Empathy - the ability to share in another’s emotions, thoughts, or feelings.
A few years ago I joined my first professional writers group, Romance Writers of America. I was amazed at how kind and supportive everyone was. Empathy among this group of writers was evident, in spades. I’ve heard writers say, fellow writers are the only people who know what you’re going through. That may be true, but there was something else. Never had I seen this type of camaraderie with my other jobs.
I began to wonder, what was the cohesiveness that made this group different? It didn’t exist among my fellow workers when I was a nurse, (which should have been some of the most kind and caring people on earth.) No one but another nurse could possibly understand the stress you’re under. Nor was it there when I was a hairdresser, or the numerous jobs I held when I was young.
To become a good nurse, you must learn to distance yourself from the patients you care for. If you didn’t, you couldn’t be effective at your job. You would be an emotional mess. As a hairdresser, you hear a lot of customer’s problems. And again, you must distance yourself.
Then, it dawned on me that as a writer, you must do the opposite. When I finished the first draft of my first novel, and started looking for my character arcs, I realized how deeply I cared about them, as if I had lived their story right along with them. I’d cry when they cried, laugh when they laughed, and felt their excitement with their first kiss. I had an epiphany. To write a character well, you put yourself in his or her shoes. You feel what they feel - you are empathetic.
I'm not saying other professions have no empathy. What I am saying, is to be an effective writer, we must develop empathetic personalities. I believe it’s why we’re more in tune to our fellow writers. We not only have first-hand knowledge of what they’re going through, we feel their struggle, their frustration in that difficult scene, their fear of rejection, and heartache when it comes. And if we develop this character trait well, we can take our readers on that same journey, making them feel the same empathy toward our characters and story as we feel.
I’ve enjoyed being a member of RWA and the wonderful group of writers I’ve found there. I joined my local chapter to get one-on-one face time and support. I also joined my subgenre chapter (Fantasy, Futuristic, & Paranormal.) And then I joined another group I’ve enjoyed, Savvy Authors. I’ve met some amazing people and made life- long friends. In all my years, and professions, I’ve never met a more empathetic, supportive group of worldwide co-workers. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
If you’re a writer, and you’ve held off on joining a group of like-minded people, give it a try. You won’t regret it.
If you have questions about any of these writing groups, please leave a comment. Even if you don’t, I’d love to meet you, too.
Until next time,