"Writers don't write from experience, although many are hesitant to admit that they don't. ...If you wrote from experience, you'd get maybe one book, maybe three poems. Writers write from empathy." Nikki GiovanniLike the trusty pen, not-so-trusty computer and nifty internet, empathy is also an invaluable tool for writers.
Empathy is the ability to put ourselves in the proverbial shoes of others, to understand their feelings, thoughts and motivations. In terms of writing, it's an ability to connect with our readers.
How to improve your empathy:
Observations: To gain a higher level of empathy we need to pay attention to everything that goes on around us. Not just to the people around us, but to all the sights, sounds, smells and everything that makes up the atmosphere of a place and a person. It's so easy to let life pass us by without noticing those details.
Know your audience: This is a classic piece of writers' advice. As much as we start out writing for ourselves, if we want to get published we also need to write for our audience. This means understanding who they are, what they want, and what kind of issues they'll respond to.
Personal experience: To understand others, we need to have an understanding of ourselves. This takes a certain level of honesty because I think it's important to know why we react to certain stimuli, and to know the true motives behind our actions. The truth isn't always what we may want or expect.
Exposure to life: I believe it's also important to broaden our experiences. Because I travelled the world in my twenties, I have a lot of different cultures and people to draw from. If we stay behind our desks and do nothing but write, then how can we learn and enrich our writing?
Imagination: Looking through another's perspective isn't an easy task and requires some practice and imagination. Encourage daydreaming. Take time out to simply think, imagine, role play.
Read a lot: Apparently in studies a connection has been found between reading a lot of fiction and having a higher level of empathy. I believe it's because stories throw the reader into the minds of a huge variety of characters in a broad range of situations they wouldn't have otherwise experienced.
Can you think of other ways of improving your empathy? What have you done to hone that particular writing tool?
Thanks: Debbie Johansson recently gave me the 7x7 Award. Thank you so much!
Pic: A watchful surfguard at a beach at Port Stephens, Australia.