Writers, Grow Thicker Skin

John Irving agrees: writers must have thick skin

“Take this outside and shoot it.”

“Put this writing out of its misery.”

“Did you really think I’d like that?”

Just a sample of editorial advice I’ve received on my writing.

Nice, huh?

No tears were shed. As a professional writer, I know by now that the key to successful writing is having thick skin.

I may have rolled my eyes though.

I developed thick skin during grad school workshops where classmates shredded my words with their criticism.

I developed thick skin as professor after professor turned down thesis after thesis I wrote—that’s 600+ pages of thick skin.

I developed thick skin when I entered marketing, where the product’s success is more important than my fluffy words or feelings.

Thick skin is what you need to stay in the game of writing. So how do you get that thick skin?

Separate Yourself From Your Work

Your writing is not you. It is work that you have created, but it is not your flesh and blood. Forget that you’re the one who wrote the writing.

When the edits come back, consider all the suggestions objectively. Do all that you can to improve the piece as if the writing was handed to you for the first time. Choose what’s best for your writing, not your ego. That’s how you become a better writer.

Don’t Expect First-Time Perfection

Think your draft is flawless? You’re just setting yourself up for failure. Instead of 100%, aim for 10%.

That’s a really low number.

You should be ready to take on edits and suggestions. Being so close to the writing, you’re bound to miss something so face-palm obvious. Aim to write a flawless final version instead.

Writing = Collaboration

Think of your draft as a collaboration starter. You start the piece, then the editors add their ideas and suggestions. That’s when you go back and make their suggestions your own.

Writing is a team effort. You are the team leader. What do you bring to the writing?

I’m sure you’ve heard some quotes that match mine when it comes to others editing your writing. Share them below. How have they made you a better writer?


  1. This is very true. Thanks for sharing some of the more negative comments you recieved. I heard a well-known writer/speaker once and he told of the one comment that he got back from an editor that hurt. They simply said, “Really not your best work.” Ouch. One thing I usually tell people is to always have several things out at one time. If you can do this then you aren’t pinning all hopes one thing. When one comes back it isn’t difficult knowing you have other writings are still in the works.

  2. There’s no value in becoming defensive over criticism, but I have a caveat: Not all criticism is valid. Some critics confuse “I don’t like it” with “it’s not good.” I’m sure I love some songs or movies or shows that the next person hates. Value criticism, but don’t let it define one’s work.

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