The Grand Canyon. It’s a crack in the sidewalk compared to the gulf that lies between knowing you need to develop a thick skin and actually having one.
“You gotta have a pretty thick skin in this business,” is one of the first pieces of advice that the “experienced people” give you when they hear you say you’re working on a book, or a short story, or an essay, or what have you. Then they waddle off as though they’ve helped you.
When they see someone drowning, do they lean over and say, “Billie Joe, you gotta learn how to swim or else you’re never gonna get out of there?”
Thick skin is the Loch Ness monster of writing—everybody talks about it, but nobody’s ever really seen it. There aren’t even far away, grainy, out-of-focus, accidental photos of the thing, making it realer than Bigfoot. And yet, a friend of an acquaintance of this guy you know heard that the brother of a woman at his office met someone once who had the mythic thick skin.
But he didn’t get to touch it.
What makes the thick skin myth so insidious is that there’s actually truth woven into it. Like, if you could actually go to the store and buy yourself one—as the “experienced people” seem to imply—there’d be a label on the box that said: WARNING! SOME PARTS OF THIS MAY BE THE TRUTH.
For example, when that first rejection email that arrived in the inbox of Author Tom Hoover, I knew I was never gonna make it, that I’d wasted my time and was only fooling myself. By the 20th rejection, I still felt mostly the same. But since nobody actually came out and said, “You suck! Be gone!” I decided I’d try it a little longer.
In other words, my skin did get a little thicker.
But I was still just splashing around, barely treading water.
Thinking I’d found that Holy Grail of thickness. Feeling like I’d arrived.
Until the next criticism punched me in the face.
Because what makes the thick skin a writing myth in the first place is the fact that it’s never thick enough. Like those dreams where you’re walking behind somebody you love. You call out to them, but they don’t hear you. And no matter how much you speed up, you can never close the distance between you—even though they’re just moseying along.
Even Stephen King, in his book, On Writing, tells a story of driving with a peer reader and how he kept glancing over at her, needing her reaction. And I would imagine, if anyone had a thick skin, it’d be him. But things can still get to him.
I honestly don’t know if I should take that as encouragement or give in to despair. I’ve been to both parties.
So my New Year’s resolution this July, as well as my advice to all my writer friends out there—including the ones I haven’t met yet—is to try your best to roll with the punches and find a reason to keep on keepin’ on.
And Billie Joe. Seriously. Just stand up. It’s a wading pool for cryin’ out loud.