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Embracing Vulnerability: The Power of an Author's Thin Skin

remnants of a dead plant
Fragile or strong?

Toughen up. Put on your big girl pants. Deal with it. You need a thicker skin.

Okay, but what if I will never be able to do those things? What if I don't want to do these things?

My historical fiction author platform has grown over the past two years. This is a wonderful thing. But, the bigger I get, the more I'm exposed to criticism (some harsher than others). Negative reviews, haters on various websites, comments on my own social media posts. These can all be very difficult for a sensitive person to manage. "Toughening up" has never been in my toolkit.

What if we thin our skin? Diminish the veil between our emotions and the outside world until it's so wafer-thin it appears translucent? If you're a creative, you already live this way. That's how we make art.

black typewriter with flower blossoms
An author's greatest assets: craft and honesty

Writing, if done right, requires us to dig deep and explore the darkest and brightest corners of humanity. When we thicken our skin, we risk losing the ability and drive to do so. Sure, we need to prevent negativity from breaking us. But do we really do that by locking ourselves down? I feel everything. If I don't, I'll have nothing to write.

To this, I suggest that we thin the veil even more. I recently had a weepy day, where everything and nothing made me cry. I walked along the river for a few miles letting tears stream down my face. My husband asked if I was okay. My writer friends just said, oh yes. Those days can be nice. They were right! I wasn't really crying because of sadness. I cried because I felt more connected to life than usual and the whole thing was overwhelming.

bouquet of flowers in jeans pocket
Arm yourself with a burst of gentleness

I feel strongest when I'm open. Vulnerable. When I don't block out the negativity. When I examine how I feel and connect with the truest parts of myself. When I let myself be the sensitive person I am. I won't ever be the tough girl who doesn't care what people think, and I've spent a lifetime restraining "undesirable" emotions to be more socially acceptable (to all the wrong people, by the way), which only led to panic attacks and a massive identity crisis.

I talk incessantly about women in history. This, apparently, is a controversial topic. I go to great lengths to not disparage the men of history, yet this seems to matter very little with a certain demographic. A viral post about Albert Einstein's wife Mileva caused quite a stir on TikTok. A recent blog post I wrote for a woman-centered publication got picked up by a group of men who took great offense to the idea that I want more action-adventure with female protagonists. The very essence of what I stand for is controversial in many circles.

What does this mean for me, a sensitive orchid of a historical fiction author who cries at the very mention of discourse? Criticism will always be with me. I've found it's better for me to lean in, feel the emotions, and check back in with my mission.

For all my sensitivity, I will never stop writing books or highlighting women from history. Never. I also won't ever stop crying and feeling things. I think this is why my favorite historical figure has always been Eleanor Roosevelt. She was viciously attacked for everything from her looks to her support for women's rights and civil rights. In her later years, she turned that criticism into action, finding a way to grow stronger from every nasty comment, as a guide that she was on the right path to making change.

So, authors, perhaps our greatest strength lies in our ability to let the emotions run free. I've found power in the most unlikely of places: my thin skin.

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1 Comment

Feb 29

Kerry, this was exactly what I needed to hear in this moment. Thank you!

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