Why crocodile skin may not be the best defense for writers

Did you ever wish you had the skin of alligators or crocodiles? You know, a thick protective layer that is virtually impenetrable? Their bodies are covered with scales composed of the same material that is found in hooves, horns and nails.

Wikipedia says “On the head the skin is actually fused to the bones of the skull. There are small plates of bone, called osteoderms or scutes, under the scales. … The rows of scutes cover the crocodilian’s body from head to tail, forming a tough protective armor. Beneath the scales and osteoderms is another layer of armor, both strong and flexible and built of rows of bony overlapping shingles called osteoscutes, which are embedded in the animal’s back tissue.”

(Click photo to enlarge)

Talk about water running off the back of a duck — having the skin of the crocodilia would mean negative critiques and bad reviews could never jab a tender nerve!

Giving criticism is more fun than getting it, that’s for sure! Like it or not, however, as a writer we’re inevitably going to have to deal with it.  I’ve written other posts about critiques (here and here) but I recently found a couple articles on the subject that I think offer another perspective worth sharing. Here are some excerpts:

“… Writing a story, essay, or poem requires vulnerability. Good writing demands honesty and disclosure,” says author, editor and writing coach Lisa Groen in her article on the Court Street Literary website. “Becoming a better writer means developing the ability to separate from your work, to hear criticism openly and objectively. If your goal is to get better, then any comments offered  … are opportunities to fulfill that purpose. If, on the other hand, you cannot separate from your work, any criticism will feel like a personal attack. You’ll feel defensive, angry, and misunderstood. Naturally, your feelings will block any helpful information offered in the process. When you’re too close to your writing, the goal of ‘becoming a better writer’ devolves to ‘defending the writer I already am.’”

An article written by Monique van den Berg on Absolute Write offers ten guidelines on how to take criticism and make it work for you. I’ll list their main points here, but click over to the article for an expanded version:

  1. Not everyone will like your writing.
  2. Beware of ulterior motives.
  3. Nothing you write is all bad.
  4. There’s always one (egomaniac).
  5. Quid pro quo. (i.e., pay it back)
  6. Build up your defenses.
  7. Value honesty.
  8. Only submit early drafts.
  9. Be as objective as possible.
  10. The writing is yours.

When it comes right down to it, an impenetrable outer shell might not always be to our advantage. In order to grow as a writer we need to be able to absorb useful feedback and constructive criticism.

“There’s no magic formula that will make criticism an easy medicine to take. But believe it or not, it is good for you. And with the right outlook, you can begin to see criticism as a welcome, desirable, and necessary part of the creative process,” says Monique.

Do you value criticism of your work? Do you find it hard to swallow or have you discovered a palatable “spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down?”