by Lucy Zhang, jaBlog! Blogger & Artwork Designer
Artwork by Lucy Zhang
In eighth grade, my English teacher had us read our stories to a group of classmates. The classmates would respond to the story while the writer was not allowed to reply. The writer could not clear up any misunderstandings or defend him or herself. And so, my classmates launched tirades of criticism with the occasional sprinkle of obligatory compliments. It was a hard lesson on why writers need thick skin.
Although most of us are only exposed to writers who become successful in the news, we have to remember that for every successful writer there are hundreds of writers who were rejected by publisher after publisher. Editors pick apart manuscripts for the smallest of reasons or reject them simply because they want a piece from a more prominent writer in order to gain more views, clicks or purchases.
Writers are not totally alone, however. Other creative professionals can suffer this type of burden as well. But programmers, engineers, and scientists are generally more open to criticism as there is normally a more reasonable, faster and efficient way of doing things. However, writers have a much harder time accepting why an editor or reader thinks that a character is poorly developed or why the plot is flawed. Stories are, after all, subjective and can be interpreted in multiple ways.
The writing world is hard. There’s no other way to put it.
That is precisely why writers need thick skin. I’ve seen some incredibly harsh criticism in Goodreads aimed at well-known authors that was accompanied by insulting images and memes. I wonder how an author can take that kind of criticism. Although I have been rejected and criticized, my writing has never been well-known enough (or hated enough) to garner that kind of response.
I consider myself someone who has decently tough skin. But I am only in high school (soon college). Chances are, most of my readers are either the same age as me or younger. I haven’t faced the brutality of the writing world and weathered the time and effort required to rewrite manuscripts in order to resolve problems that editors pick apart.
Just take a look at John Green’s venture in writing The Fault in Our Stars. Green’s editor, Julie Strauss-Gabel, essentially dissected parts of his novel and forced him to rewrite the majority of it. Perhaps an exaggeration, but I would liken it to having years of effort that you’ve nurtured being turned down by a “rewrite xyz in this part” or in other words, rewrite 90 to 100% of the manuscript.
So how do you survive in this dog-eat-dog world? Give up?
To be honest, as someone who has not quite stepped into the professional publishing realm, I’m not completely sure. Maintaining resilience seems like a good, but abstract idea. Right now, I’d recommend starting off small, with poetry or short story submissions to online literary magazines before going for a novel. Don’t go in thinking any first draft will be the final draft and be open minded when you receive feedback. You should also read Polly’s adventure while you’re at it.
So step off the pedestal of lofty goals and remember that writing not only takes effort and luck–writers also need the thickest of skin.