Question: What is the most important quality a writer needs to have? Depending on who you ask you’ll get lots of different answers. Some will say determination, others will say an active imagination, more still will say the ability to set and achieve goals. I agree with all of those qualities and could list many more. However the one quality I think a writer absolutely needs, above everything else, is empathy.
Think about it.
How many hours is a writer going to spend thinking about other people’s lives? We create people from nothing (although most of us are writing about ourselves in one form or another most of the time) and give them personalities and baggage, and then we have to help them figure out what to do with it all. That takes a lot of empathy.
I think the worst thing a writer can do to themselves is walk around being judgemental. When you see a person who is not doing as well as you are, for whatever reason, don’t hold them up to your own personal measuring stick. I find it to be the height of arrogance when someone says, “Well I went through the same thing that person went through and I didn’t do XY and Z when it happened.” Honestly folks, if you find yourself doing that a lot, and you are an ‘aspiring writer’ (whatever that is), you might want to think about doing something else.
If you don’t have the brain power to realize that everyone is different, making us deal with the events in our lives in our own way, then you might want to re think your writing. Your characters are going to have to do things you don’t like or approve of, things you’d never do, and you want to be able to write about that as authentically as possible while still having your characters be sympathetic.
God knows I’m not perfect. Judgement is part of human nature, but I constantly and consciously work at it. I’ve matured as an adult to the point where if I catch myself judging someone I immediately stop and remind myself….
A) I’m not perfect and have no right to judge anyone else.
B) I might not like what the person is doing but everyone has a reason for acting the way they do. It might be a lousy justification for whatever is going on, but that person is a human being just like me and they may only be behaving in a way that they were taught. Perhaps they don’t know any better, and yes maybe they should strive to learn, but some just don’t have the insight to do it and never will. Therefore my judgement of them only serves to frustrate and hurt myself.
Honestly I try not to judge anyone, anymore. I’ve been on the receiving end of so much judgement that dishing it out, even toward someone in the privacy of my own mind, makes me feel like a louse. I know what it feels like to be talked about, made fun of and ridiculed. I would never spread that around no matter who was on the receiving end, or if they ‘deserved’ it. It’s stupid. It hurts them, it hurts me and it hurts my writing.
Judgement kills creativity because all of art is, ‘man tries to understand others’, ‘man tries to understand self’. Anyone else remember doing that in school? You’ll never get to the point in your art where you can explore how you feel about the world around you if you are up on your high horse in ‘judgie land’.
If you think you’re better than people who are struggling how will you ever write about the struggle itself? Struggle is universal, it’s only the type of problem we struggle with that is different. We should all, as writers and human beings, learn to see the things in each other that are the same and not focus on what’s different because the differences don’t really matter. We should all strive to see what’s the same, and extend a hand if need be. But if you can’t do that, please, please don’t go out of your way to hurt someone else with gossip or judgement, especially if you are a writer. You’re only devaluing yourself and your work if you do.