the next time you read that Author X must suffer gladly the slings and arrows of critique, consider this: If Author X changes, there would be no great characters, no heart-breaking story, and no emotion that lingers for days after the reading.  In fact, there would be no book at all, which would be a very sad thing indeed.

***Thanks to everyone for the comments, retweets, and reposting.

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9 Responses to On Being Thin Skinned

  1. Love this post. Glad we can just get an app in lieu of changing our skin type–and loved your reasons why.

    🙂

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  2. Megan Bostic says:

    That’s a very interesting perspective. I like it. I think I’ll stop trying to thicken my epidermis and just write and not think about the criticism that may come with it.

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  3. I’ve never thought of it this way, at least not consciously, but I think this is exactly the reason why I have decided to shield myself from reviews.

    Thanks for the validation!

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  4. Asia M says:

    You can also have a removable thick skin. Extremely practical. I recommend. 😉

    I think a very interesting skill for writers to have is to be able to be anyone at any given time. Thick-skinned, thin-skinned, middle-skinned. How else would you be able to write all those characters knowing how it really feels to be them?

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  5. I love this post. And what is this amazing app you use for blocking reviews from search results?

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    • thunderchikin says:

      Sarah, the app is a Chrome app that allows you to block search results you don’t like on Google. I use to block reviews so that I can’t see them.

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  6. Okay… so I totally get where you are coming from. I have thick skin when it comes to critiques b/c I put on my “don’t get defensive” armour, but also swathe myself in my “be sensitive to the stuff that pricks a nerve because that is the stuff you probably need to work on” lotion. 🙂

    I have had to be careful about listening to every piece of advice – but at the same time I have grown better at hearing and acting on the advice that improves my work.

    It’s harder, I expect, hearing criticism about a book AFTER its published. My first one is coming out in September. I’m bracing myself.

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  7. For me, the biggest reason to avoid too much attention to reviews is that it’s a time sink. As for potential danger to our “art,” I actually think the glowing reviews are potentially the most hazardous. We can get hooked on the cheap thrill that a glowing review gives and write toward that next high rather than what the current WIP really wants from us.

    Maybe I’ll swear off reviews and see if my focus improves.

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