How do you balance writing and seeking empathy (and readership)?

“I wonder what would have become of me if I had come of age as a writer during these years of living out loud. My parents were in a car crash in 1986 that killed my father and badly injured my mother. If social media had been available to me at the time, would I have posted the news on Facebook? Tweeted it to my followers as I stood on line to board the flight home? Instead of sitting numbly on the plane, with the help of several little bottles of vodka, would I have purchased a few hours of air time with Boingo Wi-Fi and monitored the response—the outpouring of kindness, a deluge of ‘likes,’ mostly from strangers?”
-Dani Shapiro

When you write, you want to know people have read it. When some do read it, you want to make sure you know how they feel about it. Even though most ‘creative’ writing is mainly meant for the writer herself — as catharsis or as a means of self-expression, where does any writing go to unless it finds a reader, who can empathise with its unique expression?

With book-writing becoming more of a technical talent demanding schemes and structures requiring training and fellowships that instruct you the best way to weave magic with words, you tend to become a little unsure of whether your natural means to that weave is good enough for the contemporary reader. Is there a way to find him?

When new-age tools like Facebook and Twitter provide the delectable carrot of a million followers, you get sucked in. Start a Facebook page, start a blog, look for followers, follow other pages, like their posts, write witty comments — preferably with a link to your own creation, spend restless hours wondering if that promised carrot is going to come to you at all.

Where is the time to really write?

So, if today’s publishers expect you to contribute to your pool of readers, how do you build upon that when Facebook and Twitter and online events are distracting you from what you actually, really ought to do?

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15 thoughts on “How do you balance writing and seeking empathy (and readership)?”

  1. Good questions, Priya. I think we will never know the right answer until we get where we want, and to get there is by doing what we do best. Rest, I really think is a permutation of the things that malcolm gladwell mentions in his book ‘outliers’. The things that we have no control over. Maybe trying is enough?

  2. There is one way to learn to write: begin writing, and keep writing.

    There is one way to gain readers: write well enough that your writing stands out from the mass of material that’s out there.

    There is one way to become published: write consistently enough that you have something to hand to a publisher, and write well enough that your writing will interest a publisher.

    Gaining empathy? Not nearly as important as communicating.

    And that’s my view of it!

    1. I am going to be a little cheeky here, without meaning to offend.

      It is easy for people like you and Charles to say the things you do, because not only do you have skills, you are consistent enough to work hard to hone them, burnish them and resilient enough to withstand the test of inattention. Perhaps I am not so? God, I am definitely not so. Maybe it would do me good to either forget the whole idea or jolly well find my own way to be a consistent and growing writer.

      1. And no offense taken — none at all. The one thing I’ll add is that all of the lessons I imply up above (persistence, resilience, confidence, a benign disregard of the opinions of others) I learned before I began my blog. Everything I needed to know about starting a blog I learned while starting a career and then starting a business.

        Which is to say — don’t listen to the ones who make writing and publishing sound like some sort of other-worldly, mystical experience that comes only to the blessed. It’s a human activity, as much as raising a child or building a shed. So. Step one is honing our humanity, and the human qualities that will sustain us as we decide which direction to go.

        Ironically, my biggest struggle right now is with my lack of desire to write a “real book.” Lots of people say I should, but I’m happy with my blog, and the occasional published magazine article. I have no desire to pursue publication in the big, wide world: self-publishing or otherwise. Strange.

        1. Why should your choice be strange, then? It is your wish how you are going to write — for what kind of readers, through which platform. I am sure you agree that writing cannot be done in isolation. It has to be for a certain kind of readership of your choice. You’ve made it, and that should suffice, no?
          Many of us write for money, some do it for validation (or empathy). When the objective takes such a course, I suppose one tends to concentrate on making the most of what the options have to offer. I’d call you lucky that you do not have any such ambitions with your writing. Perhaps that is the reason you tend to write for the sake of it, and do a commendable job every time!

  3. Yeah, good question, for sure. But you know, I think distractions have always existed. For me, perhaps the greatest distraction is reading. Yeah, I’d rather read what someone else has written than do the heavy lifting of writing my own crap. And let’s face it, that’s a distraction that has existed since the written word began. Sigh.

  4. We’ve discussed this before. The advantage of self-publishing is that anyone can become a published author. That very thing is also one of its disadvantages. The world has become flooded with writing, and while some of it is excellent, most of it is not. In order for you and your audience to find each other, there are things you have to do to distinguish yourself from everyone else. This is true for traditional publishing, as well. Producing books is a gamble, and everyone is looking to maximize sales and minimize risk. I don’t understand how to do most of it, but I know that there are two parts. The first part is to produce the best work you can. If you don’t skip that step, you’re already on your way to distinguishing yourself.

  5. It’s a new psychology to *not* be sucked in by who responds to us, how many and what they say when they do comment. That goes for all avenues of social media. I’ve taken time to look at blogs that receive many comments continuously. There’s a great deal of flattery.

    There are blogs that receive lots of comments with good content. Those blogs are owned by good writers.

    I look at the comments here. You attract people who give “meat”. That speaks volumes for your writing, Priya, and your refreshing personality!

    1. You are kind, Amy.

      I am yet to make up my mind about whether I am satisfied in writing in seclusion and relative ‘anonymity’ or do I seek ‘flattery’. I do not want insincere feedback, for sure. But I do like a meaty discussion. As you have observed, I get enough food for thought in the comments section here, however, I still look for more. Is that foolish of me? I am not sure! Oh, such confusion!

      1. Priya, my impression of you is that you can discern the difference between support and flattery. Remember that giving others a chance to “give” to you is a gracious gesture indeed. Plus, maybe even more significant, here’s to you knowing within yourself that you really don’t need our commentary, support or flattery! That’s where I’d like to be.

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