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Take the Thin Skin Test!


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Handing your writing over for feedback always sounds good in theory, but when it comes right down to it, it takes courage and confidence to hear others criticize our stories without complaint, even when the comments are helpful and constructive and kindly given. Even we know they’re right. Maybe especially when we know they’re right.

That said, learning to take the good feedback, leave the bad, and get on with the hard work of revision is crucial to becoming a career author. Whether you’re reading your story aloud at Bread Loaf or exchanging notes with your best writing buddy, you need to develop a skin thick enough to deflect the slings and arrows of harsh assessment and permeable enough to absorb the wisdom of relevant observation.

Developing this thick skin is so important, according to my pal Michael Neff, poet, author, and founder of the esteemed Del Sol Review, that he prepares the writers who attend his acclaimed  New York Write to Pitch Conference by giving them what he calls THE THIN SKIN TEST (see below).

Note: I often serve as a workshop leader at this quarterly conference, so I’ve seen firsthand the direct feedback from agents and editors that participants receive. It’s invaluable, but it’s also intense. I can see why Michael created this. And I asked him if we could reproduce it here, as I believe it could benefit any and all of us as we take in criticism from teachers, editors, agents reviewers, readers, and our fellow writers.

Fair warning: Michael’s approach is not for the faint of heart. But then neither is a career as a writer.

- Paula Munier



By Michael Neff

In case you’re not sure if your skin qualifies, we’ve developed a few skin test questions below. Feel free to respond to yourself as you read each one. We desire to work exclusively with writers able to take fair and direct critique from the professionals, and we also wish to avoid time-wasting instances of Offended Writer Syndrome (OWS) which often take place in writer workshops all across America.

  • Has any writer ever prefaced their critique of your work by first saying to you, “Don’t hate me, please?
  • Do you sense that writers who unfavorably critique your work are “loading the gun” and taking aim?
  • Do you rush to defend your work when a reader gives you criticism rather than absorb and weigh it carefully?
  • Do you feel a need to say unkind things about a writer’s work if you perceive she or he was unkind to you first?
  • Have you ever chastised any writer for what you consider to be improper or incorrect critique of your work?
  • Have you ever been in writer workshops and reacted to criticism of your writing or story by demanding the other writer defend their decision in such detail that it served your purpose of making certain they never gave you unfavorable critique again?
  • Do you receive critique you oppose in good humor, but routinely seek the negation of it from those you know will agree with your version of reality?
  • Do you feel a bout of OWS coming on after reading the above questions?
  • If you answered yes to two or more of the above questions, the New York Write to Pitch Conference is definitely not for you.

Michael Neff
Algonkian Producer
New York Pitch Director
Author, Development Exec, Editor

We are the makers of novels, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

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Thank you, Michael, for channeling your inner Simon Cowell. If I would've answered these questions six years ago when I listened to mom and grandma tell me I was the best writer in the universe, I would've undoubtedly answered yes to every single one. Now that reality has set in, and the opinions of mom and grandma mean nothing on the road to publishing, I can only hope and pray with every fiber of my being, that each criticism stirs more desire to learn and grow. I wish I would've known about your program when I started this journey. It undoubtedly would've shortened the trip. Looking forward to next week, so much so, that I find myself losing sleep due to the anticipation.

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