Discussion

{DISCUSSION} Are Writers more Empathetic?

Are Writers more Empathetic than others?

Try watching the discussion on youtube!

The term ‘writer’ encompasses a wide variety of people from young to old, from East to West, from English to Chinese to Arabic. Writers exist everywhere and, no matter where they are, they must learn to select, combine, and orient words in a manner that relates to the people around them (unless they write strictly for themselves 🙂 ).

This ability to make themselves understood by the reader includes not just making the sentences and thoughts legible and coherent, but making them emotional. Writers need to express feelings to readers without any tone of voice or inflection. They must do it simply through diction. So, I wonder…

Do writers possess more empathy than non-writers? Is this ability to understand another’s emotions what makes them capable of expressing emotions in their work?

**For the sake of argument (and because of my personal writing background), I’m going to stick to writers of fiction, particularly authors. Though, all forms of writing must be able to connect with a reader, whether it’s fiction or non.**

Fiction writers are not only responsible for sharing a story with a reader, but also for creating a realistic character for the reader to care about. To do this, the writer must build an emotional attachment between the character and the reader. The only way for a writer to create this emotional attachment is to understand emotions themselves. They must give the character realistic emotions, motivations, passions, and fears so that the character feels real- becomes real -for the reader.

And that’s just one character.

Stories do not exist with one character alone in their world. They see and interact with other characters who each have their own personalities, their own emotions and motivations. Thus, the writer must understand not just a handful of emotions, but a wide variety.

And not just one type of pain or happiness, but a number of slight alterations of pain and happiness because one person’s happiness is not the same as another’s. One person’s pain may drive them to be sad, while another’s pain may drive them to be angry. Writers must be capable of understanding and implementing each of these different variations so that each character is unique.

Through creating these unique personalities, characters are able to interact in a variety of different ways: affection, adoration, fear, hate, disdain, repulse, etc, etc. These meshing or clashing of personalities is what allows character interaction. It creates understanding or conflict based on how they react to their environment and other characters.

If writers didn’t possess an understanding of empathy, all characters would be the same. Sure, writers could paint them different colors, give them different ethnicities, have them practice different religions, but if writers don’t actually understand those ethnicities, religions, cultures, people, or how and why they do things, how are writers to accurately depict them, to make them real? 

This may be the reason why many authors don’t write characters from varying cultures: they have not yet experienced said cultures. They don’t understand what role emotions play in a culture other than their own, but they can observe and they can learn to understand even without it being their own culture. Let me share a few examples of how empathy works for writers:

With a high level of empathy…

Writers are able to create a damaged, tortured character whose past is filled with turmoil even though they’re past was quite pleasant.

Writers are able to write a character who loves to swim even when they fear water.

Writers are able to write a character who gets excited about winning a basketball game, even though they’ve never played a sport.

Writers are able to write a character who has overcome adversity, who’s outgoing, and who stands up for what they believe in, even if they are wallflowers.

A writer’s empathy also allows characters to grow and develop. They’re able to understand where a character begins and where the character will end because they understand what effect certain scenarios have on a character’s emotional state and how it changes them.

But maybe I’m biased. I am a writer, and I’ve been lucky enough to interact with a variety of different people, to live in their countries, and experience their cultures. Or maybe certain people just have a naturally higher level of empathy whether they are writers or not.

What do you think?
Leave your thoughts in the comments!


And check out my discussion from last week:
Reading Multiple Books

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31 thoughts on “{DISCUSSION} Are Writers more Empathetic?”

  1. Its a difficult question to answer. As just like any other people in other fields, some can fake their feelings. Meaning they can write to show they are good empathizers but may not really practice ?
    This is how I feel may be correct or not 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a difficult one, how does one measure empathy? I think it would be easy for someone to think this, maybe it would be better to say that they can’t contain the the things they feel within them and it spills out onto the page?

    Hows’ things been Melanie? It’s been a while. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hmm. That’s an interesting way to approach the concept: their feelings pour out onto the page. Is that, perhaps, why some books seem to have a more inclusive group of characters than others? Could this perhaps be a way to ‘measure’ one’s empathy? I’m not sure.

      Things are going well, Simon. Thank you for asking. How about yourself?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That could be why that is. I know some books are very emotional and based on someone’s experiences. In this sense the feelings from this have poured into the page.
        I’m ok… Too busy to write for sure. I’m glad you’re well 😊

        Liked by 1 person

      1. I meant that even if they don’t “get” the emotions, they know they’re there and the social norms surrounding them. Thus, they use them. For instance, I might not understand bigotry, but I know it exists and thus can add realistic bigoted characters to their works.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Hm… Interesting. I mean, I get bigotry. I get why people think themselves better than others (simply because they think themselves better than others. eye roll) But I don’t support it myself. Though, I would consider myself to have a high level of understanding when it comes to people (maybe why I don’t like them very much. :p)

          Do you think there is a way to tell between fakers and real empathy in books or no?

          Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t think all writers are super empathetic and i don’t think all people who are super empathetic are writers, but I do agree that it is a good combination. I think people with loads of empathy are drawn to expressing themselves and it usually comes out with the written word.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I would agree with you in that they may coincide but are not necessarily always in the same group. That being said, do you think perhaps that a writer’s level of empathy perhaps has an impact upon their ability to write or perhaps their quality of writing?

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  4. First my question is, are writers more empathetic than whom? I feel like that’s way too broad to give a direct answer to. I also don’t agree that you have to be a writer to understand and empathize with people from different backgrounds.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I specified later in the discussion that I was comparing writers vs non-writers. Though, I suppose that is still quite a broad category and forces everyone into one of the two (when they may not be distinctly one or the other.) Do you think it could be narrowed down? Perhaps to a different group?

      Also, I never stated writers are the only ones capable of empathy. I simply wonder if they were more likely to be empathetic or perhaps have a higher affinity towards empathy than non-writers because the necessity of their craft to create and mold such a wide variety of people, but it seems you don’t support it either way??

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      1. That’s what I meant…. it’s an incredibly broad group of people, like I said, and it also depends on what you define as a writer.
        I never said that you implied only writers were empathetic. I said you don’t have to be a writer to understand other people. There are many authors who have written about diverse groups and done so poorly. And there are people who don’t write who are very understanding and willing to learn what they don’t know.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Mm. I would agree with you that the label of writer is definitely up for debate. So, perhaps I approached this discussion topic in the wrong manner.

          Ah. My bad. I incorrectly read into your words and I would agree that writers are not the only people who understand other people. In fact, I know of quite a few writers who do not know much about other people nor seem capable of understanding them, but I chocked that up to lack of experience among other people. After all, I believe it’s near impossible to truly understand another person without interacting with said person, which can account for many writers being incapable (or poorly executing) writing of groups of people outside their own. In which case, I don’t think it’s appropriate to write about those groups. Writers are told to write what they know and it’s obvious what happens when they fail to keep within that parameter.

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          1. So what do you define as a writer? Is it self proclaimed? Do you have to share your work with others? Or do you just have to constantly be writing? Or is it something else all together?
            I took a YA novel class my senior year and my teacher (who is a published author, it was pretty cool!) said that I was good at writing but I didn’t feel that I was. Writing is hard for me. She considered me a writer, and everyone else in the class considered themselves one but I wouldn’t call myself one.

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            1. Ah. That is another debate all on its own. Many writers (a lot, actually) don’t consider themselves writers and I think a lot of that has to do with 1) no set standard for what a ‘writer’ is and 2) society saying it’s nothing more than a hobby and shouldn’t be taken seriously by anyone (much less the writer themselves).

              That being said, I think a writer is anyone who writes. If you are actively working on writing (and not taking month-long/year-long breaks, obviously), then I consider that person to be a writer. Even if they, themselves, don’t consider themselves to be. After all, there are different degrees of writers from beginners to experienced to master (I’m looking at you, Stephen King and George R. R. Martin :p ).

              To be fair, writing is hard for everyone. It just depends on what day you catch them and how much ‘muse’ they have at the time. No writer is good at writing all the time. We all struggle through it. That’s what finding writing friends are for. They know the struggles and they push through with you. (Btw, what do you write? 😀 I’m not sure I’ve ever asked.)

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Okay, I see. Do people really say writing is just a hobby? That seems so contradictory because writing is basically one of the most important parts of our education growing up. I was always taught that you MUST know how to write!
                Okay, so you’re a writer. When you finish writing something (say a chapter or a short story) you feel accomplished right? You want to share it because you feel like you’ve written something worth sharing? I never felt that way. Blog posts are different cause its just life or my opinion on a book. But creating isn’t my thing you know? Of course, writing is hard for everyone (didn’t mean to imply that it wasn’t) but I just never felt good about it. Maybe just cause my heart wasn’t really in it. I’d rather read than write.
                When I was younger I use to write short stories, most of them were English assignments but I actually those were kind of fun. Then I tried YA for the first time when I took the class, I guess it would classify as contemporary. I liked building the characters but couldn’t figure out where I wanted it to go and how it should end. I don’t think I could write dystopia, it amazes me how people create a whole new world.

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                1. Honestly, yes. Society (in general) sees writing as a non-profitable career. Thus, it should never be seen as a career and should remain a closeted hobby at the most. A shame really. It’s what has forced many writers to not tell their friends or family that they enjoy writing and is worse for the people who are truly good at it because they don’t get the encouragement they need to really get out there and show people they’re work (and there’s already going to be tons of rejection out there. So, having a support system back home with friends or family is vital.)

                  Oh! Don’t worry. I knew you weren’t implying it wasn’t hard for everyone. I’ll be honest with you: writing is harder for some people than others. Some people seem to have a natural affinity towards it. The words just come to them. Others have to dig deep, they struggle more, they spend more time working on it. Yet, the thing they share is their determination because no matter how long it takes you, you still need the focus and drive to make it through to the end. Even if the words come easy, if you don’t have the drive, you’ll never make it to the finish line.

                  I’ll be honest with you, I don’t want to share it. :p Haha! I know. Silly to some people, but many writers absolutely HATE sharing their writing with other people (especially the newer writers) because writing is a piece of who they are. They put a part of themselves into every word choice, every page, every character. So, sharing it with others is like sharing a piece of themselves and if it were to be rejected, it feels like a personal attack. Getting the words on the paper is the hardest part of writing, but sharing it with other people is the next biggest challenge and I know many writers who don’t make it past this step. They simply choose to write for themselves. (It took me YEARS to get over this one and even now I’m still hesitant.)

                  For you, it sounds like what you are missing is what we refer to as a ‘passion project.’ Writers may go many stories, many drafts, many genres before they find their passion project. It’s that one story that you just fall in love with. You can’t stop thinking about it. You can’t wait to tell everyone about it. It just fills you up and takes over every part of you until it’s perfect. (My friend is so in love with her passion project that she’s actually having a hard time going to work on something else.) Perhaps you just haven’t found yours yet? That spark to light your writerly fire. :p

                  Speaking of dystopia… Heh. Heh. >.> cough I personally love the freedom of being able to create a new world, a new society, new rules. It allows me to do what I want. However! I work within scientific constraints. I cannot write fantasy to save my life. There’s too much freedom and magic. MAGIC! Nope. Not even gonna touch it. :p

                  P.s. If you ever wanna chat story ideas, plotting, world-building, anything, hit me up! I have experience working through details and helping newer writers. (or people who just need to chat through the details. Sometimes that’s all you really need.)

                  P.p.s. Goodness. This… was long. 0.0

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. Interesting. I still feel like that’s so contradictory to discourage writing (or anything that people are passionate about) when it’s something that we HAVE to do for the majority of our lives.
                    I would have never guessed that you didn’t want to share your work! That’s so interesting that a lot of writers feel that way. I understand though, like you said it’s a part of you and that’s a huge deal.
                    I don’t know if I will ever have a passion project. I just don’t think I’m cut out for it. I want to try to finish the novel that I started in class, I just don’t know if I will.
                    I figured you liked the freedom of dystopia! Have you or would you ever write a different genre?
                    Ugh, you’re right about magic. It’s too much. It’s like there are no rules and it’s a free for all. I wouldn’t even know where to begin.
                    I haven’t worked on my novel in ages, but when I do again I will let you know! I could definitely use the help.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    1. Ah! But you have found the kicker. We require and support writing for a professional necessity. However, when it becomes fictional, we no longer support it. One is deemed frivolous while the other is deemed a requirement. Go figure. The words are the same. Just the order and context is different yet society faces them quite the opposite.

                      Hahaha! Like I said, I learned to overcome my fear of judgement from others regarding my writing (among other things). Once I did that, I was able to actually get feedback. I learned what my strengths were, what my weaknesses were. I learned about the craft and different styles. How some writers thought something was bad while others used it frequently. I think criticism helped me not only become a better writer, but a better person. I’d learned to not take everything as a personal attack, but listen to what they were saying. (and yes, I totally had new-writer ego when I started out. HAHA! It gets to the best of us.)

                      Oh yeah! When I was younger, I wrote fantasy. Particularly paranormal. You know, when the vampire/werewolf phase was going on. Yup. Totally jumped on that bandwagon and I had some about mermaids from when I was just learning how to write. :p (Guess writing has always kind of been a part of me, but that’s what I get for having an overactive imagination!)

                      I’ve thought about going back to fantasy. There are elements of it that I really love and plot lines that would work better in that type of world, but I’ve been out of touch with it for so long… I dunno. It would take a lot to get back into it and agents and publishers like it when you stick to a genre. Makes it easier to market you.

                      Oh! What yourself! I know many fantasy writers who would argue with you on the ‘no rules’ part. The key difference between fantasy and realistic is that the rules are either created or pre-set. I think I struggle with the creating rules part. I like having at least somewhat of a framework to start with. :p Too much freedom and it’s like every time I try to draw: I see the blank page and nothing comes to mind to draw. You feel me? :p

                      Do that! I’d love to hear your idea and would love to help you work on it! ^.^

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                    2. I see. I don’t like that.You can’t tell people how important writing is and then dismiss it when someone wants to pursue it as a career. That’s horrible and incredibly discouraging.
                      Having a fear of judgement make sense especially when you’re starting out. At least you stuck with it and learned from it.
                      hahah vampires and werewolves! I would not want to relive those days. Mermaids are cool though.
                      So creating the rules isn’t the same as no rules? Is that what you mean?
                      Ooh, you draw too? I envy your creative ability.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    3. All worlds have rules. I just don’t like having to start from scratch and create all my own rules. I much prefer starting with a designated few (i.e. scientific rules) and work from there. With magic, you can do anything. Up can be down. Birds could swim and fish could fly. It’s just… too many possibilities if that makes sense. :p

                      HA! Nooooo! I do not draw. I have NO artistic ability whatsoever. What I was trying to say is I never ‘see’ anything to draw on a blank page. Artists look at a page and have an idea of what they want to draw or at least where they wat to start. I look at a blank page and see… well, a blank page. :p

                      Liked by 1 person

                    4. hahahah I got ya! Writing magic seems so complex. I love reading it but writing it I would probably just cry.
                      I see what you mean. I can’t draw either. I’ve drawn one decent picture my entire life and thats it…..actually I cheated because I was looking at something and redrew it.

                      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think people who are otherwise not very empathetic can learn to be more in touch with their emotions and the emotions of others by writing and creating art. I also believe people who can effectively broadcast emotion through writing are most likely predisposed to having higher levels of empathy. None of this is 100% though, since we’re talking about people, who are inherently unique and strange.

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