Rhino Skin

Nevaby Neva Bodin

Going through old emails, I discovered a blog by Erin Falwell from April, 2015 about her trip to a volcanic crater in Africa, the Ngorongoro Crater. She spoke of the Rhino she saw.

Shortly before that I read a post by a writer who had learned to develop a “rhino skin.” A rhinoceros’s skin can be 1.5 to 5 cm thick.

According to http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Rhinoceroses.aspx, “they have poor vision but good hearing and a good sense of smell. Mostly solitary animals, they feed by night and in the early morning and evening; they rest in shade during the heat of the day. They are often accompanied by small tickbirds (oxpeckers) that feed on parasites in their skin and, by their cries, alert them to danger. Although most rhinoceroses are placid animals, mothers fiercely protect their offspring.”

By djpmapleferryman – 081104_rhino40, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5180087


I found a lot of analogies to a writer in that. Listening, or hearing, should be well developed as I gather material for writing. To include all the senses, particularly smell which is a great memory inducer, is important in writing. I do my best writing in the middle of the night, and nap well in the heat of the day. However, I do not have a thick skin. I have found rationalizing helps me appear that I do.

For instance, as my mental guard hairs bristle when someone offers a critique of my paintings or writing, I begin an internal conversation: “Well, that’s in her opinion.” “They didn’t understand the meaning behind the way that was written.” “Different readers like things different ways!” “Okay, I’ll take a look at it again, but it may not need changing!” (And on my little brain goes.)

Eventually, I am ready to admit the person’s comments have merit, and I am glad they offered me the observation, which of course, I am still free to take or “leave on the table.”  So, should I develop a rhino skin?

Does developing a rhino skin mean I will never feel the “oxpeckers” that may be picking clean the presence of “weasel words” (those little words that weasel their way into sentences, but really don’t need to be there)? Or that I won’t feel the sting of rejection that might cause us to take a second look and hone my craft? Will it cause me to shrug off the criticisms as if they were annoying birds on my back and not noteworthy, or beneath my dignity, to acknowledge?

A fine line I think. I certainly can’t let the critiques and rejections stifle my creativity and stop my writing. But that is sure to happen to some, or perhaps to all of us some of the time.

Like living with an oxpecker, I might feel the sting of a beak, but the end result is for the health of my writing. And if I turn off my feelings, how will my characters have feelings?

As with most things in life, be it desserts or yogurt, praise or criticism, heat or cold, (I could go on, but won’t for your sake), I believe moderation is the best policy.

Society obviously craves extremes, if you keep track of its mood swings. But I need a little of both criticism, (as long as it’s constructive) and praise, (as long as I keep it in context). And, yes, I need to consider the source, but like a jury, I need to examine both sides, consider the evidence, and then make an informed decision, (sometimes it’s an educated guess on my part) about my writings, my need to consider another opinion, and whether to have fudge for breakfast or not. (I have some sitting on the counter calling to me and it’s barely after 6 AM.)


So maybe I need rhinoplasty, or a rhino lining for my truck, but I’m not sure I need rhino skin to be a writer. I’ll just keep using rationalization, and hope it works faster each time so I can hasten to do those revisions needed that someone else suggested!


13 thoughts on “Rhino Skin

  1. Analogies are such fun aren’t they Neva? There are good and bad, hot and cold, cruel and kind, but as you say moderation is the key. Lot to think about. Doris


  2. Great post Neva! Love the analogies. Over the course of almost thirty years (since I began writing songs, and later, books) I have evolved into a different person. I always had a very thin skin and took any kind of criticism hard. I now welcome all comments and critiques. I take away what I need or want and leave the rest. I don’t think I’ve developed a rhino skin and I don’t think I need it. Being true to myself is all I need. I know inside what’s right for my work and sometimes a little barb or word or praise puts everything in perspective.


    1. It sounds like you have really learned how to be your best at your craft, and I love your attitude and perspective. Being true to yourself is definitely a good personal mission statement. Thanks for commenting! Neva


  3. Love the analogies. I’m a perfectionist so criticism is really hard for me. But I’ve become used to it as I get older. It helped to be involved with piano and ballet growing up. But writing was the most difficult for me to endure criticism, probably because it is so personal. It’s still really hard but being with an extremely supportive and insightful writing group, I’ve become so much better at handling it. But with my first book coming out soon, it’ll be interesting to see how I handle reviews (that’s if I get any!). Thanks for a great post, Neva!


    1. From Neva: Thanks for the comments. I understand, had a friend who almost quit writing after a bad review, but our group helped her past that. We never know where the reviewer is in their own life/day when they do it, or in their expertise etc. However, these writings are our babies and I sure don’t want anyone to criticize my babies! Congratulations on your first book! I am excited for you.


  4. Many things in life are similar in so many ways. To me Rhino skin refers to our lives in many ways.
    1.) We go through many trials and tribulations to toughen us up.
    2.) We experience so many things to help our ego learn what is right and what is wrong.
    3.) It is all a part of the journey of becoming better at who be need to become. Sort of like the partials that are eaten off a Rhino’s skin, we too shed those unneeded things.
    Your article touches on many senses and I am grateful to have read it, and grateful that you were inspired to write such a blog. Thank you!


  5. Great post, Neva! Yes, as creative people we can be hurt or destroyed by critics, even our own self critiques. I know I’ve bristled at a few reviews I’ve had about my books, and I begin to question myself, but then I re-read the positive ones and remember the positive feedback I’ve been given by others in group or individually, and I lean into those for support. Like you said, a little praise and a little critique is a good blend to strengthen our craft. Thanks for a thought-provoking post!


  6. I’d love to know if there’s anyone out there whose skin is totally impenetrable to negative reviews. As has been said above, a balanced response to something potentially hurtful is a good thing to aim for. I find there’s generally parts of ‘negative’ comments that are worth a look and It’s good when a concept is pointed out that is useful for the future.


  7. I make a good Iris, my skin is paper thin, but I hide it well. I doubt if a nose job would help you much, and I wonder why it’s called a Rhinoplasty? lol The first time my art came up for Critique in our Artist Group, I was so hurt that everyone didn’t think it was beautiful. I did, however, notice that no two people agreed on what was wrong with it. I waited until I got home to cry. I recently had someone who left me a very bad review and attacked me personally with horrible words. I can’t say I really toke it in stride, I wondered how anyone could be so critical of another person. I searched his name on google, and all of my social media and couldn’t find him. Fortunately, his was the only bad review I had. I’m over the concern for his opinion now. Loved the way you wrote this and your photos. (I remember Erin’s blog too, nice). I’ve got the Armor All out now, and the next time I will instantly spray down for protection. Cher’ley


  8. I’ve gotten pretty good at judging the value of critiques I get when I post chapters on the Online Writers Workshop of SF, Fantasy and Horror. If a suggestion or criticism helps improve the chapter, I’ll do the edits. If I disagree, I skip over it. Everything’s subjective, right?


  9. Nice comparison. Over time I think we all develop a bit of the Rhinos thick skin. Often things that peck at us end up helping us in the end like constructive criticism. The trick is to not become to thick skinned.


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