A little empathy

With writing on hold now for a few weeks and time for other things, I’ve been thinking even more than usual about the way each moment leaves us poised forever between our past and our future. I suppose that fascination with time is one of the reasons I love history. I’ve spent the last year writing a new manuscript, finding my way through two centuries while trying to think not just as the writer but also as the main characters and as a reader. I’ve learned lots of new things along the way, including how much there is still to learn about good writing, but I know for sure that being able to empathise with others is a critical ingredient in the recipe.

To describe what someone feels, to explain how they see what’s around them, to reveal their motivation for words or actions, all that means leaving yourself behind, being able to get right inside them and look outward. Empathy lies at the heart of creating authentic voice and viewpoint for a character. It’s critical, too, in predicting how a reader might react to the authorial decisions you make, the words you put on the page. Readers and writers have to work together, even though they never usually meet. It’s also a very human thing to do, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, even if their life is distant from your own in time and circumstances. That’s true if you’re a writer and it’s also true if you’re not. Empathy and love and basic human kindness aren’t such distant cousins. That’s been on my mind lately as I look at Christmas images everywhere.

Yesterday I was given a very special gift by a close friend, a Nautilus shell she had mounted in a setting of real beach sand and framed to hang above my writing desk. It makes real an image described in my manuscript, a Nautilus seen laying on the white sandy floor of the ocean in clear, shallow water. The shell became an iconic image for the book’s protagonist and for me during my year of writing. For both of us, it’s a symbol of the connected nature of living things, a reminder that we’re all in this together on this little planet. A bit of real empathy goes a long way, and not just at Christmas. Thank you, Patricia.

E conchis omnia

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