As I work to complete my first novel, I’m studying to master the art of writing. But my aspirations don’t end at composing a masterpiece; I dream of becoming a successful author.
I’ve come to realize that there is a huge gap between writing great stories and enjoying the life of a best-selling author.
I’ve met (physically and virtually) a good number of writers. Some are already successful, most aspire to be, someday. I’ve studied the successful writers (and those I believe will become successful), looking to identify common attributes to emulate. In other words, I’m seeking the keys to success.
Some are introverts while some are extroverts. Some are young and some are old. Some are pantsers and some plotters. They are all so different; it’s hard to find common traits.
I’ve finally identified one. The successful ones all share the same type of skin. Allow me to describe it to you.
In critique sessions, most writers are seeking honest feedback on where improvements can be made. But some seem unable to accept criticism. When I hear writers get defensive, talking instead of listening, I mentally move them into the “won’t be successful” category.
When the first draft is complete, it’s time to edit. I’ve watched writers chop their favorite scenes, characters to whom they have become attached, even whole sub-plots from their story, while others, unable to make the difficult choices, clung to their original work. Once again, I could easily pick future winners.
I visit a lot of writer’s websites. When I find a blog post that is meaningful, I like to leave comments. Occasionally, I’ll find a blog that doesn’t accept comments. Each time, I think, They’re so afraid of negative feedback, they’ve closed the door to the positive feedback, too… before I move on.
Writers who have persevered through years of rejection before finally becoming overnight sensations are legendary. In On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King describes a nail on his bedroom wall becoming thick with rejection letters during his early years. Those who are unable to handle rejection move on to other careers.
Finally, when a work gets published, others review it. No one gets 100% positive reviews. Readers have different tastes. Every author receives bad reviews. Recently, one author who received a less-than-stellar review reacted by publicly bantering with the reviewer. It didn’t end well.
My conclusion: Thick skin is required. It is a key ingredient to becoming a successful author.
I’m smiling as I write this because I was born with thick skin. I’m looking forward to your comments on this post.
Update: I just stumbled across this list of 50 Iconic Writers Who Were Repeatedly Rejected from OnlineCollege.org.
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I think ‘rhino skin’ would be more accurate 😀 I was born with ridiculously thin skin. If you even looked at me I would start crying. Luckily over the years I’ve toughened up so that now, while I don’t like negative criticism (and honestly, who does?), I can appreciate it for what it is – criticism. If it’s constructive, that’s great – I can take something away from it. If it isn’t, I walk away. No sense in losing sleep over something that won’t help, and if it’s helpful, there’s no sense in getting upset over that either.
Anne-Mhairi [what an interesting name!],
“If it’s constructive, that’s great – I can take something away from it. If it isn’t, I walk away. No sense in losing sleep over something that won’t help, and if it’s helpful, there’s no sense in getting upset over that either.”
That’s a winning attitude!
Thanks for stopping by and commenting.
Just rediscovered this post – I still think it’s great, three months later! Just wanted to add – my name is Scottish, in case you were wondering 🙂
Thanks for compliment and for coming back.
Your name is distinctive. 🙂 Is there a story behind it?
You are right. We need to be thick-skinned.
If writers aren’t when they start writing, their skin eventually thickens-up as a natural course of events.
The toughening of the hide as we proceed through life is probably a universal truth. It’s not unique to authors.
So true! I’m all for constructive criticism. There are a lot of books that I love that others don’t (Battle Field Earth! Go ahead – you want to laugh – it’s ok) and many I hate that others love (anything by Jane Austen – blech) but that doesn’t mean that I’m right and you’re wrong. It just means that we’re seeing and appreciating different things and isn’t that awesome!
Maybe it’s because of so many years of working in theatre where for every 100 auditions you go on you get MAYBE 1 part, and that’ll be in the chorus. Rejection isn’t personal, it just means that the place you’re in isn’t right for the vision the other person is trying to convey. Same with a book. When someone sees something in my work that I missed, I get excited! A reader was invested in the story so much that they have something to add. I’d much rather need to edit and have someone point out what I need to work on then bore someone so much they just put the story down.
I’ve never auditioned. So I’m not accustomed to that type of rejection! But there is a difference. As you noted, there are many people trying out, you know many will not be selected, and non-selection isn’t personal.
For a writer, the criticism is personal. There’s no way around it. You need to be able to listen without emotion, assess its value, and decide to accept it as valid (and use it to improve) or reject it.
That’s not easy.
I was joking about being born with thick skin. I wasn’t – I don’t really think anyone is.
I’ve developed the ability to handle criticism over the years. It’s really a learned skill. Even so, my first critique session hurt and left me dazed, even though I managed to hide it. Here is how I described it in one of my earlier posts:
I guess I’m not so thick-skinned after all.
Never underestimate the debilitating effect that hundreds of rejections can have on a person. Objectively you’re right, it’s not personal, but when you are trying to make a living and perform in your craft and every day you stand in judgment before people who will decide, without really knowing what you are capable of, if you will even get a second audition… well it really feels personal!
None-the-less, a good cry is good for everyone, its just how you handle yourself that matters. Even if it hurts maintaining grace and professionalism speaks so much about the kind of person you are. It sounds like even if your skin isn’t so thick, you have those qualities in spades 🙂
Of course you are right. I can remember not making the cut for the high school football team… It hurt. I did take it personally. I can’t imagine going through that repetitively.
I take it you are a writer. Have you published anything yet?
I am a writer 🙂
I had a short story published in SNM Horror Magazine which I have since self published on Amazon and Smashwords called Consumed By Love (http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/50495). Caution it is a MATURE CONTENT story.
I’m currently working on my first full length novel Shadow on the Wall and have another started that is currently percolating in the queue. You can see more about them all on the Original Fiction page on my website http://www.pavarti.com.
Thanks for asking, I’ve been enjoying your blog immensely.
Oooh, I see you like yours a bit hot and saucy! How far along is Shadow on the Wall?
Hot and Saucy 🙂 Ha, indeed. Mostly I write what the story needs, that particular story is actual a horror piece but there is sexual content which is directly tied to the theme. I don’t shy away from the taboo but am not a romance writer by nature.
Shadow is plugging along. Part I is done, been edited by one BETA and off to the second. Part II is about 70% done. I hope to have the writing done mid summer and then spend a few months editing/sharpening.
How is your story coming?
How’s my novel coming along? I’m about 70% complete.
I’ve not been able to dedicate much time to writing lately. Since the recent earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disasters in Japan, my day job has commanded most of my time.
I’m hopeful I can dedicate serious daily time beginning next week to bring the first draft to completion.
Thanks for asking.
I remember the first time I received a review from someone other than a best friend, a colleague, my sister. The review caused me to break into a few dozen leaps around my living room, it was that beautiful. Then, a day later, came the inevitable 1 star rating. I quickly deflated and fell back to Earth, crushed under a pile of ‘I should’ve written this character more like this’ and ‘why did I ever think it was okay to include that tidbit of info in that scene?’ For weeks, I’d start out every morning rereading the critique, a fit of disbelief and anger pressed forward in me.
Then one day my best friend asked me when I would start writing again. This question stopped me much like I’d imagine a near freight train collision would. I got so caught up in the reviews that I stopped writing.
Well, I started back again and that has made all the difference. I’m onto novel #4!
Congratulations on persevering and completing three novels.
I see you publish on Amazon. Are you happy with your results?
Thanks for your congrats on my three novels.
Yes, I pubslished them on Amazon and have been pleasantly surprised with the sales. Kindle is leading the pack over my printed books by far. Would I like to enjoy more exposure through other mediums? Oh, YES!
I’m just going to keep writing and see where the road takes me;)
There’s an old adage: “Do what you love and the money will follow.”
While I’m not convinced that’s true, I do know all the money in the world isn’t worth slaving away at a job that makes you miserable.
Once I complete my novel, I’ll need to decide on a publication route. Whether to find an agent and a publisher — or whether to self-publish.
Until then, I’m just watching all the changes taking place and trying to understand what it all means. If you’ve got advice, I’d like to hear it.
In college, I entered a poem in a regional competition. The critique was held in a large auditorium in front of a few hundred people. Three published poets eviscerated my poem, while I had to stand on stage. Looking back, the worst part is that not one of them offered anything constructive. I was so traumatized, I stopped writing for years.
With some age and perspective, I realize that I should have dusted myself off and gotten back on the horse. I did go back to writing, but I blush to admit that I don’t seem able to write poetry any more.
It’s sad to hear stories like this. I’m glad you found the strength to continue. I hope you can find your way back to writing poetry again.
When I critique, I look to find things to praise as well as to criticize. There’s always something the writing does well. It’s good for the ego. But it’s also important for a writer to understand their strengths, so in their efforts to improve, they don’t change what’s working.
Tell me about what you are writing. Short story? Novel?
So far, I’ve written several short stories, all neatly tucked away in a file drawer; a few close friends and relatives are the only readers. I’ve been able to glean some of my strengths, once I shake them free of the unconditional praise.
I have one story percolating that seems to want to be longer–at least novella length. I have to write for work, so I have written about half a dozen essays and 3/4 of a dissertation, all dry, over-educated prose.
Dissertation? You’re a PHD candidate? It sounds to me that should be your first priority.
When you are ready to share some of your work, let me know. I’ll tell you what I honestly think without being nasty — and it will be private.
If writing is in your heart, don’t ever stop.
Yes, I’m a PhD candidate, but since it isn’t part of my job, I have to put the work writing first. Then comes the dissertation; then the creative writing.
Thank you for the offer; given my priorities (and the need to edit before sending anything out), it might be a while, but I truly appreciate it.
I don’t think I could stop writing, even if I tried; thanks for the words of encouragement.
I once thought I couldn’t give up writing if I tried. But recently I realized many years had passed where I had not written due to climbing the corporate ladder and family obligations. Worse yet, I’d forgotten how much writing meant to me — I hadn’t even missed it!
After some soul searching, I decided to abandon my career aspirations. I’m still working, but I’m now in a maintenance mode. My heart is in my creative writing — and that’s where I spend all of my free moments.
My message is to be sure to allocate some time to creative writing. Sure the other priorities are more important; but don’t completely shut down what brings you the most joy.
Good thoughts. I never completely stopped writing, but it did get shoved into the tiny corners of my life for a long time. I see now that I didn’t feel I should be doing it. I recognize having forgotten how much something can mean to one; I feel writing is diving into a pool on a hot summer day, but I went for months without realizing what I was missing. I’m still working, too, but no longer invest as much in it.
Luckily, my family realized that I am much nicer when I put aside time to write 🙂 , so they are very supportive.
Thanks again for the thoughts–lots to put on post-its in my head.
I have really enjoyed reading your blogs. I stumbled across them in a search for useful tips and advice for achieving my dream. It was at a point in high school that I decided that I wanted to become a published author, and to share the stories that seem to percolate in my brain, with others.
Over the years, I have been attempting to write a full length novel. It has been picked up, put down, and picked up again – several times over the years. It has gone through a major conversion, with scenes being discarded, and others rearranged… not to mention completely new scenes being added that had never occurred to me in the original conception. Life has served up many distractions, and I admit to being my own worst enemy when it comes to finishing the work.
In the past, I have searched out others to critique what I have written, but only approached friends who seem to have glowing praise for my work. Though I appreciate the praise, it leaves me wondering just how good is my work, and doubting my own abilities – attributing the praise to biased loyalties. I’m nervous to hear negative responses, but at the same time, I crave constructive criticism that can help me to improve – and hopefully finish the novel. What do you suggest in locating a group who will give honest, and constructive criticisms?
Congratulations on continuing to pursue your dream in spite of life’s distractions.
Rearranging, inserting and discarding scenes is a healthy part of the process, especially for writers (like you and me) who are still working to master the finer points of novel writing. I salute your courageous decision to pursue critique from other writers. I recommend searching for writer’s groups in your local area. For example, when I searched Google for “writers group near Indianapolis” (where I live), it provides a number of groups that meet on different date and times.
Once you find writer’s groups or associations, I suggest contacting the leaders and asking about their meetings or workshops.
If you don’t find anything locally that will meet your needs, then I suggest exploring online critique groups. While I have not personally explored this option, other writers I know have. Here are three that I have heard positive comments about.
Ladies Who Critique (They tell me they welcome men, too!)
Thank you for stopping by and commenting. And please update me on your progress and your experience having your work critiqued by other writers.
I’ve become sidetracked again. I am starting to believe it’s a part of my nature. A kernel of an idea began percolating in my mind – the idea of undertaking something completely foreign to me. Generating a script to submit for a new tv idea. Addressing topics that are relevant to teens today (I have a pair of my own) – pulling ideas from my own high school experience, but tapping in to my teens for current issues they deal with.
The idea of writing a script, however, is something I’ve never had any experience. Especially dialogue (btw – I enjoyed your blog on dialogue). Would you have any idea how to find sources to help on suggestions for pitching ideas to networks?
Though I’ve been sidetracked, I’m not giving up on my novel. I have tried to look up writers groups in my area, and there are some, but not terribly close. There is a site that appears to offer for me to start up my own group – which the idea both excites me and makes me nervous.
Thank you so much for replying! I will definitely keep you updates! 🙂
Like you, I’ve been sidetracked over the past several days. While I’m not participating in National Novel Writing Month(NaNoWriMo) as I have in previous years, I did set a writing goal for November. I’m way behind and dedicating all of my spare time to catching up. So I haven’t spent much time on my blog.
Resources on pitching ideas to TV networks? I don’t have any expert advice to offer. What I would recommend is studying those who have been successful, perhaps even contacting them for advice. Shonda Rhimes is someone who has recently gone from being an unemployed scriptwriter (1995) to currently acting as chief writer and/or producer of multiple successful TV series (Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder).
But first, I would suggest getting your work complete and ready to market.