Rhino Skin

Today’s column is brought to you by Kit Shannon, turn-of-the-century Los Angeles lawyer. ANGELS FLIGHT, the second novel in The Trials of Kit Shannon series, is now available for Kindleand Nook.

Nothing had prepared her for the hostility of a city gripped by prejudice . . .

But you have to be prepared for the slings and arrows of the writing life. These may come in the form of rejection letters, bad reviews, angry reader e-mails,  personal jabs from a family member, or any  number of other places.
To survive, you need to develop Rhino skin. You need an outer armor that takes the hits but doesn’t stop you. Here’s how you get it:
1. Let rejection, or criticism, hurt for a day, no more
It’s all right to take a hit and feel its full force. Don’t try to hide from the emotional impact. Give vent. Destroy a pillow if you must. But let go after half an hour or so. Determine to go immediately to #2.

2. Write
When my son fell off his two wheeler the first time out, I didn’t let him quit. I got him back on the bike and almost burst my lungs running with him. We repeated the process till he got it.
He did not like falling. But when he was back on the bike and peddling, he was not thinking about the fall. He was thinking about staying up for the next few feet.
Writing is like that. When you are down about your writing, pound out those words. Dennis Palumbo, in his book Writing From the Inside Out,says “Every hour you spend writing is an hour spent not fretting about your writing.”
A daily quota is tonic for your ache.
What you’ll find is wonderful: when your mind reflects back on the hurt, the wound won’t be as deep as it once was. And the more you do write, the more the hurt begins to fade. You won’t forget it, but it won’t debilitate you.

3. Review your career path
And that’s what you’re on. Do not think of yourself as someone trying to sell a novel. You are a writer, and that means you never quit.
Do you need to start another book? What will you do differently? What can you learn from the rejection or the critic that is of actual value to you? Learn that thing then write and forget the rest.

4. Reward yourself
For a writing job finished, for a quota met, for a manuscript completed, heck, for just about anything, treat yourself to something.
When I finish a manuscript I like to take a full day off and go on a literary goof. There are used bookstores in L.A. I like, so I’ll start there, browse the shelves, pick up that Cornell Woolrich I’ve been missing, or add to my collection of 50’s paperback originals.
I might just go to a park or the beach, put out a chair and read.
That night, I’ll take my wife to one of our favorite places for dinner. You simply have to enjoy the journey or what’s the point of it all?

5. Remind yourself
Two reminders to put inside your head.
The first is to remember that the greatest writers of all time have been rejected and, once published, slammed in a review.
Thomas Bailey Aldrich, writing in the Atlantic Monthly in 1892, said of Emily Dickinson, “An eccentric, dreamy, half-educated recluse in an out-of-the-way New England village—or anywhere else—cannot with impunity set at defiance the laws of gravitation and grammar. Oblivion lingers in the immediate neighborhood.”
Nothing of Mr. Aldrich, to my knowledge, remains in print.
An unnamed editor returned Tony Hillerman’s first Navajo detective manuscript to him, with a note: “If you insist on rewriting this, get rid of all that Indian stuff.”
When you get a rejection or bad review, remember you’re in very good company.
And then remind yourself constantly that you are a writer, because you write. There are many more people who do not write yet feel perfectly at ease sniping at those who do. When such a snipe comes your way, know that you are the one putting yourself on the line, opening a vein, walking the tightrope, singing a solo under hot lights. You are part of a courageous bunch who are all about doing. Teddy Roosevelt’s famous advice applies to writers:
“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena . . . who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”
Get in the arena. Go at your writing with all the devotion and love and enthusiasm you have. When the darts of rejection or criticism come your way, keep writing. You will stop them with Rhino skin, and keep right on charging ahead.

15 thoughts on “Rhino Skin

  1. This is fantastic, Jim. So many truths. Thanks for the inspiration. Sometimes it’s damned heavy to wear that rhino skin, but writing makes the burden much easier. Have a great Sunday. Me? I’m “biking.”

  2. Solid advice, Jim. A good way to look at a bad review or a rejection is that it’s just one person’s opinion, and it’s not personal.

  3. The energy of that pep talk blew right through my computer screen.

    Sound words and a reminder I needed (and will probably be coming back to read again!)


  4. As the saying goes, “Thanks–I needed that.” I’ve learned to ignore both the good reviews and the bad, figuring that the proof of the pudding is in the eating…or, in this case, the sales figures.

    Love the Tony Hillerman example. I think of it when I think of what one editor said about my first novel of medical suspense: “Good writing, and if you take away all the medical stuff, I’d be glad to read it again.” Uh, that’s what it’s about. Sheesh.

    Appreciate the advice and encouragement.

  5. Was reminded of a quote from writer Ron Goulart: “Never assume that a rejection of your stuff is also a rejection of you as a person. Unless it’s accompanied by a punch in the nose.”

  6. Absolutely, write! Don’t let ’em get you down. Now I’ll spend the rest of this rainy Sunday reading “Writing Fiction for All You’re Worth.” I recommend it. It’s a pretty good book.

  7. “Every hour you spend writing is an hour spent not fretting about your writing.”

    I love that. That’s good advice for all writing issues, not just the sting of rejection.

    I was wondering…I’ve been all over my copy of PLOT AND STRUCTURE and still can’t seem to figure out how to tie an episodic novel together. It’s road trip book, so there’s an overt structure, with the doorways you talked about and lots of death overhanging (it’s set during the zombie apocalypse), so the basic structure is there.

    But how do you tie in all the little stuff that happens along the way? People the main character meets, little issues she has to resolve, side tangents? The only book I can think of that does something similiar is AMERICAN GODS by Neil Gaiman, and frankly, that’s an intimidating place to start.

    How did Gaiman manage to veer off from the main plot to talk about this place and that, and yet it not feel like we’re lost or rambling? I just bought a copy and I plan to go through it, like you suggested, but I am not sure exactly what I am looking for either.

    Thanks for reading my question. If it’s in PLOT AND STRUCTURE and I just missed it, please just point me in the right direction. I know you’re busy working on your own stuff too! 😀

    Also, do you have your 2013 appearances scheduled yet? I know it’s still early, but I would really love to try and schedule coming to one of your workshops next year.

  8. Elizabeth, that’s quite a question! I’m not sure how well I can answer, because so much depends on what your goal is. I would veer away from tangents for tangents sake. You can certainly do scenes or a series of scenes that become like mini-subplots. I would make sure that the subplots touch, in some way, the main plot, either physically or thematically.

    And then think of each subplot as having a mini-structure: a viewpoint character, an objective, obstacles, and an outcome.

    My chapter on “Complex Plots” might be of service.

    As for 2013, I have not made up my full schedule yet. Keep an eye on my website and be sure to sign up for my e-letter.

    Thanks for asking.

  9. Thank you so much, that’s perfect!

    I already have “connect to main plot via theme or events” on a post it note next to my computer, but your suggestion will help me keep them on track. I LOVE the idea of thinking of them as mini subplots with their own structure.

    I’m off to maul the chapter on Complex Plots now. Thanks again!

  10. *stands and cheers*

    This was an amazing post. Thanks for the reminders. My favorite tip is to keep on writing. When I’m obsessed with a new project, I forget about the one on sub 🙂

  11. Let’s try that again.

    Yay! My copy of Conflict & Suspense should be waiting for me tomorrow. I had ordered it with a pre-order book to save shipping and it sat in the queue for almost two months. I need a kick in the pants inspiration!

    Great post. Speaking on the med thriller subject, I just reviewed a tidy med thriller written by a doctor that hangs out here at times. When I review, I always read the low scores to see if I agree if I didn’t like it or can rebut it if I did like it.

    His lowest score said the book (a three continent race against a genetically engineered slatewiper) had authenticity problems because an ER doc ordered whole blood rather than plasma for a shooting victim.


    Shake it off, do not engage the reviewer, and move on down the road.

    Thanks for the Sunday inspiration.


  12. When I get a bad review I simply scoff back at them, in French. Because cursing someone in French sounds multiples of scoffery worse.

    “Je pisse dans le pot de porridge de votre mère de l’espérance de pleine que vous allez le manger et goûter à la gauche sur le vin bourgogne bien, j’ai bu la nuit dernière, vous enveloppe green slime manger incrustée de homard comme la créature dont la mère était un amoureux de chiens, mais pas dans un de façon naturelle.”

    Translation: I Piss in your mother’s pot of porridge in full expectancy that you will eat it and taste the left over fine burgundy wine I drank last night, you green slime eating shell encrusted lobster-like creature whose mother was a lover of dogs but not in a natural way.

    I always feel better after that.

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