Monday, November 2, 2009

Thick Skinned

Oh, armadillos. They certainly aren't the prettiest creatures, now are they?

But that's okay--they have something much more important going on. Those ugly little critters have some of the thickest skin of any animal out there. As a writer, I can appreciate that--because one thing we writers absolutely must develop is a thick skin if we want to survive out there in the brutal publishing world.

Sure, we all think we know what's waiting for us: criticism, disappointment, rejection--and we all think we're ready for it. But let's be honest. Most of us are also secretly hoping it won't happen to us.

We all have that little voice in the back of our heads whispering to us (what? you guys hear voices right? Right?) that maybe we'll be the one-in-a-million case where we land an agent on our first try, they'll sell our book to the top publisher for a gazillion dollars and our book goes on to outsell J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer--combined. Hey, it can happen right?

Sure. And we might also get hit by a meteor the next time we walk outside.

The sad reality: we're going to get rejected. We're going to be criticized. We're going to hand our draft over to someone--pages we've poured our heart and soul into, spent hours and hours of our precious time on, pages that we love and think we finally have right--and they're going to mark the crud out of them and tell us to get back to work.

That's where the thick skin comes in. Rejection? Criticism? Disappointment? Ha!--doesn't even touch us through our thick armadillo armor. Or at least, that's the goal.

Personally, I've had a thick skin for a while. I always have to do things the hard way--claw my way up, so I'm kind of the queen of thick skin.  For example, I started College when I was sixteen, and there were more than a few people (including one of my professors) who thought I wouldn't be able to handle it. But I pushed myself and pulled off straight A's.

Then I decided I wanted to go to film school--and not just any film school: USC--the number one Film School in the country. When I told the Transfer Center at my Community College that I was going to apply, they laughed. (sadly, I'm not making this up.) And while that definitely made me cry and doubt myself for a little while, I eventually decided I wasn't going to let them scare me. So I worked my butt off to keep straight A's, poured my heart into my portfolio, and applied. And I got in. On my first try. Oh, and they gave me a scholarship--one I didn't even apply for.

And then I got there and it was...brutal. It was basically two years of struggling to keep my head above water in a world where everyone knew way more about everything than I did and I didn't quite fit in (I told you guys my main project was about a lonely tumbleweed falling in love while everyone else was channeling their inner Tarantino, right?). And yet, I didn't quit or fail out. In fact, I graduated Magna Cum-Laude and had an internship all lined up to send me right down the Hollywood career path.

But, being me, I went the hard way. I walked away from Hollywood--from everything I'd worked so hard to achieve, moved to suburbia, and started writing young adult books. Most of my friends from film school thought I was crazy--and told me so. Good thing I had my armadillo thick skin.

So what am I trying to say? I'm honestly not sure anymore (hmmm, it was something about armadillos and revisions and--um...)

Oh, that's right!

See, I figured out what the secret to building a thick skin is. It's not tenacity--though that helps. It's not masochism--though I do think anyone trying to break into writing must be a tiny bit masochistic.

It's confidence.

You have to believe in yourself, believe in your idea, believe that you can do it. That's what keeps you going when someone tells you that you can't, or that you aren't there yet, or that you have a lot more work ahead of you.

Know that you're good enough. Know that you can do the impossible. Oh, and be ready to listen to their counsel and work your butt off. And anytime you face a setback,  dust yourself off and keep going. Sooner or later you'll get where you want to be.

That's the hope I'm clinging to, anyway. It won't be easy...but nothing good ever is, right?

So go ahead, call me an armadillo. I'll take it as a compliment--just as long as you don't say I look like one.  :)


  1. Hi Shannon :)
    Thank you for sharing. I found your post inspirational! It refueled my own determination to persevere in attaining my dreams and goals. What made you decide to write YA instead of going the Hollywood route? Did you have an a-ha moment?
    Love & Best Wishes,

  2. You definitely need to have a thick skin and even though my skin has gotten thicker with each critique, sometimes there is a crack in the armor

  3. Shannon that was a wonderful entry. That draft of yours must really have you thinking! That or Frankie's does ;o)
    I am amazed at your thick skin. I have had terribly transparent skin for most of my life. The past year it has decided to harden - I am no armadillo yet (though there are real ones everywhere down here ;o) )but I am working on it.
    You are right about the trick to it. I have discovered that my confidence is what has changed. I believe in myself, but there are moments that fear creeps in of what everyone else will think. It is in those moments that your blog, Frankie's blog and others are what I turn to. Acknowledging that others have these moments is refreshing and realizing they are truly part of the process is comforting.

    Thank you for the post. I am glad that I will one day see a book of yours on the shelf, but I am now quite anxious & disappointed that I may never see your movie or television show - I just know it would be awesome!

    *Sorry for the long think you get long winded sometimes, sheesh. I ramble and ramble and ramble.... ;o)

  4. R.K.- Thank you for the compliment and the comment. Yes, keep going--never give up! The short answer to your question is that I hated Hollywood. But I'll try to figure out a way of explaining the long answer in another post this week.

    Patti- Yeah, there are cracks in mine too. Just have to keep filling them in and keep going. (And it's nice to meet you, by the way. Thanks for commenting.)

    Southern Princess: You absolutely must believe in yourself--you can do it! And getting a thick skin is kind of a painful process, so in some ways it's a good thing that you aren't there yet. But you're going to have to thicken up (hmmm, that sounds weird) before you enter revision stage--and definitely before you send me any pages. The last thing I want to do is make you hate me. :)

    Oh, and keeo your comments as long as you want. I love reading them. :)

  5. Yeah, I feel like my skin keeps getting thicker and thicker. At this point, it feels like I'm an armadillo wrapped in a turtle shell, wrapped in crocodile skin. LOL!

  6. Jennifer- Hi and thanks for the comment! Oh, and I like your analogy. I may have to use that some time. :)

  7. I like your armadillo. I think he looks cute (but do you have one baring it's fangs? You've gotten me on a kick ever since your possum post). :) And honestly, I really don't think it is as bad as your making it sound. I am so excited for both of you.

  8. Heather-Thanks. I don't have any fang pics, but I'm sure I can find one... :) And bad isn't the right word. Stressful maybe? It's hard putting your work out there, asking for criticism, and then, you know, taking it. :)

    Frankie- Thanks. Your post inspired me. We're both going to be armadillos by the end of this.

  9. I average about 10 poems rejected for every one I sell, but so what? Rejections aren't fun, but mine usually come with comments. So, hopefully, I'm learning something.

    Armadillos rule! And so do your writing posts.

  10. Myrna-Thats hard core. You might have a thicker skin then me! But keep it up, and thank you so much for the compliment. :)

  11. Wow, I've missed some post obviously. How cool, and what an amazing arsonal for YA stories!!!

  12. Eileen-Thanks so much. It's so nice to meet you.


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