I went to a rally last night at my local City Hall to protest the naming of Steve Bannon as Chief Strategist in Trump’s administration. I was tempted to write a post entirely focused on my experience there, but I think there’s plenty of great journalists already doing the same, so I want to use this event more in line with my posts on how I approach my writing and offer some thoughts on the things writers should strive for.
For the sake of being able to summarize it succinctly, I’m going with three E’s: Experience, Enthusiasm and Empathy. Experience is pretty simple: any writer needs a certain amount of experience to write intelligently and artfully on a subject. Even if you’re writing sci-fi or fantasy- things no one can possibly see- at least give yourself exposure to experiences that help you understand the fear, thrill of courage and resolve your protagonists should have seeing your fantastic vistas and worlds.
Enthusiasm is simple enough: you should approach whatever you’re writing or writing about with joy. Whether that means the plot, the overall message and moral of your story, your characters: you should enjoy reading it and be as enthusiastic about it as you’d like any of your readers to be. That’s not to say there isn’t a “grind” and that if there’s a tedium in the discipline you should abandon the story and worry there’s something wrong, but the enthusiasm should supersede the tedium of pushing on through the steady page by page routine of it. The enthusiasm should supersede the tiresome repetition of editing work time and again and then once more to be sure. Enthusiasm for your work and message should be the shade in which you draw the comfort for your work.
Finally, there’s empathy. I think this is most pertinent with the rally last night. Amid chants of “education not deportation” and “the people united shall never be divided,” I felt the appreciation of the importance being able to empathize with people. In the end, that’s what a writer should be aspiring to do with their characters: not just illustrate, but empathize. Be with them, understand their motivations, experiences and feelings. Beyond just nifty character details and factoids, the character you truly empathize with will always be the most three dimensional character you put onto the page.
To do that in your writing, it helps to do work and live in such way that you empathize with the actual three dimensional people around you. It’s a big world out there, and especially in America, empathy is needed now more than ever.