I Wish to Remember to Feel What My Reader Feels

"how do you feel right now?" by Bella Lago; © 2009 Bella Lago, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The most important skill a writer can develop, in any field or genre of writing, is to empathize with his reader, because the reader will always judge your writing ultimately by what he feels. Mastery of this skill has resulted in some of the greatest feats of writing magic, especially among writers of sales copy, and neglect of it has resulted in some of the most notable snafus.

This week, for Wishcasting Wednesday, Jamie Ridler asks, “What do you wish to remember?”

Well, I wish to remember, as a writer, always to feel what my reader feels, which has historically been nigh impossible for me to achieve.

Growing up, as a teenager and young adult, I lived the life of a romantic. That is, when it came to girls, I felt romance, lived romance, fell in love at the drop of a hat, unafraid to break my heart yet again, because I needed to love and to be loved. But I also rarely considered whether the objects of my affections felt the same as I, because I didn’t know how. Therefore, my own deeply romantic gestures only scared my beloveds, resulting in heartache after heartache, until I finally learned the secret of love.

That’s not to say these experiences went to waste. No, they were violently painful learning experiences, which finally produced a happy ending, and they eventually became the inspiration for Love through the Eyes of an Idiot, so I can’t complain about that.

Even so, I’ve always had a very introverted personality, emotionally. I’ve always found it easy to understand what I feel, even if I can’t find the words to talk about it. And I’ve always found it difficult to understand what others are feeling, especially when those feelings differ from mine.

Fortunately, a good part of my training as a writer has helped me tunnel through that mountain. Because in creative writing, the characters come first—they’re the most important aspect of a story—and in order to understand the characters in a story, a writer must understand the people behind those characters. This is as true for fictional characters as it is for characters based on real, live people. Moreover, the reader’s feelings generally reflect those of the sympathetic characters. So creative writing helps a writer to understand his reader’s feelings.

Even so, sometimes my own feelings overwhelm me, and I forget about the reader’s. When I’m writing sales copy for a book or for the web, sometimes I’m so desperate to sell, because I’m worrying where next week’s grocery money will come from, I forget that the reader does not want to be sold. It should be easy for me to step into the shoes of prospective customer, because I am a prospective customer myself sometimes. But I need to remember to do so.

And as I’ve been revamping my software-development résumé, I had the hardest time understanding how a résumé can tell a “story,” as they say, because I just didn’t get it. Then I realized that I am a prospective client as well. If I were looking for a software engineer to help me develop my websites, what words on his résumé would really catch my attention and make me desperate to hire him? As soon as I remembered to feel what the reader feels, the words for my résumé just started dropping into place.

So, as a writer, this Wishcasting Wednesday, I wish to remember to feel what my reader feels, because that will make my writing the best that it can be.