Thick Skin

By: Ted Dekker

April 21, 2006

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I remember my agent once telling me that I would have to develop a thick skin if I hoped to succeed as a writer. This was before I was first published and I wondered what on earth he was talking about.

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Many years have passed and I now know what he meant. Writing is an art form, and like all art forms, subjective. There are always those few who hate what you do, and have no problem shooting their arrows. If a writer doesn't quickly develop a thick skin, they will soon fall to those arrows.

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Every writer I've ever talked to carries deep wounds with them. Maybe a Publisher Weekly review written eons ago that characterized them as hardly more than a preschooler with a crayon. Or that one novel that an extremely conservative Sunday school board boycotted. Could even be the response of class mates to your very first short story, which you thought was pretty good, despite all their smirks.

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I've often compared writing a novel to rowing a bathtub across the Atlantic, an metaphor taken from the industry. There's something terribly heart-wrenching about rowing that bathtub across the Atlantic, expecting to be met by a cheering throng, and instead being met with a mob of natives with bows and arrows.

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What is especially disconcerting about the experience is that it happens every time! I've never yet arrived at the end of my long, exhausting journey across the Atlantic of storytelling and not been met by at least one crowd full of advice on how I should have rowed faster, or taken such and such a route, or arrived in a different bathtub, or not bothered rowing at all. The arrows always fly as I near the shore. Yet I have no choice by to land the tub, dodge the arrows and run to safety. Fourteen times now I have taken this journey. I'm a walking pin cushion.

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My skin has grown thicker than it once was. Recently some angry soul wrote (and continues to write) numerous ugly reviews of House on Amazon.com under the guise of many different names. Oddly enough, I find it interesting more than disturbing. Even fun in a strange way. These arrows don't penetrate as they once may have, but others still do on occasion, and when they do, they hurt as much as that very first one.

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This is the hardest part of being a writer. Skin only grows so fast and so thick. Just being honest — I hope you don't mind me being so on this site.

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I have a novel called Saint that comes out in a few months and I am giddy about it. It's my best work, I'm sure about that. The story makes me grin every time I dwell on it. Surely everyone will agree!

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Everyone except that one mob gathered on the far right, staring out to sea with squinted eyes, looking for my bathtub as it approaches so they can inform me of what could have been better this time.

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But then, it's the same with all of us in our respective walks of life. We all need thick skin to survive this brutal world, don't we? We all face our mobs.

Question: How thick was Christ's skin?

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