Like Water Off of a Duck’s Back: How Professional Writers Can Develop a Thick Skin

Posted on March 25, 2014 by Amy F

duckNo matter what stage you’re at in your writing career, there are going to be times when rejection is all you’re going to see. If you’re not rejected outright, you might have to deal with harsh criticisms from your clients, sarcastic comments on your blog posts or general skepticism from your friends and family. While a career as a writer can seem bleak at times, professional writers who stick it out know that it’s worth it in the end. Getting by as a writer is all about developing a thick skin. You’ll hear the critiques and comments, but they’ll roll off you like water off of a duck’s back.

It’s Not You, It’s . . .

When someone’s breaking up with you, “it’s not you, it’s me” isn’t exactly a cliche you want to hear. But, when you’re dealing with a cranky client or with a publishing company that’s turning down your work, it’s exactly what you need to hear. That publishing company is saying no thanks to you not because your work is a pile of junk, but because it’s not a fit for it at the moment. The company might be in need of a romance novel targeted at young women while what you handed it was a sci-fi adventure for young adults. Instead of throwing your work on the fire, look for another company that’s more in line with your style.

Another way to handle an outright rejection is to follow up with the publisher or editor who said no. Ask him or her what type of writing the company wants. You might be able to offer something more in line with the company’s needs, or you might not, and that’s OK, too.

Remember, You’re a Writer

To succeed as a writer you’re going to need to have faith in yourself. If you start to doubt your abilities or talents anytime someone questions your writing style or technical ability, you won’t last very long at all. Take the advice of comedian Jenny Slate to heart: what you think about yourself matters a lot more than what others think.

When you’re feeling down about a rejection or critique, take a look back over past successes. Read comments from people praising your work or read over a favorite story or article you’ve written. If you decide never to write again after someone says no to you, that person isn’t putting an end to your career, you are.

Professional Writers: Don’t Ignore All Criticism

While the temptation is there to say “I don’t care what you think” to everyone who offers you criticism, that won’t get your career very far. It’s better to learn to filter out criticism and to separate the useful from the hurtful. For example, “your writing is terrible” is an example of unhelpful criticism and you can feel free to ignore it. But, “we’re looking for a more casual tone in this piece, could you use second person and more contractions,” is a piece of helpful criticism. It tells you exactly what the client wants and how you can make the piece better for everyone. Learn to pay attention to the criticism that helps you and turn a blind eye to all the rest.

Amy F is a freelance writer in Philadelphia, PA. She enjoys writing on topics including personal finance, home and garden, and health.


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