Dealing with criticism, sensitivity, and how to grow a thick skin.

NOTE: I was stuck for a blog.  I really, didn’t want to write it.  I asked Reddit for a blog pitch and wrote up the highest rated question.
QUESTION: [Please write a] blog about being sensitive to criticism.  Both positive and negative.  How to grow a thick skin?

SHORT ANSWER: Suck it up.  By aspiring to make it as a writer you’re implicitly saying that you’re one of the 1,000 best writers in the Anglosphere.  If you’re not willing to own that, there are hundreds of other writers who will.

That’s true advice, but it’s also unhelpful.  You’ve heard it before.  If “sucking it up” were that easy, people wouldn’t need writing coaches.

Writing is hard.  Writing should be hard.  Sensitivity is a double-edged sword, the same sensitivity that holds you back will enable you to unlock amazing parts of your craft later.  Writing to the absolute top of your ability is hard and it will always be hard, the only thing that makes it a little easier is the discipline that comes from writing daily.  Similarly, paradoxically, rejection only becomes bearable when you see enough of it to become familiar with it.


There’s a certain kind of artist who is immune to criticism. No matter how hard, mean or wrong the note, they take it in stride. These people are rarely great in their field because improving at writing requires insane commitment and the ability to care.

The point of screenwriting is to create something that can be read and enjoyed by many, or at the very least by someone who can offer you a job. A script that doesn’t help your career his failed.  This is a long process.  Notes and feedback are how you learn, how you develop.  If you never let a note affect you, you’ll never improve as a writer.

Caring is hard.  New writers often write with a layer of protective irony.

NEW WRITER: The script didn’t sell, but I only wrote it to explore an aspect of craft.  I’ll be serious about the next one.

It’s psychologically dangerous to strive your hardest at a task and fail.  It opens the door to real pain.  That pain doesn’t go away. You have to learn to endure it.

If you wanted some more actionable advice, here are some exercises you can try:

1) Take an improv class. Learn about playing to the top of your intelligence.  Improv teaches you how to fully commit to material you’re working on.

2) Spend a day being super defensive. Don’t admit to being wrong ever. Come up with pathetic excuses to save your fragile ego.  Tell your friends you’re trying this exercise if they ask why you’re being a jerk.  This will teach you to identify the way defensiveness feels so you can avoid it in real life.

3) Do something really hard.  Run a marathon, sky dive, bungee jump. Often times. we run from pain but it’s the great teacher. No pain no gain.  To quote my old wrestling coach, winners are simply willing to do things losers won’t.

4) Read a publicly available script and write notes. Be nasty.  Do not send these to the author.  Rather, look at the notes and see how they apply to your own writing. Often the things that annoy us most about other writing are the problems we have or recognize in our own. You can’t point a finger at someone without pointing three at yourself.

Published by Matt Lazarus

WGA screenwriter offering in-depth writing instruction, notes, critique, and assistance.

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