Writers: develop a tough skin (but don’t forget to moisturize)

Writing moisturizer copy Earlier this year, I wrote a column titled, Tips to combat FDAD (Fruitcake Disposal Anxiety Disorder).

Admittedly, I picked on fruitcake a little.

OK, maybe a lot.

Here’s a sample…

…Recent studies show that mild depression after the holidays is not only common but, in many cases,  the result of FDAD — Fruitcake Disposal Anxiety Disorder. On one hand, your fruitcake was a gift and therefore deserving of some measure of appreciation. On the other hand, it has already become a chew toy for the neighbor’s pit bull. This often leads to feelings of anxiety long after the holidays have ended, particularly when you see ‘Buster,’ still intoxicated with rum, struggling to dislodge the sugar loaf from his tightly-clenched jaws. So, as a service to our readers, we are offering the following self-help guide: I’m OK—You’re OK. But Give Me a Fruitcake and I’ll Kill You…”

Too strong?

Some people thought so.

Fine, a lot of people. In fact, in my 14 years as a columnist, I received more emails and letters (Yes, actual handwritten words on parchment and mailed) about this column than any other. In addition, I even had people send me fruitcake in an effort to change my mind.

Granted, some of it arrived through my office window, but there was no denying I had struck a nerve with a part of my readership that was potentially still intoxicated with rum.

Here’s an excerpt from one letter:

“Ned Hickson:
MILLIONS of people LOVE fruitcake to eat each year! We get sick of the idiotic remarks made by A@#HOLES like you! I wish you would just SHUT UP!”

The letter goes on, but you get the idea.

How did I respond?

I hung it on my wall, where it serves a daily reminder of how, as a humor columnist, I have an obligation to avoid Boca Raton, Fla.

Actually, Gaylesville, Ala., isn’t on my short list of vacation destinations either, thanks to an email I received regarding a column that ran a few weeks ago, Called for jury duty? Don’t forget your tinfoil hat.

In it, I talked about how frivolous lawsuits are souring people on the judicial process and undermining the importance of jury duty. The following excerpt apparently angered one Alabama woman to the point she hopes to be a jurist when I’m on trial. I’m currently checking to make sure I don’t have any warrents pending in Alabama…

“…Admittedly, I once found myself driving down the road with an 800-degree onion ring searing my flesh. I had just left a Carl’s Jr. drive-through and, after maintaining my composure long enough to exit the parking lot, pounced on my combo meal like a hyena at a gazelle feed — laughing and eating, laughing and eating. So, when I ripped into an enormous onion ring and felt the breading fall away into my lap, I had no one but myself to blame when my appetizer became a sizzling, onion-flavored chin strap that turned my frenzied laughing to screaming on I-5. In spite of this, I never once thought of calling a lawyer in an effort to seek damages against Carl’s Jr. and the Onion Growers of America for supplying me the means with which to be an idiot…”

Here’s the response from Alabama:

“Regarding Ned Hickson’s column about jury duty, I wonder if he would think a lawsuit against him for seriously injuring or killing someone because he was eating and driving would be frivolous? The least of his problems would be a burned chin from a hot onion ring. I, for one, would LOVE to sit on that jury. He should be ashamed of his blatant disregard for others who have to share the road with him as he has his lunch.”

So why am I bringing this up? I mean, aside from gathering witnesses who can be called upon in the event of my disappearance?

One of the most rewarding things about being a writer is connecting with people. Even when it seems they’ve reached you from beyond a dead zone. Elated or enraged, it means a reader felt it was important enough to take time from their busy life (not counting letters from inmates) to let you know how they feel about what you wrote.

Isn’t that what it’s all about?

The same goes for rejection letters from agents or publishing houses that include any type of hand-written comment or remark.

Even if it’s NOT positive.

Unless it says, “Your writing positively stinks!”

Then yeah, I’ve got nothing for you.

Sorry.

But assuming that’s not the case, while it’s important to build a thick skin as a writer, don’t let that defensive skin become hardened to the point you stop listening.

Or worse, stop appreciating.

Listening to and appreciating feedback — good or bad — can mean the difference between building a readership and losing one; building credibility among publishers or tearing it down; growing as a writer or becoming stagnant; playing dress-up when your wife is gone or finishing the next chapter.

You get the point.

I’d like to close with a comment sent on a postcard from Chattanooga, Tenn.

“Hey Mister: Yer humor has me laughfing [sic] way down in Cedar Bluff, Alabama. Drive truck for paycheck and drop off The Post all over S.E. states. Thanks for keepin’ me smiling.”
— ‘Stretch’

See? Alabama isn’t all bad.

(For more posts on writing, visit Gliterary Girl, where Ned is a weekly contributor. Or, write to him at nhickson@thesiuslawnews.com, or at Siuslaw News, P.O. Box 10, Florence, Ore. 97439)

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56 thoughts on “Writers: develop a tough skin (but don’t forget to moisturize)

    • So glad to hear that Julia. Thanks for stopping in. If I had been more prepared, I would have offered a jar of moisturizer to my first visitor comment. I’ll be more on the ball next time 😉

  1. I’ve been to Boca Raton and can attest to their being a bit uppity. But on the subject at hand, great post! Reminder that there is good and bad responses, just as in dealings of everyday 🙂 I always wonder what die hard conservatist (is that a word?)I’m going to anger when I write in my other blog. 🙂 and don’t worry I never venture into Gainesville either haha 😉

    • I can think of other words for die-hard conservatist, which I should post here 😉 but if yours isn’t a word, I think we just officially made it one! And I’m glad to hear you avoid Gainesville. I just have a feeling it’s full of fruitcakes.

    • Thanks, Katie! And you’re absolutely right. In either case, it’s an opportunity to make a connection. Some of my most loyal readers began with an angry letter because I took the time to respond. Others, or course, are simply reaching out from their rum-induced stupor.

    • Man, that’s the truth. I was not even remotely prepared for the wrath of fruitcake lovers out there. They are either the unrealized vocal majority, or all 30 of them are jobless with too much time on their hands. A scary world scenario in either case!

  2. I can’t wait until I make enough of a name for myself that I can get scathing hate mail, too! After all, any attention is better than no attention, right?

    As a fan of fruitcake I just want to say that the first angry person you quoted doesn’t speak for all of us fruitcake enthusiasts. I enjoy a good fruitcake and I enjoy a good joke about a fruitcake. Next Christmas perhaps I’ll start a clinic to treat FDAD (but don’t hold me to this comment section joke, I’m really not going to do this…or am I?).

    • I could have sworn that scathing fruitcake email was from a guy named Paul B. Oh well, glad it wasn’t you. And yes, once I started receiving hate mail from someone (other than my editor), I knew I’d hit the big time. At least within the fruitcake community. Which is better than within the Okra or Lamb Fries communities. Good luck with the FDAD clinic, should you actually do it. Maybe you could start each session by reading my hate mail?

  3. As usual, Ned. You’re on it. We now might have to write a post on treatment approaches and clinical interventions for FDAD. Which is on par with Julie’s movie watching disorder called Suspension of Disbelief Disorder (SDD, where everything is just too real and one has a panic attack and runs out of the theatre).

    • Many thanks. And you know, thanks to you, I now realize I am an SDD sufferer; I had that same panic attack while watching the Justin Bieber movie “Believe” with my youngest daughter. I, too, felt it was too real and wanted to run out of the theater.

  4. What a great way to intercept the negativity that some people send your way and view it as something positive. If I had gotten the fruitcake comment, I would have thought, “Hmm. It’s either time for Mr. Candied Pineapple to increase his meds or to grow a sense a humor.”

    • “Mr. Candied Pineapple…” LOL 🙂 Anytime someone takes the time to write me — good or bad — I feel it’s a positive affirmation. Even if it’s just affirming that they’re positively crazy and I’m not 😉 You have to appreciate that they took time from their life to let you know how they feel about something you took time from your life to write — I see it as a shared experience in that way. By the way… Thanks for writing 😉

  5. Wait! … what?

    You play dress up when I’m gone?!?!?

    You know a woman’s nightmare is learning that her husband can fit in her jeans. Is that why my clothes are warm even though the temp in the closet is freezing? So many thoughts … running in my head! Now I know why you are such good company while shopping! 😉

    Just back away from the lingerie … slowly … and no one will get hurt.

    LOL

    Another good post.

  6. Ned, my friend, you can keep the change! You’ve earned every bit of it! If I can get the cork out of my kids piggy bank, I’ll give you more! Great post! Oddly enough, We have swimming classes tomorrow morning!

  7. I really love your title, and I, too, really hate fruit cake. I see absolutely nothing wrong with what you wrote! Funny that it struck a nerve with so many. I had no idea fruit cake was so loved! And your line about listening to and building a readership is dead on. (I’m not sure what to say about playing dress up while your wife is gone, however… Haha!)

    Great post!

  8. There’s a series of Fruitcake webisodes floating on the web somewhere about a guy who, in a drunken state, mails his girlfriend an engagement ring inside of a fruitcake. She inevitably regifts it to someone else which begins a cross-country chase to find it again. It’s pretty funny… if you find it… If you care to look for it. And in other news, great post!

  9. Ned, if you ever run short on material–which I doubt–you can just publish some of the comments after these posts. Too funny!

No one is watching, I swear...

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