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The Rhino in the Writer: Thick Skin & the Value of a Critique Group

By Hannah Conway

Join a critique group. Yes, that’s some of the soundest advice given to me regarding the wonderful world of writing.
Yet, the next part of that advice? Well, it’s more on the strange side.

Develop rhino skin.
TheRhinoInTheWriter (2)
Join a critique group, and develop rhino skin.

Let that sink in.

I’ll wait while your nose finishes up that sneer-crinkle thing mine’s still doing.

Rhino skin? Really? Well. Ok, then. A best-selling author for real jut told me to develop rhino skin. What does that have to do with writing? Or a critique group?

So I Google searched rhinos-yes, I did. Turns out, not only do rhino skin and writers have commonalities, but rhino skin and critique groups make quite the pair.

Oh, I love a good metaphor!

Like the rhino, writer’s need thick skin. Not the kind of skin that requires some serious usage of Jergen’s Ultra Therapy Lotion, but thick skin as in the ability to withstand the red marks, slashes, and opposing viewpoints of those in a critique group.

Thick skin acts as a protective barrier for the rhino’s body, and when we develop a metaphorically similar thickness, we too are protected. Protected from? The not so pleasant critiques that could cause our confidence to crumble. Perhaps shielded from the need to retaliate against those whose critique hurt our feelings. Writers with rhino skin don’t have to create people-to-despise lists (ha.) We can allow others in our group to speak the truth in love, value their insight, and decide whether or not to apply their input without being offended.

It’s interesting, while the rhino’s skin is quite dense, the top layer is sensitive and prone to cracking, bug-bites, infection, and sunburn, if the rhino doesn’t implement a regular, proper, skincare routine. As a part of this regular skincare routine, a rhino rolls in the mud, coating its body.

Oh, the metaphor continues!

I’m not suggesting that writers, or their critique group, roll around in the mud-unless you’re doing this as some sort of a fundraiser, like a mud-run, which seems to be all the rage these days. Take note that in order for the rhino to remain healthy, it has to do something on a regular basis. I’m suggesting that for a writer to remain healthy, to keep writing, and growing in their skills, we need a regular routine, and the accountability a critique group offers. Without it, we are vulnerable. Lack of energy, lack of inspiration, busy schedules, writer’s block, and other distractions wreak havoc on our writing life.

A critique group gives us, and other members, the privilege to speak the truth in love, provide encouragement along our writing journey, accountability to meet those writing goals, and the opportunity to sharpen one another’s skills.

So how does a writer begin to develop rhino skin? I’m sure you’ve guessed by now. Joining a critique group. Finding a few other writers willing to dig in and build each other up. Looks like that best-selling author, who gave me crazy advice, knew what she was talking about.

Where can you find a critique group or those few writer friends? ACFW has such groups in place. I have two amazing and talented writing/critique partners that I met online through the ACFW. Love those women to pieces.

Can’t find a local writer’s/critique group? Why not start your own?

While I love my online critique partners, our lives have become pretty busy with edits, and various writing projects that have pulled us a part for longer periods of time. With permission from my church, I started up our town’s first Christian Writers group. There’s a small group of us that meet once a week, engage in a short writing prompt, and share a scene from our current work in progress. It’s what I need right now to keep me on track to finish my third novel.

Prayers welcomed!

So now we close, but I offer the same advice to you, given to me. Join a critique group, and develop rhino skin. There’s serious value in both.

Hannah ConwayHannah Conway, a Kentucky native, Army Wife, Mom, Speaker, and Author of The Wounded Warrior’s Wife, and Wedding a Warrior from Olivia Kimbrell Press, resides in Clarksville, TN. Hannah holds a BA in History from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, and is an active member of the ACFW. Connect with Hannah on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Goodreads.

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