All writers have a process that allows them to create. However, the art of "Writing" is often mistaken for that "Process." Hopefully this blog explains the difference, and inspires people to develop their crafts, become writers, or just keep on writing.

Friday, June 23, 2023

Writing Outside of Yourself

Here are a few simple facts about me: I am a currently single, straight, 50-something-year-old male, never married, once engaged, no kids (that I know of), who is currently a writer and had a brutally long, enjoyable career in the financial world, mostly as an economist. Now, some of you might read this and actually learn something about me, while others knew all these details all too well, and a few people might even know the backstory. However, that's not why I am mentioning any of this. I am not showing off either. I am actually demonstrating how narrow my world view is, and how it can impact me as a writer.

Let's start at the beginning of the list: currently single. How does this impact me as a writer? Well, it does give me a perspective of the trials and tribulations, the battles won and lost, and the social warfare that is the dating scene out there. In this regard, I have some immediate experience, and can write about it with authority. However, that also means that if I want to write about a character who is in a longstanding relationship, I have to step out of my single shoes and into another mindset altogether. I have to become a different version of me, back when I had that relationship, and see the world from that perspective. In short, I need to take on another character based on something other than current experience. 

And what about those other qualifiers? Straight, 50-something, male - all of those can restrict my experience base, forcing me to explore another world that I might know absolutely nothing about. How do I write about a 60-year-old married lesbian? I might have the perfect story for her to star in, but if I don't have the experience base, I am not going to do that character justice. It's even quite possible that my story could end up being offensive, which is not what I usually want.

As a writer, one of the keys that unlocks our deeper skills is the ability to empathize. Personally, I think empathy is a lost art these days, but that's all the more reason to discuss it. Empathy is trying to experience someone's life through their eyes, from inside their skin, processing the world through their experiences. It is very difficult to do, but we need to develop this if we want our characters to stand out as individuals and not just varied clones of ourselves. And usually, the best way to find this connection is through reading stories told from other perspectives.

An all-too-common problem is when men write female characters. The two easiest mistakes are first, to fail to make any meaningful representation of the female perspective, and secondly, to present the character in the way a man thinks a woman should be. When you read narratives where authors make these mistakes, you will likely cringe uncontrollably. Careless male authors will create bombshell females who are sexually aggressive and talk about their breasts a lot. These kinds of male authors have not read very many female authors and therefore have not yet discovered that women have their own depth, perspective, and plenty of other things to talk about besides breasts.

And for those who want a quick cheat code to step around reading a bunch of books, if you write something outside of your familiarity zone, get someone in that demographic to read your stuff and give you open feedback on how that character came off. It might be a tough reality check, but if you then engage in discussion with that person, you might become a better writer. And you definitely might develop some of that empathy we were talking about.

As for me, I and going back to writing about a middle-aged author who saves the world through his blog. That is something I know about.         

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