Thin Skin

Posted by in Stuff About Writing

Every morning I slip out from behind my brick wall, and float around in my soap bubble. The bubble doesn’t offer much in the way of protection, and I get hurt a lot, but it’s the only way. If I remain behind my wall, I can’t get close enough, I have to risk being crushed, being stabbed, being broken in order to do what I love.

Good writing requires a certain… sensitivity. A good writer must be observant, must notice subtlety, and nuance. A good writer connects with emotion and is able to convey it. To be good, you need a heightened understanding of your surroundings, the barrier between you and the rest of the world needs to be less brick wall and more soap bubble. But this same special sensitivity that allows one to see so deeply, also leaves the writer exposed, soft, and fragile.

I am in a constant battle with my thin skin.

In some ways I love it. I think that I have an ability to connect emotionally and convey that to readers in a way that not everyone can. I also suffer terrible insecurity and self doubt. Yesterday my husband and I were watching a TV show, one where a cute couple from Texas “fix up” houses for people. They were renovating a house for a couple when one of the homeowner’s Dad, a famous writer, shows up and asks the fixers to paint something that he wrote for his daughter on her wall. Josh, probably rightly, said “What a douchebag…. writers are all so full of themselves” and I nearly cried. Yes, I agree that wanting to paint something on your adult child’s wall, something that you wrote, without asking her, is pretty douchey. But….

I think Josh was a little surprised when I didn’t agree that all writers are full of themselves. He had valid arguments: that we want people to read what we write, that we feel like we have something to say that the whole world should listen to, that we intentionally draw attention to ourselves. He’s right about all of those things. (And, I believe the same could be said about anyone who considers themselves an artist – whether it is writing, music, art, acting or dance.) So, I grudgingly had to admit he was right….but, it also doesn’t fit with any of the writers or artists that I know in real life. We are a terribly self conscious bunch of fraidy cats. Deeply afraid that our voices aren’t original, or interesting. Constantly fearing that we aren’t good enough, and never will be.

I write because I have to, because it makes me happy, and fills a hole in my chest. The writing alone is enough. I don’t need someone to read it to be fulfilled. I can’t speak for all writers, but for me – I share it because I have to. If I want to continue writing with the time commitment that it currently takes, eventually it needs to justify itself financially. Right now my job is taking care of my pre-school aged children. Redding, the baby, has 2.5 more years til kindergarten. That’s my timeline. I have 2.5 more years to prove to myself that it’s worth trying to make this work, before I start looking for a different job. It’s a lot of pressure. It’s also a lot of putting myself in front of people and yelling at them to look at me. (Which is potentially douchey, but very, very scary.)

So here we are, back to the problem of fragility again. Be soft so you can write well, be hard so that the world doesn’t crush you.

Also, apparently, I’m masochistic. I’ve started using an “editor” basically a person who I ask to be as mean to me as possible, so that I get work done, in the hopes that that work is better than my previous attempts. Obviously, loved ones can’t tell you the truth, and I have great critique groups, but those people are too nice and too supportive. So an editor is an excellent way to get my ass kicked in, hopefully, the right direction.

I want to be better. I know that growth requires pain and I know that everything worthwhile I’ve ever done has been hard. But it still hurts. Some days it’s too much, and I slip back inside my castle, but nothing ever happens on those days. It’s only the days when I’m brave enough to come out that anything real, anything good, happens.