Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Writers, Words, and a Thick Skin

A week ago I had an uncomfortable conversation -- who with doesn't matter. 

But words were said to me that inflicted great pain. Words that accused me of being someone I'm not -- someone I know I'm not. Even with that knowledge they hurt. This quote seems to appropriate in light of that situation: 

I tried to track down the source for this image and quote,
but the link went nowhere. 

Don't worry, I've forgiven this person. But I still have to tell myself that the words are lies and aren't the truth about me a dozen times a day when they resurface. And eventually I will drown them out. And maybe I will forget.


Why do I mention this here? On a blog that is for writers?

I mention it because writers are going to hear a lot of criticism. Some of it will feel extremely unfair and unfounded. I still remember the way I felt when I read feedback on the one unpublished author contest that I entered. I wanted to stop writing but my wonderful mentor Colleen Coble wouldn't let me. She helped me filter through the comments to find the couple nuggets of gold, and then aided me as I tossed the rest overboard.

Then there's feedback from editors. Just last week I learned I made the shortlist for a novella collection, but not the short enough list. It happens. I learned a long time ago to be grateful that I got that close. Others didn't.

Then there's editorial feedback on the books I've written. It takes a stiff upper lip to dive into those with the ability to smile at the partnership. A good editor will point out what isn't working or needs to be improved while also letting you know what does sing. I've been blessed to work with amazing editors. And the partnership has been a joy even as it takes a day or so to process the editorial letters.

Add in reviews. Yes, I periodically read my reviews. Why? Because I want to be told how wonderful I am? Or how terrible my books are? I've learned that not every reader will love my books, and that's okay. Christian fiction is big enough that I can help that reader find authors they will love. I read the reviews to see if there are common themes. In those, I can see where there are areas in my story telling and characters that may continue to need improvement. Many reviews are written by readers, and I need to know how they're connecting with my books.

But even as I say that, I just looked at a few of mine, and the words can hurt.

They can be hard to dislodge from my mind...and my heart.

Writers need a thick skin. They need to be able to sort through criticism for the constructive pieces that will help them improve. We need to find the beauty in the cracks the words can make.

We work with words, so we should know this.

But just as the words spoken to me in anger continue to echo in my mind, so these other words -- even the helpful one -- can bruise.

My prayer for each of you is that as you walk this writing journey, you will be surrounded by people who can speak life into your work. That they will help you see your writing as it really is. That the comments -- even the criticism -- will be constructive. That you will have a heart that is quick to hear and take positive correction. But that you will also be quick to shuck the words that don't apply. May you always know who you are in God's eyes, because ultimately His is the opinion that matters.


An award-winning author of twenty books, Cara is a lecturer on business and employment law to graduate students at Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management. Putman also practices law and is a second-generation homeschooling mom. She lives with her husband and four children in Indiana.


Mary Vee Writer said...

I'm not sure why words that hurt find a voice.
True, some are for correction. Many are intended to hurt.
What I do know, is we have been given that great hope of a future in a place where harsh words won't be allowed.
I'm sorry you experienced this, Cara. You have such a sweet spirit.
In the meantime between here and heaven, I am thankful that God has given us friends, like Colleen, who can lift us up.
God is so good to us.

Cara Putman said...

Thanks, Mary. It was one event that got me thinking about words and how writers should handle them.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this potent reminder. The internet and social media seems to strike at our vulnerability for negative criticism by its anonymity (as if we needed another excuse as humans :-)

Thank you for the reminder to not only grow a thick skin from time and healthy/Godly perspective, but also to remember to guard our hearts as our intentions filter into words.

Laurie Tomlinson said...

Loved this post! This is so true! Thanks for the reminder! <3