Empathy and Writing

Recently, I’ve been watching a lot of interactions on social media on some pretty difficult topics. Sometimes opinions and viewpoints conflict with others, which can lead to lots of arguing, hurt feelings, and, sadly, sometimes loss of friendship.

Other times I’ve seen kind exchanges where respect of others’ ideas happens. These are my favorite to read where the conversations aren’t laced with hate and “you’re wrong, I’m right” undertones.

I really enjoy observing people, listening to their thoughts, watching their interactions, and how that makes up who they are as a person. I try to understand what makes people tick, what motivates them, and perhaps even what life experiences led them to where they are now.

So, how does this all relate to writing?

Writers must have empathy.

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Without empathy, it becomes really difficult to get inside your characters’ heads and write them authentically. This also applies to nonfiction, but it’s more along the lines of being able to write in a way that’s relatable to others so you can impact your readers on a deep and personal level.

Being empathetic is more than feeling sorry for someone’s situation—that’s sympathy. Having empathy means you know what it would be like to walk around in another’s shoes because you can feel it. You can put yourself in another’s situation and understand what that would be like. It’s an ability to see more than your own narrow point of view, often with accompanying emotions.

What if I don’t have empathy? Then what?

Some people are naturally more sensitive to the emotions and feelings of others, but some of us are not. But, I believe it can be developed.

  1. Try looking outside yourself. Imagine what it would be like if your life experience was that of someone else’s. How would you feel? How might that impact you life now and in the future? How would it alter your beliefs about yourself, others around you, and the world?
  2. Seek to understand. When opinions differ from yours, try to understand the other viewpoints. Ask questions for more reasons why they feel the way they do. Talk less, listen more. Think about others’ views until you can fully understand why someone would think that way.
  3. Read books with characters from diverse backgrounds (and make sure they’re an accurate representation). Reading is a wonderful way to visit other places, hang out with different people, and experience things you have never yourself experienced—all from the comfort of your favorite chair. It’s a great way to get inside the head of another person and experience their thoughts and feelings.
  4. Be compassionate. Having compassion means really loving those around you. Love opens the gate to greater empathy because you care about others on a deeper level.

The world needs more empathy and compassion. As writers, we can spread more of that by using empathy to create authentic characters with real emotions and motivations. Be a writer who learns about people, their thoughts, feelings, emotions, motivations, and experiences not just from a sympathetic view point (though that’s a good starting point), but from a more intimate standpoint of empathy.

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576A6469Wendy Jessen is the author of more than 500 articles-family-oriented articles on familyshare.com and book reviews. She recently started a website for something she is passionate about–helping victims of sexual abuse find hope and healing. Wendy is the mother of 6 spirited children ranging in age from 5 to 15. In the throes of writing a few books (fiction and nonfiction), she finds ways to procrastinate which usually involves scrolling through social media. Wendy often stays up way past her bedtime reading, loves kid-free date night with her husband, family vacations, and kids’ bedtime, aka, the human version of whack-a-mole.

What Every Writer Really Wants (But Can’t Have)

With the holidays upon us, this is the season of giving. As writers, not only do we give to others in the traditional sense, but we also give the gift of our words to the world. Yet, most people don’t know how much those words actually cost in sanity, time, and even money.

I contemplated compiling a list of what writers would have on their gift wish list, but beyond the regular things like specific pens or pencils, note cards, sticky notes, a new laptop, light up keyboards, a comfy writing chair, and fancy writing programs, well….that was pretty much all I could think of to share. Besides that, it varies writer to writer.

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So, if there was no limit to our wishes, I bet our gift giving/receiving would become a lot more interesting.

Unrealistic Wish List for Writers:

  1. Writing snacks don’t lead to weight gain.
  2. Typing burns a lot of calories.
  3. Your imagination easily translates into words on the page.
  4. Plot holes magically fill without the use of a literary shovel.
  5. Our books write themselves.
  6. We “get it right” on the first try.
  7. When we sit down to write, all the words flow from our brain to the paper. Every time.
  8. People stop thinking writing is a fun little hobby that they’d like to do if they had free time.
  9. Traditional publishing doesn’t take forever and ever and ever. And ever.
  10. Dynamic covers on all our books.
  11. Hundreds or thousands of pre-orders before our release date.
  12. Characters obey.
  13. Chapters flow easily.
  14. No one leaves bad reviews.
  15. Our books become movies.
  16. Children are quiet and angelic as we write.
  17. Book signings have no lull.
  18. Computers never start updates in the middle of our writing time, nor do they do an automatic update/restart before our document is saved.
  19. Our manuscripts can’t be accidentally deleted or lost in a computer or technology failure.
  20. We are never crippled by self-doubt and believe in our awesomeness without being full of ourselves.
  21. We have a super power to not need sleep at writing conferences.
  22. We don’t have introvert moments where we wish we were extroverts.
  23. People don’t exhaust us.
  24. Yoga pants and PJs are fancy attire.
  25. We look just like our edited author photos.

While these probably aren’t’ going to happen any time soon, you can continue working to improve your craft, find better ways to accomplish tasks, attend writing conferences to learn new techniques, and work hard toward your goals without inhibiting yourself. Big dreams have never hindered success.

If you could have one (or ten) writer wish granted, what would it be?

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576A6469Wendy Jessen is the author of more than 500 articles—family-oriented articles on familyshare.com and book reviews. She recently started a website for something she is passionate about–helping victims of sexual abuse find hope and healing. Wendy is the mother of 6 spirited children ranging in age from 5 to 15. In the throes of writing a few books (fiction and nonfiction), she finds ways to procrastinate which usually involves scrolling through social media. Wendy often stays up way past her bedtime reading, loves kid-free date night with her husband, family vacations, and kids’ bedtime, aka, the human version of whack-a-mole.

Thoughts on Reading

So far this year, I’ve read 94 books (no idea if that’s a lot—many people read lots more a year), 28 of which happened in the last month and a half. I’m in the middle of three more right now.

I always think I like one particular genre, but based on my selections, that’s not really true. I read nonfiction—inspirational, motivational, memoir, and religious. Fiction reads vary from middle grade to contemporary romance, women’s fiction to paranormal, thriller/suspense to contemporary and fantasy young adult.

Some of these I’ve read for reviews, some just because, and some for research. Some of the books are hardcopies, some are eBooks, and many of them have been audio books (because I can get dishes done, fold laundry, clean the kitchen, and grocery shop all while listening to a fab book—and indulging my introverted parts of me by being completely antisocial).

I read when I need an escape from anxiety, stress, or too much life things. I also read when I’m stuck in my current writing project or when I need to find inspiration to keep the words flowing.

Currently, I have a women’s fiction I’m in the midst of drafting, an inspirational/self-help nonfiction in the middle of another revise and resubmit, and two children’s books percolating—soon to be tackled. Shifting gears from fiction to nonfiction to fiction is tricky when writing, but that’s apparently exactly how I read books. So perhaps it’s my own fault I can’t decide what to write.

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Things I’ve noticed while reading all these books:

  • Every book has a unique voice—fiction or nonfiction.
  • Some stories I enjoy more than others, despite how well-written they may be.
  • I click better with some styles better than others.
  • In some stories, the characters are so distinct I can tell who is saying what without reading the dialogue tag, while others the characters are more interchangeable.
  • Despite how well an author describes settings or characters, I’m going to picture it all however I want to. My brain is rebellious like that.
  • I tend to enjoy books that have a deeper meaning or purpose in them. Or books where there is some form of healing.
  • After reading lots of heavier books (or dealing with harder life things), I really need something more fun and light, with no darker plots.
  • No form of writing is better or worse than another. They’re all needed.

I’m hoping all this reading is leaking into my psyche, filling my consciousness with good ways to structure plots and craft characters and ultimately create what I have envisioned. I’m hoping I can somehow glean lessons from far more seasoned writers than myself.

Some days I doubt that I’ll ever be able to write something as masterful as so many of the books I’ve read, but I’m only meant to write like me. So I keep reading, increasing this literary fountain of others’ experiences to draw from when my creativity runs low.

I read for many different reasons: to escape, to learn, to be entertained, to study, to grow, to understand, and to experience.

Why do you read? What drives you to pick up book after book?

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576A6469Wendy Jessen is the author of more than 500 articles—family-oriented articles on familyshare.com and book reviews. She recently started a website for something she is passionate about–helping victims of sexual abuse find hope and healing. Wendy is the mother of 6 spirited children ranging in age from 5 to 15. In the throes of writing a few books (fiction and nonfiction), she finds ways to procrastinate which usually involves scrolling through social media. Wendy often stays up way past her bedtime reading, loves kid-free date night with her husband, family vacations, and kids’ bedtime, aka, the human version of whack-a-mole.

The World Needs YOUR Words

Every author, published or not-yet-published, goes through spurts of wanting to quit.

I recently had one of those moments. It took a day or two of me thinking about how I’m not sure if I can complete the task ahead, or complete the revisions needed, and get the right words on paper.  I don’t have a fancy college degree (um…an associates in general studies) or anything else that makes me super qualified to write. I felt wholly inadequate.

I wallowed and complained a bit to fellow writing friends—because they get it.

And then I recommitted myself to my project. Why? Because what I need to say is important and needed. What I need to say, I will say in a way that no one else can. My words have value to others, but also to myself.

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Yes, I happen to be writing to help survivors of sexual abuse, a topic that has been flooding our social media feeds lately, with survivors of sexual harassment or sexual assault posting “me too” to spread awareness. Sadly, it’s a topic that needs more voice because it’s so prevalent—for women, men, teens, and children. Survivors need healing. Survivors need people willing to believe them, support them, stand up for them, and who know how to help them. We all need to stand unified against perpetrators and put out a solid message that it’s not OK and sexual abuse of any kind will not be tolerated.

What is your message?

What words do you have that will help others? How will your words spread light in the darkness? What words will you use to give hope to someone in despair? How can your words bring more compassion and empathy?

I can’t tell you how often I’ve read a book—fiction or nonfiction—that has put a piece of my own life in better perspective because of something an author wrote. Or how many times I’ve cried tears onto pages because it felt like someone truly understood some of the hell I’ve lived through. Or how often I learn something about myself because the words in the book reflect back to me a truth I’ve almost missed. Or how deeply I’ve been impacted by words—words that wouldn’t be there if the author had decided to succumb and quit.

Your words have power. They can lift the downtrodden, heal the broken, mend a divide, and soften a hard heart. Your words can bring people, even the world, together with understanding and compassion.

The world needs your words. The world needs your light.

So don’t quit even when it feels too hard to keep writing. Don’t quit even when the inner critic yells the loudest. Don’t quit—because you have words you haven’t spoken yet that the world needs to hear.

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576A6469Wendy Jessen is the author of more than 500 articles—family-oriented articles on familyshare.com and book reviews. She recently started a website for something she is passionate about–helping victims of sexual abuse find hope and healing. Wendy is the mother of 6 spirited children ranging in age from 5 to 15. In the throes of writing a few books (fiction and nonfiction), she finds ways to procrastinate which usually involves scrolling through social media. Wendy often stays up way past her bedtime reading, loves kid-free date night with her husband, family vacations, and kids’ bedtime, aka, the human version of whack-a-mole.

Back to School, Back to Writing

I didn’t intend to skip most of my writing days this summer. No, we weren’t gone on tons of family vacations. Most days we didn’t even have much going on. But I have 6 kids and they generate a lot of noise and distraction, so writing was super difficult to come by.

Now I’m sitting here, on my kids’ first day back to school with my thoughts jumping here and there, my own distractions (ahem, I’m looking at you Facebook and email!), and I’m struggling to get back into the swing of things.

Really, this is a pep-talk to me, but you’re welcome to come along if you can admit you have a problem (the first step is acknowledgement…).

How to bring focus back to your day

Writing isn’t our only priority in life. We have house cleaning, other jobs, kids to take care of, bills to pay, grocery shopping, etc. But it’s easy to waste the day clicking refresh on email or scrolling social media instead of actually getting anything done. But how do you get done what you need to and still write?

Back to School

How many of us save writing for “later” or when we’ve finished everything else?

Stop that and try these:

  • Make daily lists. Be specific. What do you need and want to accomplish today? Put in a specific writing goal whether it’s 100 words or 10k words. Check it off as you go along. If you are accomplishing everything and still wasting a lot of time, you may need to up your goals.
  • Accountability partner. Having a person you check in with throughout the day or at the end of the day helps keep you on task. You exchange lists and cheer each other on as you achieve your goals. They can also help encourage you (or threaten you) to work harder.
  • Yoga, meditation, and grounding exercises. Sometimes focusing is hard because our mind is anything but quiet. Finding ways to calm your thoughts is necessary to help you focus. Some need meditation, some need yoga. Being mindful of yourself is healthy. You will figure out what you need to calm the thoughts and focus.
  • Healthy diet. If you feel good physically, it impacts your mood and your ability to think. I was at a retreat last week and had healthy, fresh, non-processed foods every day. It really made me realize how much what we put in our bodies impacts our ability to work hard. If we don’t feel good, we don’t function as well.
  • Set a timer and turn off social media. Make yourself sit butt in chair, fingers typing for 30 minutes to an hour. Then get up and walk, dance, or move in general. Find a healthy snack or get a drink. Do another task, or get right back to it.
  • Reward yourself. Sometimes we’re like little kids who need some positive reinforcement to work harder. Say your goal is 10k words for the week (doable, right?). If you achieve that goal, maybe then you get to buy a pair of shoes, or get a massage, go to dinner with friends, buy a new book, whatever will motivate you. Find your “currency” and offer it to yourself as a reward for achieving a larger goal.

Hopefully some of these help me this year. Maybe they will help you as well.

What nifty tricks do you have to keep yourself focused and writing?

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576A6469Wendy Jessen is the author of more than 500 articles—family-oriented articles on familyshare.com and book reviews. She recently started a website for something she is passionate about–helping victims of sexual abuse find hope and healing. Wendy is the mother of 6 spirited children ranging in age from 5 to 15. In the throes of writing a few books (fiction and nonfiction), she finds ways to procrastinate which usually involves scrolling through social media. Wendy often stays up way past her bedtime reading, loves kid-free date night with her husband, family vacations, and kids’ bedtime, aka, the human version of whack-a-mole.

When Writing Makes You Realize You May Need Therapy

This post gets pretty real. And it probably won’t teach you any writing technique, but perhaps it will help you with writing in some way. Mostly it’s a bit of self-care.

I have a bit of a dark past. Those childhood experiences have woven into the fabric of my entire life (without me realizing it until more recently) and it tends to come out in my writing—which is good and bad. But also eye opening.

For many (if not all) writers, writing is therapeutic. It’s a healthy way to get out thoughts and feelings or help sort out events or circumstances you’re trying to make sense of—maybe through a personal essay, or perhaps torturing a fictional character with situations you’ve personally suffered through.

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But even with the benefits of writing out all the messed up or hard times (or deep, dark caverns) from your life, it can also take a toll emotionally, mentally, and even physically.

For example, I wrote a nonfiction book about healing from sexual abuse which also includes my personal stories. Every time I’d sit down to write, my anxiety would skyrocket and I could feel my heartbeat intensify. A panicky feeling would permeate my whole body. It took a lot longer than I thought it should to write because of the effects on me. It’s the same when I work on posts for my website on the same subject.

And every fiction idea I have seems to be on this same heavy topic. Clearly, I’m using writing to work through my trauma. And I’m mostly fine with that, but it does make intense scenes and situations difficult to write.

Do certain scenes or subjects you write (or read) amp up your emotions? Do you disassociate while writing, losing track of what’s real and what’s not, perhaps thinking you’re a victim all over again? Does it take time to recover from writing intense scenes? If so, are you cognitively aware of something in your past that may be the cause of the trigger? Or have you suspected something buried in your subconscious?

I’m not suggesting that every time something affects you that it means something dark and disturbing. Writers also often have the gift of empathy and can feel emotions from an experience they haven’t personally gone through. But it could also hint at something you may not be fully, consciously aware of.

Your body and soul remember traumatic times that you may have blocked out.

Granted, when I started my aforementioned WIP, I was already in the midst of therapy (oh, the crazy horror/thriller story ideas I get from my brain during therapy!), so I knew some of what was going on. But the intense emotions and memories that would creep in were still surprising. Like, “Hey, I’m working through this and this shouldn’t be bothering me.” And then I would feel like I was losing my mind, but really I am just still working through the healing process.

My point is, take care of yourself. Be mindful of what you experience as you pour your heart onto the pages of your masterpiece. If something you’re writing is triggering for you, pay attention to it. Take a step back and pull yourself into the present. If you know what it is, acknowledge it and thank your mind and body for trying to protect you. Remind yourself that you’re safe now.

Also, if you think you may need the help of a professional, there is no shame in therapy. It’s actually a very healthy and adult thing to do. If not a professional, perhaps you just need to chat it out with a friend or spouse (who may also suggest therapy depending on the situation or severity of what’s going on).

Writing is therapeutic, but it also may dig up some skeletons from your past. Listen to your inner-self. If you need to take a break, do it. Be kind to yourself and do what you need to be mentally, physically, and emotionally safe.

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Wendy Jessen is the author of more than 500 articles—family-oriented articles on familyshare.com and book reviews. She recently started a website for something she is passionate about–helping victims of sexual abuse find hope and healing. Wendy is the mother of 6 spirited children ranging in age from 5 to 15. In the throes of writing a few books (fiction and nonfiction), she finds ways to procrastinate which usually involves scrolling through social media. Wendy often stays up way past her bedtime reading, loves kid-free date night with her husband, family vacations, and kids’ bedtime, aka, the human version of whack-a-mole.

Why You Need Your Writing Community

Why You Need Your Writing Community

When I first started writing, I didn’t know anyone else who was a writer. I had no one to bounce ideas off, no one who could read what I wrote and give me real feedback, and no one who really understood what being a writer meant. I was alone.

Then I went to a couple writing conferences, met other driven writers, and became close friends with several of them. I became part of a writing community.

What have I gained from being associated with a community of writers?

  • I have a place to ask questions about writing.
  • My writing friends give me so much support to keep working toward my goals.
  • They motivate me or give that extra push to write when I don’t want to.
  • We empathize with each other when things don’t work out.
  • There is so much knowledge to glean from other writers—everyone is usually happy to share.

You know the saying “It takes a village to raise a child”? Well, it also takes a village to write a book. I can’t imagine writing a book without the help and support of other knowledgeable writers. Writers give helpful critiques, give ideas to fix plot problems, encourage you to keep going when you want to quit, and cheer you on throughout your process.

Of course, it should go without saying, that in order to have others help and support you, you must do the same for them. When you offer critiques, people are willing to give critiques back. When you are kind and supportive, others will be that way toward you.

Finding your writing people can take some time. You have to find those whose personalities and writing styles mesh well with yours. Be patient and keep meeting new writers until you find a good match (or ten!).

Writing is a solitary activity, but with a community of writers, you are not alone. We rely on each other. We grow together and lift one another. We help each other keep going when it’s hard (is it ever not hard?).

Whether you’re a beginner or have been at it for a long time, having a writing community in your life can make all the difference. And you never know, you might make some of your closest friends along the way.

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Wendy Jessen is the author of more than 500 articles—family-oriented articles on familyshare.com and book reviews. She recently started a website for something she is passionate about–helping victims of sexual abuse find hope and healing. Wendy is the mother of 6 spirited children ranging in age from 5 to 15. In the throes of writing a few books (fiction and nonfiction), she finds ways to procrastinate which usually involves scrolling through social media. Wendy often stays up way past her bedtime reading, loves kid-free date night with her husband, family vacations, and kids’ bedtime, aka, the human version of whack-a-mole.