Growing a Thick Skin by K. A. Laity

November 27, 2013 | By | 37 Replies More

US Author K. A. LaityDorothy Parker’s work may be awash with cynicism, but so often she is right on the money.

In her wistful poem “Observation” she considers doing better with her life—getting to bed early, abstaining from riotous overindulgence and undoubtedly completing the work for overdue deadlines. But in the end the famous wit concludes,

But I shall stay the way I am

Because I do not give a damn.

While at first her words may seem defeatist, there’s a defiance there that I have always admired.  Parker found it difficult to juggle her creative life with her personal one. At the time she found few role models to offer examples of how to do so, especially for a woman.

We’re lucky to have many more role models and things have improved, though we can be forgiven the feeling that nothing’s improved whenever the latest scandalous story fills our social media with tales of slut shaming, rape or continued salary inequities (better doesn’t mean fixed, Joss). For writers (and all creative types) there are some new challenges to go along with the timeless ones involved with putting your creations out there.

While social media and electronic publishing have opened the floodgates to new creators to get their material out there, it’s harder than ever to be found in the tsunami of stuff. Even established writers spend a lot of time trying to be heard and seen in the cacophony of new releases. Yet women still face a disproportionate amount of censure for any kind of self-promotion.

As Sarah Reese Brennan wrote recently on the difficulties of promoting while female, “many people act like women have no right to a space in the world.” She details experiences of women smacked down for having the audacity to tell the world they have created something and it might be worth giving it a look.

It is discouraging. But if attention is often poisonous, the reverse is also difficult to cope with for it is awful to be ignored. We work for months or years only to release our project to resounding silence or the lip service of friends. We find it easy to be beaten down by the steady beat of indifference to our work. While we constantly hear about overnight successes with astronomical figures, the truth is most of us will continue to labour on in relative obscurity.

What then is to be done?

Grow a thicker skin and keep at it. I say ‘grow a thicker skin’ not in a callous way (too often we’re told, “Grow up, cry baby!”) or to suggest we’re not working hard enough and need to “lean in” but in acknowledgement that this is not likely to change any time soon and your work is too important not to continue doing it.

We need a thicker skin to protect us from the acrimony of a world that punishes women for daring to have ambition. We need a thicker skin to defend us from the vitriol of troll culture online. We need a thicker skin to immure us from the suffocation of the silencing weight of indifference. Women are taught to need approval and it’s big hurdle to leap to get beyond that desire.

A Cut-Throat Business by KA Laity - 200William Blake believed he was given divine vision; even if your beliefs are more secular, you can borrow from his strength by understanding there is no one who can write the stories you can. If you do not write them, the stories will die. You grow a thicker skin by telling yourself this every day.

Surround yourself with positive people who also create. “Positive” means they believe the act of creation is a success in itself. They are part of your skin. When the bad days come—and they will always come, no matter how long you have been working at this—they will help you deflect doubt and discouragement. You will strengthen one another; a few like minds are enough to keep you going.

Write: every word is a victory sometimes. Others may never know how much of a victory, but they don’t need to do so. We have to reward ourselves.

K. A. Laity is the award-winning author of the Chastity Flame series of thrillers, Owl Stretching, Unquiet Dreams, À la Mort Subite, The Claddagh Icon, Pelzmantel and Other Medieval Tales of Magic and Unikirja, as well as editor of Weird Noir and Noir Carnival. Her essay “Casting the Writer’s Spell” also appeared here at WWWB. Her handbook How to Keep Writing with a Full Time Job has come out in time for NaNoWriMo.

Visit Kate’s Facebook page or her website  and follow her on Twitter: @katelaity.


Category: Being a Writer, Women Writing Fiction

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  1. Growing a Thick Skin. If we expect to be strong, professional, persevering women, then we need to grow the ability to stand up for ourselves, for our principles, for our right to speak with our very own voice. When I was a church pastor, I had to delete my expectations that surely church people would be a kinder sort of crowd. Nonsense! People act as they will; some even regress, and act like children. The mature response is not easy, but it will keep you sane…. develop a thick skin. You will feel the warmth of good times and you’ll weather the stormy times, but YOU will be intact and ALIVE

    • What a thoughtful, true and enlightening analysis! My struggles to promote my creative work and that of others, I have tried not to fall into a depressive trap of wondering if my projects and achievements might be welcomed more enthusiastically if I were not a woman. As Dorothy Parker might say: “But Damn / I am!”

  2. Thanks for the encouragement! I don’t care how long I have been writing it helps to hear others tell us that what we do matters and that we SHOULD NOT GIVE UP. I love how you say, “Surround yourself with positive people who also create. “Positive” means they believe the act of creation is a success in itself. They are part of your skin. When the bad days come—and they will always come, no matter how long you have been working at this—they will help you deflect doubt and discouragement. You will strengthen one another; a few like minds are enough to keep you going.”

  3. Polly says:

    This article was tweeted by @WomenWriters today, and it’s bloody brilliant! Thank you K.A. for the wonderful advice. It makes me want to (a) write more (b) read more of your stuff. Cheers, mate!

  4. This is a timely post. We give our power away when we wait for others to validate our contributions and to validate who we are in this world. Indeed, if we do not write the stories, they will die. I will remember this quote for the rest of my life.

    I speak for women and to women who have experienced sexual assault and sexual abuse, like me. The stigmas around rape, molestation, and sexual abuse are aimed at us like arrows with poisoned tips. Luckily, many of us have developed thick skin and the arrows fall to the ground. Thank you for reminding us that we do not need to be validated to know that we are worthy. Our stories are powerful and poignant. God bless you.

  5. Joanna says:

    Thank you. This was the perfect piece for me to read today.

  6. Nilsa says:

    I’m black and I’m a woman = two strikes. However, I have a helluva story to tell and I refuse to let it die. I thank you for this candid clarity. I’m determined to grow a thicker skin…

  7. Ariel says:

    An excellent read … and something every writer/ artist needs to do .

  8. Sarah says:

    Love this. I’ve recently decided to get out of my own way and, in the words of Cheryl Strayed, “Write like a Motherfucker.”

  9. Jo Carroll says:

    Great post – the only reason to keep on writing is for the love of it. If someone else should get pleasure from our efforts and acknowledge that – then that’s a wonderful bonus.

  10. Lindy Moone says:

    Great post, K! (If I may call you “K”. And even if I may not.)

    I’d always thought it was just me that ran screaming from self-promotion… until a bravely anonymous troll on a predominantly male site attacked me for the blatant crimes of blogging while female and publishing something “funny”. (We all know the ladies are deluded when we try to do comedy, so he was just being kind when he wanted to hang me from the boys’ treehouse, as a warning to the others, with a “F&ck off, Lindy” sign around my neck.)

    I did retreat from that site (life’s too short, and I’m too busy anyway), but I’m getting a book out of the experience — an anthology of stories about all kinds of trolls, to be sold for an anti-bullying charity. More than half the authors who’ve signed on are male — including two of the fellas who stuck up for me on the site in question.

    I try to remember that most men are not out to hang us from the treehouse. Some don’t jump in to “rescue” us, simply because they know we need to do our own rescuing; they feel awkward and archaic playing white knight, and don’t know how it will be received. I know this, because they’ve told me so. It’s not easy being human, is it?

    • K. A. Laity says:

      Kudos to you: comedy is hard. Full stop. Comedy is hard while being female for exactly the reasons you illustrate. You bring up a good point. Men aren’t the problem; it’s a structure called patriarchy and it’s as damaging to men, too. It gives them some rewards, but it exacts a heavy toll. It ain’t easy.

  11. Annecdotist says:

    lots of people – but especially women – will have been punished in the past for “showing off” so it can feel like a transgression to have to strut our stuff when we need to, and then feel especially hurt by the backlash.
    so great post reminding us all that we DO have the right to put our stuff out there.

    • K. A. Laity says:

      It’s difficult because we see the punishment every day in the media, snarking at women who ‘dare’ put themselves in the public eye. The more we do it, the easier it gets. But some days it can be discouraging. I know I’ll be back here to reread this on bad days and remind myself.

  12. Janet says:

    This came at the perfect time for me. Full of memories, full of stories, but empty of energy, I’ve spent way too much time lately just hibernating, physically and mentally. I needed this push, and I needed to hear that the stories NEED me to tell them. That’s pretty much the only thing that motivates me — the idea that if I don’t do this or that, I will be letting someone down. Thank you for reminding me that I can’t let the stories down.

  13. Mollie Bryan says:

    “Write: every word is a victory sometimes. Others may never know how much of a victory, but they don’t need to do so. We have to reward ourselves.” I’m printing that out and hanging it on my wall. Well said, my friend.

  14. Julie Luek says:

    This is a very good post and good reminder to, yes, develop a thicker skin. Writing is a very vulnerable feeling pursuit and the sensitive creative often does battle with the thick-skinned business woman who must be out there promoting. However, I do believe women often have the relational advantage with their readers– our relational skills (part of that sensitivity piece) can also be an asset within our platform.

  15. ‘this is not likely to change any time soon and your work is too important not to continue doing it.’

    Things *are* changing for the better though, I feel . Women are increasingly involved – and influential – in all manner of literary endeavours (writing, publishing, representation etc etc). On a personal note I absolutely love this because, as it happens, virtually all my favourite writers are women.

    • K. A. Laity says:

      That’s wonderful to hear. I’m always amazed at men who are reluctant to read women. How much they lose. I read widely of all sorts of people from everywhere. There’s so much wonderful stuff to discover.

    • I should’ve made it clear that my personal literary taste isn’t the sole reason I welcome these changes; it almost goes without saying that I primarily appreciate these things because they are only fair, right, and not before time.

      • K. A. Laity says:

        I figured that was what you meant. It’s a difficult balance: we finally have access to so many more voices in the arts than ever before — but it’s also a much greater challenge to find the ones that will resonate most with our own interests among the ones who shout the loudest.

  16. Eileen says:

    I so enjoyed reading this- thank you! I am currently reading
    The Dance of the Dissident Daughter” by Sue Munk Kidd- have a
    blessed Thanksgiving!! Eileen

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