How to Write Like a Badass: Part 3
“I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.” — Badass Harper Lee
I have moles on my face. They aren’t sexy Marilyn Monroe moles. They dominate mostly one cheek, and if you were to connect the dots, they’d make a big dipper.
I never had a problem with my moles. Sometimes they sprouted dark thick hairs and I enjoyed plucking them from my check with a pair of tweezers. It was our slow, methodical game of peek-a-boo.
One evening when I was 13, my parents and I sat in our plush living room couch watching a movie. I don’t remember what the movie was, but I distinctly remember this: a famous actress appeared on the screen, the camera catching her profile as she spoke to her companion. There, on her right cheek, was a smattering of moles, just like mine.
“Huh,” my dad said, “it’s not often you see an actress with deformities on her face.” I stared at him.
“Deformities?” I said.
“Those beauty marks,” he pointed, twirling a toothpick around in his mouth. You won’t be surprised to know the word “beauty” did nothing to boost my morale after the word “deformities.”
Deformities. The sweet game of peek-a-boo I shared with my moles suddenly seemed like a grotesque responsibility, one I’d have for the rest of my life. From that day forth, budding into teenage insecurity, I never saw my own face the same. (Spoiler alert: thanks to some intense kitten therapy and friends who accepted me exactly as I was, moles and all, we’ve regained our positive relationship. I’ve also forgiven my father. Except for the days he tells me, “wouldn’t it be nice if you were gainfully employed?” whatever that means.)
All this to say: I wasn’t born with a thick hide. In fact, I seemed to be born with a clause that stated even when someone else was taking heat, the responsibility somehow wound back to me. No matter how many years, countries, or life-circumstances separated us, blame could always be traced back to a young, blonde girl snuggling a unicorn in her bed: Me. No, not a week ago. At least two.
Badass Harper Lee has a point. As a writer, you’ll take heat. In fact, as a citizen of the world, you’ll take heat. The second of the Four Agreements (if you’re into that stuff) is, “Don’t take anything personally.” If this is the only lesson you learn in life, you’ll go far in terms of self-preservation and contentment. Which would be great, actually.
I would like to add to Badass Step Number 3. Develop a thick hide AND stay vulnerable. Your writing may be raked over the coals. You won’t please everyone, and that can’t be your goal. The sooner you embrace this, the better, because you’ll find freedom in being authentically you, instead of authentically who everyone else thinks you should be.
Vulnerability is important. You can’t be an honest writer without it. It’s how an audience can come along with you and say, “Yes! God, I know how that feels.” A thick hide shouldn’t preclude the tenderness you need to write. The thick hide helps you separate yourself from your craft at the end of the day, allowing you to be your own person and allowing your writing, in a sense, to be its own person.
In her book Big Magic, and in her 2009 TED Talk, Elizabeth Gilbert references a unique relationship to the creative concept “genius.” Essentially, the Greeks and Romans didn’t believe someone was a genius, rather they had a genius, like you have a cold. This genius — an external force — would visit certain people from time to time. It would do its genius thing, and then peace out for a while, maybe coming back, maybe not. As a spectator, if you were to compliment someone’s work, you wouldn’t be telling them they were a genius. Instead, you’d be complimenting the third party. Like, “Hey, man, that genius you let visit for a while? It made some wicked stuff.”
This relationship allows creativity to be its own thing. And it’s easier to have a thick hide, because really, the product doesn’t belong to you! If it’s insulted, it can’t harm you. If it’s praised, it can’t blow your head up to the size of a hot air balloon.
Yes, develop a thick hide, because criticism is hard, and we’re not all perfect at separating ourselves from our bleeding hearts on the page. But don’t be so wounded that you retreat to your cave and take the most beautiful part of yourself with you. We need that from you. We need to know that you feel all these wild emotions, just like us, so we can sit together, marveling at the fact that we’re all here.
And if you’ve got any deformities on your face, just know: it’s not your doing. The genius is floating around somewhere out there, and he’s the one to blame, not you. Actually, you could probably just blame your parents.
First Published on The Coffeelicious