A Thick Skin Wins the Match


There was an article in Archeology Magazine a few years ago about the diet of Roman gladiators and how it helped them maintain a fat layer to minimize the damage from being cut.  Basically, they consumed a vegetarian diet high in carbohydrates which supposedly maintained this fat layer.  for superficial cuts, the fat layer would help prevent serious injury.  Who knows if it’s true, but the idea has merit.  Who wouldn’t want extra protection when someone is swinging a sword at you?

This reminds me of a very true expression you hear about writing:  If you want to be a writer, you need to have thick skin.  While writing a book isn’t as treacherous as entering the Roman arena and someone eviscerating your story isn’t the same as someone trying to slice you in two, a metaphorical thick skin comes in handy for a writer (that’s why we like chocolate so much — it’s for our own protection).

I’ve worked with a variety of writing groups over the years, some online and some in person.  There are always writers who politely thank you for your input, no matter how brutal they felt it was, and then there are some who haven’t eaten their porridge.  They haven’t worked on developing their thick skin, and they are not ready to listen and learn.

Bottom line, if someone is volunteering their time to give you feedback, at least listen and consider what they are saying.  Thank them, take what is useful, discard the rest, and move on.  Getting defensive and combative is not a productive use of your time.  Of course, I can say this now, but it is not easy when you first start out and have not developed your protective fat layer. (Thick skin does sound better, doesn’t it?)

It took me awhile to realize that writing is a group activity.  The only way to improve and learn the craft is to work with other writers in one fashion or another.  It’s like sparring with your fellow gladiators in the practice yard.  The purpose is to practice and learn from each other.  It does you no good if they’re hitting you will pillows instead of practice swords (unless you do this), and if you can’t take a smack or two, you’ll never get any better.

So smile and thank the people who are trying to help you.  Eat your porridge (of course I prefer Reese’s Cups) and let those superficial cuts slide off you like so many pinpricks on a gladiator’s fat layer.  You’ll come out stronger for it in the end, and maybe even prevail in the writing arena.

And if you run across one of those bullies who likes to draw blood without trying to help you get better, just walk away.  When you meet them later in the arena, they’ll still be at the same skill level and you’ll have grown into a lean (fat?) writing machine.   And we all know how that fight ends.