I was in a funk for much of last week, which isn’t in and of itself exactly news. (Nor interesting to you, I suspect.) What might be, however, is its cause: my writing.
I’m not referring to the usual “Am I good enough?” schtick, although that beast rears its head so often it took me a while to distinguish between the two. No, this is about an old familiar friend from another lifetime: compathy.
Most people have heard of it’s cousin, empathy, which might be defined as the ability to understand another’s point of view without necessarily agreeing with it. (For obvious reasons, empathy is a helpful asset in anyone’s life, but it’s particularly useful for a writer who aims to create character-based fiction.)
Compathy goes a step beyond that. It’s the ability to go beyond merely understanding another’s point of view, into actually assuming their emotions. When you possess compathy, if someone in your life feels joy, so do you. If someone feels pain…bingo!
Compathy’s precisely what was going on for me last week. By an odd quirk of fate, every single one of my characters was going through hell simultaneously. And there could be no flashes of humor to lighten their/our load, no zaniness to remind them/me that they are simple, intellectual constructs. It was balls to the walls time for them, and for me, utterly exhausting.
So I thought this might make for an interesting blog post, because unlike most people, who look at you like you’re nuts if you say you can understand another’s point of view, nevermind actually feel their emotions, I have a hunch many of you know exactly what I’m talking about. How can you not, if you love to either read or write deep third person?
Then I thought we might talk about strategies we all use to restore a healthy psychic distance when the writing is over for the day. Let’s face it: although we may still hold a romantical vision of the angsty, inspired artist, living that way doesn’t make us good employees. Nor life partners. We all need a method to prevent our characters’ emotional states from bleeding over into the real world.
These are some of my strategies:
1. Awareness: once I’ve cottoned on to the fact that I’m not really a neurotic witch, but experiencing emotional contagion, that’s half the battle for me. I get there faster if I journal or mediate, particularly around the theme of gratitude.
2. Vigorous physical exercise, particularly if it requires mental activity as well: I find dancing excellent for this. Between the music, the concentration I need to remember the routine, and the endorphin-releasing exercise, it’s a comprehensive emotional reset.
4. Play: I no longer have young children in my house, yet I still have a giant bottle of Toys R Us bubble-making solution in my kitchen cupboard, plus an assortment of wands. (I do NOT care for those electric thingamabobs, where you fill a gun with solution and just squeeze the trigger! Besides the fact that their environmentally abhorrent, they won’t work in this instance to reset your brain.)
Failing that, a tickle-, water-, or pillow-fight always work to give me a reprieve from my characters’ agony. Also, they reconnect with my kids, who often wonder why their mother can now out-sullen them.
How about you folks? Do you experience compathy? If you do, is that a good thing for your writing? And what are your strategies to integrate back into the real world?