Friday, January 12, 2018

Thick Skin Or Fluid?


Henry Houdini died of complications of being punched in the stomach by a fan. He had rock hard abs, known for his ability to take a hit, and was asked by a larger man if he could try socking him. Houdini agreed, but before he could brace himself, the fan struck, doing serious damage to the escape artist’s unprepared insides.

You’ll hear me say I don’t like the approach most people advocate in criticism: The antagonistic relationship between writer and reader, the succinct and sweet social politeness, the demand that you take hostility as it comes, else you’re not good at what you do.

I’m sensitive, that much can be determined from a few posts, but that’s not why I recommend against the, “Just smile and say thank you,” philosophy. Thick skin implies the author brace himself, take it at full force, and keep on trucking without a moment to heal. Good writers don’t let little things like irrational hostility phase them, right?

Wrong. It’s not even just an issue of why put up with that if you don’t have to, but that rolling with the punches, instead of bracing for them, tends to work better. You go with the motion instead of fighting it, and, by being flexible, you can guide and control the situation better.

When being critiqued, have a real conversation. Listen to what’s being said, recognize how it affects you, and go with it. Instead of being strong and brave, be tactful and honest. Ask questions, try to understand, and speak your disagreements in a clear and useful manner.

But I’ve written about this before, and this isn’t just a repeat. In fact, I’m here to stand behind the opposite of my usual opinion: sometimes it is better to just stand there and take it, to move on without nursing your wounds. Sometimes you have to pretend like it doesn’t hurt you if you want it to actually not hurt you.

Truth be told, I’ve doubted my interested in becoming a successful writer for some time now. I wanted to connect with readers, to be read, but I don’t like how easy it is for someone’s hostility to influence me throughout the day. The second you get noticed, the second you are more likely to fall into a person’s line of sight at the exact wrong time. People will get angry with you (hell, I’ll get angry with you) for the dumbest, most trivial, or even non-reasons. In fact, I believe that most times someone is upset with you, it’s not about you at all.

Of course, I say that as someone who has struggled with anger the last two years. Perhaps it’s merely projection.

Guilt can paralyze me. It turns me into a doormat. The biggest mistakes I’ve made were when I thought I owed someone something, or when I thought I had made a mistake when, in reality, it was likely to be a two-way street. It is rare (although this makes sense) that I ever see a bad experience as just being someone else’s shitty day and not something I could control.

But successful people? Happy people? They don’t let their mistakes get them down. They are more likely to dismiss assholes as fools and move on with their life. Sure, they make the obvious mistakes, are less likely to be observant and are more likely to irritatingly impose their will or attitude onto others, yet it’s not as big of a deal as I like to make it out to be.

It’s not the end of the world to make someone mad. It’s not the end of the world to mildly irritate them. And, in some cases, it really doesn’t have anything to do with you. It’s not your fault, and they’ll do better if you just ignore them and move on with your life.

I say this as a warning to anyone who wants to self-improve, who wishes to be less of an egomaniac and more empathetic: sometimes other people’s opinions really aren’t your problem.

I’ve heard people say authors need thick skin since the dawn of my career, but it wasn’t until today that I really find it to be true. As I focused on letting people in, trying to understand their perspective, improving myself, and having open and informing conversations with others, I was allowing myself to be affected by them.

By wondering too much on where they were coming from, I dug deeper and deeper into the events that disturbed me. I should have been focusing on some positivity, what went right. By talking about my feelings and seeking out understanding from my rants, I kept repaving the path to those, often trivial memories.

My first really hurtful criticism took me years to get over. Today, I think back on it and feel very little. I made some begrudging changes to my style because of it, which I am happier for, but, more importantly, I learned that some of what I was told, a lot of what really disturbed me, actually was the half-hearted musings of a woman with different tastes and low patience. It really didn’t matter. I read through those critiques constantly, for months, asked others about them, reran arguments in my head, thought about why, why, why, until I was blue in the face. It wasn’t until I happened across her critiques one last time and realized that there was nothing left in them for me, that I threw them away and began my ability to move on to other considerations.

Being fluid to adversity helps with creativity and learning. Instead of just taking it “like a man,” which honestly could do some real damage (and not just to your morale), a lot of times you need to move with your critique, learn when to push back and pull away, and really think about the criticism given. But other times, you need to learn when to walk away and move on with your life, to just take the hit and then act as it never bothered you at all.

If you liked this post, want to support, contact, stalk, or argue with me, please consider...

Liking Charley Daveler on Facebook
Following @CharleyDaveler on Twitter
Following @CDaveler on Instagram