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Be careful what you wish for

[ Note: With the exception of my Bunny Cake tirades, I don’t usually rant on this blog, but I decided to try it today, just for fun. I actually had a good day all things considered, but this issue keeps popping up, so I thought I’d shake my finger at it a little. ]

Last week I ran into yet another example of a publishing professional making the rather hackneyed and ill-conceived suggestion that writers should develop a “thick skin.” I hear this all the time and it truly baffles me. The blogger in this case was an editor. Of fiction for crying out loud. Has he thought this through at all?

This arises in the context of writers having a difficult time with criticism, rejection, or any other assorted bump in the publishing road. Develop a thick skin, we’re told.

My answer to that is: huh?

Aren’t you the same bunch of editors (or agents, or whatever) who keep telling aspiring authors to dig deeper when they’re developing their characters? Make the reader feel the pain? The anguish? The highs and the lows? And quite frankly, at our best, isn’t that what we’re good at?

Where do you think that comes from? It’s because writers on the whole feel things very deeply. Perhaps even a little too deeply. For example, I don’t have an older sister, but I’m practically positive that if I’d had one, my mom would have liked her better, and quite frankly, it hurts.

Okay, I’m sorta half kidding. But sorta not. This tendency on our part to really take things to heart helps enormously in crafting our stories. In fact, most of my stories come from the combination of a random fact or idea coupled with the question: how does the protagonist feel when that happens to him/her?

I think it’s time for the publishing industry to re-think this not-so-bon mot. It’s overused anyway, especially for a group that is supposedly in love with language. Find another expression. I’ve got some suggestions:

Tell us to go ahead and feel things deeply – very, very deeply. But then have a quick refresh rate. If you want to use a tired old line, tell us we’ve got to get right back up on the horse. Something like that.

But it’s time to acknowledge that the slings and arrows of outrageous rejection hurt! They should hurt! That pain translates eventually into our characters understanding the agony of rejection by a loved one or parent, the pain of losing a competition, and who knows what else? If blunt rejection of a story that a writer’s been slaving over for months doesn’t hurt, then maybe that’s person that should get out of the biz.

End of rant.

Tomorrow we find out who won the June Contest! And I’ll post the questions for the July Contest.

Plus, the excerpt from SPIN CONTROL will be available on my website tomorrow – Yay!

BTYL, Kate

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