Friday, February 26, 2010

Must Have Thick Skin

I recently read a news article where a school district advertised a single custodial position. That district was inundated with over seven hundred applications for this single entry level job. Some of the applicants were people laid off from other jobs with higher socio-economic status. There were people with degrees applying for the job that didn’t even require a GED. The job requirements: must be able to read and write and follow simple instructions. Since then I’ve been looking at job postings. They all have one thing in common: a set of requirements.

For writers it is different. We come from all kinds of backgrounds, education levels, and social status. There are those who receive formal training and those who don’t. So what are the qualifications for an author? I can think of a few off the bat.

1) Must be able to read and write

That’s a given.

2) Must be proficient in the language.

That is not necessarily a requirement for all genres. I have read some urban fiction written in the voice of the characters that made me wonder if the writer was proficient in English. I also have written a collection of short stories and poems in my native Kittitian dialect, a dialect of English. They are stories handed down from one generation to another and are intended to be narrated orally by a griot. They totally disregard the rules and regulations of the English language. Poetic license gives writers the authority to mutilate the language.

3) Must be a good story teller.

Well most times anyway. I’ve read books published by major publishing houses that are agony to read. There is no build up, no clear ending and after reading the first few chapters my head hurt.

4) Must have an extensive vocabulary.

That’s what dictionaries and thesauruses are for, aren’t they? Besides books written above a certain grade level reading is almost guaranteed not to be read. Most avid readers read for entertainment, not punishment. I recently came across an article where the word choices had me diving in the dictionary every few sentences. I gave up…


There is one requirement that is just not obvious until you have become a writer: MUST HAVE THICK SKIN. As a writer, criticism is something one has to live with from inception to completion and beyond.

--THICK SKIN is required when you have your first readers review your work and make comments. Sometimes they’re not favorable.

--THICK SKIN is required when you get those horrible form letters from agents and publishing houses rejecting your work even though you know they haven’t read a word of it.

--THICK SKIN is required when your editor goes through your manuscript and gut out just about every scene that is near and dear to you. Or they change the dialogue so that it no longer reflects your writing style.

--Then after publication THICK SKIN is required when the reviewers get a hold of it. When my debut novel was first published the reviews were all great. I felt good. Then as time progressed some of the reviews were not that glowing. There was a particular one that described the main character as whiney, simply because she has a preference for strong heroines. I remember feeling angry because she missed the growth of the heroine. Moreover, the same points for which that that reviewer gave it a lukewarm review, another gave it a rave review. I had to take a step back and recognize not everyone will like what I write or the way the story goes. So I had to grow some THICK SKIN.

So if you were to post an ad for a writer (preferably a fiction author) what qualifications would include as basic requirements?


Alexis J. said...

Good post - my skin has gotten a lot thicker over the years. What I thought was "thick enough" - wasn't. This business is truly not for the soft at heart. Thx =)

Jewel Amethyst said...

So true...

Anonymous said...

This is some really great information. I remember when I first tried to get published and got rejected because my material was not what Publish America wanted (too vocal). So I decided to go the route of self-publishing so that I didn't have to write what they wanted to hear. Marissa, I agree . . . "This business is truly not for the soft at heart." Over the past year while freelance writing, I've found that everyone is not going to like what I write; even if I am providing a positive message.

- Dahveed

Liane Spicer said...


-Thick skin, definitely. If you don't have it, fake it.

-Proficiency in English because I so hate to see the language mangled (except for the kind of dialect poetry and storytelling you mentioned where Standard English simply won't work).