Writing with empathy is a wonderful way to not only connect with your audience on an emotional level, but also challenge yourself to become a better writer.
You do not have to write about pleasant emotions or common experiences to convey empathy; in fact, I believe it is more revealing to write about obscure moments and elusive emotions. We have all read what you first begin to write. It is what your writing blossoms into that I want to read.
I find empathetic writing, outside of fiction and poetry, is commonly used in music. More specifically, empathetic writing is almost always used in today’s songs. There is a difference, however, between the kind of empathy used in today’s songs and the kind of empathy I am talking about.
Empathy in Today’s Songs
The popular songs of today are so wildly successful because they are simple; the lyrics rationalize every emotion to death. The songs I see trending are sung by people of every age and gender singing, screaming, and crying about love. They sing about heartbreak, toxicity, cheating partners, and insecurity. They sing about self-discovery and empowerment, and all the positive changes they discover in themselves after saying goodbye.
And their audiences relate because they have all experienced those things in their own scarred relationships and interpretations of love.
Empathy in Writing
Creative writing, including poetry, is more complex than today’s music. Good writing does not tell you, so plainly, how to feel. A good piece of writing leaves room for you to feel on your own once you find your own meaning in the imagery and narrative the poem tells.
The difference between most songs and good writing is songs are simple and rely on everyday moments, whereas creative writing is about how the writer’s experience inspires the reader.
At the end of the day, it is easy to write in everyday metaphors and experiences. It is not easy to push yourself beyond what you know and discover the joy of crafting a sentence is as precise and imagist as it is beautiful to read.
It is a matter of skill level and skill level depends on practice. Luckily, practice just takes time and having time depends on what you make time for.
Fun Question: Do I listen to today’s music?
Yes, though I often hear more of the music than the actual lyrics. I listen to today’s songs because the music inspires my body to move. I write because my soul is always moving.
Here is how writing with empathy can help you become a better writer, starting with how writing informs empathy.
How writing informs empathy
Gloria Steinem once said, “Empathy is the most revolutionary of emotions.” I believe writing is one of the rawest ways we experience empathy. By writing about what we know and, more importantly, what we do not know, we build relationships with a wider range of emotions than we might normally experience. This inevitably helps shape our writing for the better.
How to Write with Empathy
1. Write about what you know
Write about the moments in your life that left you crippled with fear. What did fear taste like? How did it feel? Write about how you overcame your fear.
Write about your weaknesses and sins. Write about your prides and successes.
Write about how you hated to go down into your unfinished basement as a child because the air bit your skin off during the winter, and you always glanced over your shoulder for the presence you convinced yourself existed.
Write about how you wrapped your brother’s favorite chicken in plastic and froze her so you could bury her come spring.
2. Write about what you do not know
Most importantly, write about what you do NOT know. Write about the lives you think you have lived. Write about the lives you are dying for and the lives you dream about.
Write as if you are a small-town Nebraska girl. Embody the soldier during World War II. Dare to imagine yourself as an American pioneer. Embrace the sensations of an Italian painter, or the field of view experienced by a Swedish farmer. Let the interesting and unique struggles of the people you become while writing inform and influence your narrative. Let their hopes and despairs, however temporarily, become your own. In this way, you develop empathy and experience emotion new to you.
I believe that it does not matter if you have truly lived the lives you imagine in the flesh. By writing about and imagining people in different circumstances, you put yourself in their shoes. When a person says, “You don’t know what it is like,” I believe that, if you have written emotionally about a similar person and, by doing so, experienced their struggles and evils, you can honestly say, “I do.”
How writing with empathy inspires readers
When you write about what you truly know, readers have the chance to suddenly relate to experiences previously unknown to them. One of the first priorities of writing, I am told, is to educate. Educate emotionally then, if not literally.
How empathetic writing helps you become a better writer
Empathy is the basis of good communication. Because writing with empathy gets you out of your experiences and thrusts you into the experiences of others, you will learn how to connect with a wide range of people, connect with yourself, and deepen your relationship with words and narratives.. These skills will forever inform and richen your narratives.
Writing with Empathy in Blog Posts
Empathetic writing is not limited to fiction, poetry, and prose. Writing with empathy in your blog posts is a wonderful tool to help readers truly connect and experience your words. Here are a few ways to use empathy in your blog posts.
- Share a personal anecdote that sets up the struggle/experience your post will expound on.
- Talk about how the advice you are giving helped you.
- In lists and roundups, tell readers what informed your decisions.
Do you practice writing with empathy? Has it helped you not only broaden your understanding of yourself, but also connect with people more deeply? What is the biggest challenge you face in writing with empathy? Tell me below!